Stepping Stone Montessori School

Suwanee School Instills Passion for Lifelong Learning 

BY: Aoife Healy

Upon arriving at Stepping Stone Montessori School (SSMS), a cheerful looking building surrounded by flowerpots and a white picket fence, you are greeted with a powerful statement that is sure to stop you in your tracks. Painted upon the wall in the front entrance are these words, “Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.”

Stepping Stone Montessori School was founded in honor of Uday, brother of Co-Founder, Aparna Banka, who passed away from cancer at a very young age. “The family envisions SSMS as a way to spread quality education to children who are the soul and future of our community,” said Head of School, Mark Berger. “Being able to successfully do this will keep Uday’s name alive while doing good in our community.”

A teacher takes her time to sit with a student to explain a learning activity.
A teacher takes her time to sit with a student to explain a learning activity.

Maria Montessori was the first recognized Italian female doctor and scientist. She designed a school based on her knowledge of science and biology. By observing children as they grew and developed, she formed a curriculum based on the “planes of development.” These planes of development are three-year spans from ages 3 – 6, 6 – 9, and 9 – 12. She believed learning is a process that should be individualized to each child. The mixed age classrooms allow students to learn from one another and enables them to advance faster in certain subjects while spending extra time in others, based on their specific needs.

Mark Berger was applying for law schools when he first heard about Montessori from a friend who was a Montessori teacher. As he learned more about it, he was fascinated and decided to take the training for himself. “The training was incredibly eye-opening,” he exclaimed. “I love how children are taught concepts and meaning, building blocks of understanding larger theories, instead of simply how to memorize a slew of facts to forget shortly after.”

Observing a typical class in session at SSMS, you will witness a flurry of activity, each child intent upon the unique lesson in front of them. Each classroom is equipped with concrete materials designed to encourage a hands-on experience that evokes a child’s curiosity to explore and learn. Not one child is idle or blankly staring at a chalkboard but they are engaged and actively participating in their learning. What’s more, they seem to be enjoying every minute of it.

A class of students at Stepping Stone Montessori School.
A class of students at Stepping Stone Montessori School.

“Children learn better in an enriched environment,” said Berger, “At Stepping Stone Montessori, we strive to provide children the tools they need to discover who they are.” Children are allowed the freedom of choosing their own activities and assignments each day. The instructor gives individualized lessons throughout the week and continually observes each student’s progression. Every student keeps a work journal where they record their weekly accomplishments. At the end of the week the teacher and student meet to evaluate which areas they need to spend more time in and review their progress. This type of student/teacher interaction not only fosters self-discipline and independence but it allows the child to more honestly communicate their needs without fear of reprimand.

Since there is no legal control over who can use the Montessori name, there are many unauthentic “Montessori” schools out there. “At SSMS, we follow the teaching of the true and authentic Montessori way because the system works,” stated Berger. “ It’s simple. Modern science continues to support all of Maria Montessori’s findings so why would we change a system that provides amazing results?”

Montessori, both the woman and the approach, has a fundamental respect for children. Out of this respect, and Maria Montessori’s research and observation came a school that truly instills in children a passion for lifelong learning.

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