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A New Day for the Montessori Way

Ridgemoor Park Opening Expands GRPS Program

One. Two. Three. The snip of many scissors launched Ridgemoor Park Montessori into the open arms of a community of believers.

The ceremonial ribbon-cutting at Ridgemoor Park Montessori is the start and celebration of a new life for the parents, students and neighbors who embraced this new prekindergarten through sixth-grade school at 2555 Inverness Road SE. Thanks to the 2015 voter-approved bond, Ridgemoor Park underwent $1.5 million in renovations to become the latest expansion of the Grand Rapids Public Schools Montessori program.

“This is your school,” GRPS Superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal told the open-house audience. “It’s an honor to reopen this school.”

Fifth-grader Roz McBrier investigates her new classroom

Calling the school symbolic of the GRPS Transformation Plan she launched five years ago, Neal said the idea for the new school came from the community.

“A parent from the neighborhood came to see me and asked ‘Can we reopen Ridgemoor Park as a Montessori?'” said Neal, a former Montessori parent herself. “We looked at the numbers, the stakes, our Montessori programming, questioned the neighbors and we concluded that the people in the neighborhood wanted this school.”

Five years ago, Ridgemoor Early Childhood Center closed with declining enrollments, instability and a forgotten identity. With a Montessori curriculum, first-year teachers and new look, GRPS capitalized on the district’s Montessori vision embracing social responsibility and inclusiveness.

“It’s remarkable to open a new school and right off the bat, have a waiting list,” said Ridgemoor Park Principal Forrest Clift. “We’re full in the Children’s House (pre-K and kindergarten), at 1/2/3 and with just a few spots in 4/5/6. We’ll continue to register students, right up to Day One.”

Cousins Wilfredo Torres, left, and Amar Westerfield check out the learning tools in the multi-aged and multigrade classroom

Bucking the Trend

With a teaching staff of newbies, many graduating just months ago, Ridgemoor Park Montessori is a new beginning for the faculty and families.

“The teachers are young and enthusiastic here – makes you feel old, right!” Neal joked with the attendees afterwards.

Ridgemoor Park adds a third campus and another 150 students to the district’s Montessori program, bringing total enrollment to about 1,000. It joins North Park Montessori for pre-K-8, and the Heritage Hill campus for pre-K through high school at old Fountain School and Innovation Central. At 40-plus years, Grand Rapids’ system is the nation’s longest-running public-school Montessori program, district officials say.

Grand Rapids Public Schools are a national education success story, said school board member Jen Schottke, a parent at North Park Montessori.

“Montessori education is about a community – in the classroom, in the school, in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Schottke said at the ceremony. “Parents, you must be active partners in your child’s education. Get involved, and not justin your school but be an ambassador and champion of the entire public school system.

“You are part of a greater cause than any one school or district,” she added. “You are part of transforming urban public education across the nation.”

Fourth-grader Zarie Walker writes down her aspirations for her new teacher, Kelli Rowland

Space to Move

Beaming with freshly painted, wide-open classrooms, individuality, coastal color and natural light, the school features an assembly area at the heart of the building.

“We’re interested in cultivating the health and wellness of our school community,” said Clift, former Grand Rapids Montessori assistant principal. “That’s the Montessori way – hands-on, collaborative, embracing citizenship and consideration. We want to grow and guide our students into Montessori children.”

Last month, Robin and Ken McBrier relocated from South Haven and hungered for an optimistic neighborhood school for their daughters, Roz and Sydney.

“We were thrilled to get into this school,” said Robin McBrier as her family toured the school. “We think this will be a good fit for us.”

Second-grader Caprial Mead-Magrum completes a puzzle in a classroom for first- through third-grade students

For the Community

Dawn Mead and Chris Magrum watched their daughter, Caprial Mead-Magrum, pull out a wooden map of the world in a classroom for first- through third-graders. Caprial’s parents prefer the accessibility of a Southeast Side school to the trek to her former Northeast Side school.

“This building is just great,” Mead said. “You feel good, when you walk in. I can just feel the difference. I love what I see.”

As Shiloh Wordhouse paraded through the Children’s House with an effervescent band of 5-year-olds, she skipped, crawled and traipsed across the expansive classroom. So far, Shiloh is an ace at the play and independence parts of Montessori, while her parents, Deb and John, tackle the new student paperwork.

“We’re a home-school family, but I’ve always been in interested in the Montessori way,” Deb Wordhouse said. “We looked at the Montessori (Fountain School) downtown, but it wasn’t convenient for us to get our kids there.

“We’re excited about this — it’s so close to us. I love the whole concept that it takes a tribe to raise a child.”


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