Buena Vista hopes to make Montessori affordable for neighborhood

       After the first semester of the first year of the first Montessori program ever in District 11, “Everyone's settled into the routine pretty well,” Buena Vista Principal Alan Rasmussen reports.
       “We're getting some feedback that the parents like what we're doing.”
       In other good news, Rasmussen said that the district has told him it will increase program funding in the 2005-06 school year so as to include a class for ages 9 to 12. The number of Montessori teachers will be expanded to five from the current two.
       Currently, 49 of the school's students from ages 3 to 9 are enrolled in Montessori - 21 in the age 3-6 class and 28 in 6-9. The pledge from the district will allow an additional class in each of those grades, plus the 9-12 class.
       Sign-ups are continuing to be taken. Space still exists for next year's 9-12 classes; for ages 3 to 9, there's a waiting list, Rasmussen said.
       Because District 11 does not fund preschool education, there is a tuition for ages 3 and 4 ($500 per month for all-day; $350 half-day) in the preschool/ kindergarten (3-6) class. The lower elementary class, which covers the equivalent of grades 1-3, is free.
       A big appeal to District 11 is the “magnet” aspects of Buena Vista's Montessori. According to Rasmussen, about a third of the students in the program are from outside District 11. The other two-thirds are District 11 students who were either in other district schools last year or in private Montessori programs, he said.
       That is the reason Buena Vista's enrollment is up by 25 students this year, instead of down 15, as was otherwise anticipated, he said.
       The only downside to Montessori's first year has been the low response thus far from families in the neighborhood. Only five children from the Buena Vista attendance area are enrolled in the program, according to the principal. The rest are in “normal” classes at the school.
       As a result, Rasmussen said Buena Vista is starting a Montessori recruiting campaign for attendance-area families with children ages 3 to 5. “When we planned the Montessori program here, it was primarily for the neighborhood,” he said. “We have room to grow, but our first priority is neighborhood kids.”
       He noted that cost is an issue for many families in the Buena Vista neighborhood. “Even $100 a month would be hard for some,” he said. “We have to look for ways to subsidize it (for neighborhood families),” he said.
       In the meantime, there is an organization that may be able to help 4-year-old preschoolers and kindergarteners with tuition money, according to Lynne Casebeer, one of the parents who helped get Montessori established at Buena Vista. She said an application can be requested from Parents Challenge by calling 633-4500, ext. 1017, or writing the group at 2 N. Cascade Ave., Suite 1280, Colorado Springs 80903.
       Part of the reason for reaching out to younger children is a school desire to start them early. Children who have been in “normal” education have difficulty switching to Montessori later on, Rasmussen explained.
       Montessori is a style of education allowing individual students to work at their own pace, on projects that interest them, under the tutelage of trained staff.
       Until Buena Vista, Montessori was only available in private schools in the area. The school still offers traditional half-day kindergarten and grade 1-5 class. However, after six years of gradual implementation, all of Buena Vista will become a Montessori School, according to plans that have been developed by school staff and parents.

Westside Pioneer article