Picture a school where the students move around the room freely, choosing work that interests them and sitting or standing to complete it, totally focused and engaged. Imagine a classroom where the teacher never lectures from the front of the room, but moves from student to student, observing their progress, encouraging, suggesting, and guiding. At one table, the teacher gives a kriah lesson to a few students while another student learns math concepts by manipulating a trinomial cube. The work is hands-on. Everyone learns at their own pace.
For many families, this sounds like a dream, but for the past seven years, this scene has been a reality at Darchei Noam Montessori. Until now, this educational experience has been reserved for a few lucky three- to six-year-olds, but starting next fall, Darchei Noam will expand into first through third grades.
Montessori and Mesorah
Montessori is an educational methodology created by an Italian pediatrician, Maria Montessori, in the early 1900s based on her studies of child development and learning. A Montessori education focuses on the whole child, wherever they are holding in their individual developmental plane. The approach values the child’s neshama and physical, social, and cognitive development. It assumes that children are naturally eager for knowledge and capable of initiating learning in a thoughtfully prepared learning environment.
According to Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, Darchei Noam’s educational advisor and the founder of the “Al Pi Darco” synthesis of Montessori and Jewish education used in schools around the country, Montessori’s methodology is an excellent fit with our mesorah around chinuch. Tobey Finkelstein, who has her third child at Darchei Noam, agrees, saying, “The essence of the model is chanoch l’naar al pi darco.”
When Morah Brocha Margolese arrived in Baltimore, she started a Montessori program at TA, then moved on to open Darchei Noam Montessori.
Building on her experience teaching at and developing curriculum for Yeshivas Shaarei Simcha in Clifton, NJ (one of the first Montessori yeshivas), where she worked with Rabbi Jonathan Rietti to merge Montessori methods with a Torah-true curriculum, she developed an almost magical mix of environment, tools, and educational plan that has been much loved since the school opened in 2009. Miriam Hammelburger, who has two children at Darchei Noam, says, “After an observation, how do you not send your kid there? You see happy, motivated and functional kids in a calm, orderly environment.” Parent Danya Saitowitz agrees, “Brocha really understands kids and what they need.”
For seven years, students at Darchei Noam have graduated from its Primary Program (ages three to six) with enhanced self-discipline, independence, confidence, social, and executive function skills. Hammelburger comments on the skills her sons have learned there: “My babysitter said that one of my boys asked his brother to stop pushing him on the swing, but thanked him for trying to help him.” Not surprisingly, Darchei Noam has filled its spaces (even when it expanded to two classes this year) strictly through word of mouth.
Almost from the beginning, parents encouraged Morah Brocha to expand her program into elementary school so their children could continue to flourish within the Darchei Noam Montessori environment. Tobey Finkelstein says, “There are a lot of intrinsic benefits in the method of instruction. It really can’t be replicated in a traditional educational program. Children learn everything they’re supposed to learn, but pursue their interests.”
Earlier this year, Morah Brocha formed a small team to make it happen. The school now has a ten-year plan that will, G-d willing, take it through middle school and beyond. For the 2017-2018 school year, Darchei Noam will open its Lower Elementary School, featuring age-mixed, gender-separated classrooms for grades one to three.
Darchei Noam’s Elementary Program will use the same integrated approach to curriculum with one teacher for davening, Chumash, Mishnayos, math, science, and all other subjects. Morah Brocha says, “Since everything stems from Torah, a child learning parsha, for example, might also learn geography as they map the Jewish people’s travels through the midbar, writing skills as they fill out maps describing the travels, and public speaking as they present their findings to the class and give a d’var Torah at home.”
Limited spaces are available for Darchei Noam’s Primary and Lower Elementary Programs beginning on November 1st. Admission to either Primary or Elementary Programs requires attendance at an information session and observation. Darchei Noam Montessori will hold an information session specifically about the Elementary Program, featuring a message from Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, on November 30, 2016, at 8:00 p.m. To sign up, go to http://darcheinoammontessori.hubbli.com/elementary-info-session-sign-up/, email the school at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 410-413-1426. You can also visit our website at www.darcheinoammontessori.com.