BV switches approach to ‘dual track’

       Five years ago, when Montessori started at Buena Vista Elementary, the plan was for a year by year, grade by grade transition until the entire school was 100 percent immersed in the hands-on, self-motivated learning style.

Students in Kathy Pauciello's K-1 traditional/Montessori class at Buena Vista Elementary are shown at work. (from left) Kristopher Gillette (copy writing), Taelor Thompson (writing with a white board), Rylie O'Brien (same) and Kayley Bratcher (patterning with a geo board).
Westside Pioneer photo

       That plan changed this year.
       One of the first discoveries by new Principal David Brilliant last fall was that not all the school's parents and students - not even those who had helped bring the program to the school in the first place - felt that Montessori was invariably the right program for their kids.
       As a result, and after a “huge discussion,” the school changed to what Brilliant terms a “dual track” program, in which Buena Vista students, for the most part, can take either traditional or Montessori classes. In one class, which mixes 22 kindergarteners with 5 first-graders, the two learning styles are deliberately combined.
       “The idea is to be one school with two approaches to teaching and learning,” the principal summarized in a recent school newsletter. “This model will allow Buena Vista to serve all of our students in ways that best meet their needs.”
       One of those ways, he elaborated in an interview last week, concerns a district strategy known as “response to intervention” (RTI), which seeks strategies to help students who are falling short of academic expectations. Dual track provides the option of changing a student's learning environment, depending on how he or she learns best.
       The main goal, Brilliant pointed out, is to have students who by the end of fifth grade are ready for middle school. However, District 11 has no Montessori program at that level.

Students in Kathy Pauciello's K-1 traditional/Montessori class at Buena Vista Elementary are shown at work. Keegan Barlow works on a bead chain that helps teach math principles.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In general, the Montessori approach encourages students to be self-motivated, using individual study tools with the teacher available to help out. Traditional education is more group oriented, with greater emphasis on the teacher presenting information and all students learning at much the same pace.
       Noting that only about a quarter of the students are in traditional classes, Brilliant defines Buena Vista in the newsletter as a “Montessori-focused school that will also offer traditional classrooms.”
       A statistical breakdown of the school enrollment shows about half the students coming from the neighborhood, and the other half permitting from outside the attendance area. Most of the permit students are in Montessori, while most of those from the neighborhood are in traditional classes, Brilliant said.
       Some attendance-area families have permitted their students into neighboring schools - such as Whittier, Washington or Bristol - because they preferred those school's programs or they disliked or didn't understand Montessori, he added.
       In the K-1 class, taught by Kathy Pauciello, students get a feel for both worlds. Trained in both learning styles, she spends part of the day teaching the youngsters as a full class (or in small groups with the aid of assistants Pauline Meert and Dianne Peace), and another part working with them individually in the hands-on Montessori way. Because of the knowledge spectrum in her class - for example, one child is reading at a third-grade level, another is just learning the alphabet - “it works out well” to go back and forth, she explained.
       If the original BV plan had been followed, this would have been the last year for any traditional classes, and they would only have been for the fifth grade. Last year's principal, Jade Amick (who had to resign for health reasons), had even suggested going a step further - making Buena Vista a pure Montessori “magnet” school that would not accept students unless they were at least kindergarten age or they were older but had Montessori experience. That proposal was to be analyzed by district staff in terms of an overall magnet study, but this did not occur after Buena Vista's internal change this year with Brilliant the new principal.
       The dual track concept is taking shape under the shadow of District 11's continuing reutilization study effort, in which closing Buena Vista and/or moving the Montessori program to another school have been suggested repeatedly. (A final recommendation from district staff is not due until the Feb. 4 Board of Education meeting, with no board decision until Feb. 25 and possibly no implementation for some time).
       No matter what happens, Brilliant believes the change has been good for Buena Vista and will continue to be so. “It's not a dichotomy here anymore,” he said. “We've learned a lot from each other about how to be better teachers. And me, I'm the bridge for that.”

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