I am writing about the culture at Evergreen. But first, let’s start with some geography: there are about 196 countries in the world. That’s counting Vatican City, Monaco, Liechtenstein, the Marshall Islands and several other countries that are less than 100 square miles in size.
We live in Montgomery Country, Maryland which happens to be 491 square miles. At the most recent Montgomery College commencement speech, Dr. Wallace D. Loh, President of the University of Maryland pointed out that there are 170 countries represented in the current student body. This county is a magnet for those around the world looking for brighter future. He addressed the graduates, “When I looked at you standing in line outside, I saw our future.”
Dr. Loh continued, “It reminded me of [the opening ceremony at the] Beijing Olympics. China walked in and I saw Chinese faces. Nigerians walked in and I saw African faces. Russians walked in and I saw Slav faces. Americans walked in and they looked like the world.”
Evergreen, too, looks like our future. Our diversity is our strength. As the most diverse member of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, Evergreen is on the forefront of private education. What Dr. Loh said to the Montgomery College graduates applies to us at Evergreen: “It is not only what you know and what skills you acquire, it is your values that count,” he said. “Our values define us as Americans. Difference is respected and valued and common culture nurtured.”
Here, in the Montessori tradition, the value and culture of learning from one another runs deep. Thanks to all the parents and visitors who have been in class to share a special part of their background, tradition, culture or skill with our students. You make us great.
As a parent, how much do you know about governance at Evergreen School? Do you care? Of course, your primary concern is your child’s experience: is he or she happy at school? Is he or she learning? Making friends? Developing habits of mind and character that will guide him or her throughout life?
If you are like most parents, you also want your child’s teacher to be loving, upbeat, well trained and supported. You want the school’s administration to be open, communicative and committed to creating the best learning experience for all students. And you want the school to be careful stewards of your tuition dollars.
To achieve these goals, Evergreen was established as a non-profit, Board-governed, accredited, mission-driven, independent Montessori school. The school is not owned by any person or group. All the school’s assets are held in trust and surplus revenues must be retained by the school for its self-preservation. Since we are a registered non-profit, all gifts to the school are tax deductible.
Evergreen’s all-volunteer Board is focused on furthering the school’s mission and ensuring the school’s perpetuity. They formulate policies and give direction to the Head of School. The Board hired and supervises me, and I am responsible to them for the day-to-day running of the school. Like other private school boards, they set the annual budget and establish the long-range vision for the school. One school consultant has said, “The Board’s core activity is planning, and the Board’s primary constituency is not today’s students but the students of the future.”
On Saturday, our nine-member Board and I participated in an all-day retreat with independent school consultant Stephen DiCiccio. Stephen founded Educational Directions Incorporated and works with schools around the world on strategic planning initiatives, governance issues, and Head searches.
We were very fortunate to have Stephen with us. He covered topics such as the Board’s legal and fiduciary responsibilities, the relationship between the Board and the Head, trends in independent education and more. I hope you share my gratitude for all our board’s thoughtfulness, dedication and passion for Evergreen School. We wouldn’t be the great school we are without them.
I visited my old pals at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC on Friday. Lucky me. I hitched a ride downtown with our elementary class’s field trip. We stopped in to see Manet, Degas, and Cassatt and their friends in the Impressionism galleries.
While the National Gallery is a familiar place to me, I was surprised by our students’ reaction to it. They were hushed as they looked deeply into each painting. No swiveling of heads to snoop on noisy tour groups trouncing by. No bumping, poking or fiddling. Thanks in part to our excellent docent’s spiraling questions, students unpacked the meaning in each work: the artists’ technique, the composition, the subject, the historical context. They made connections to their classroom research projects and asked insightful questions: “Why didn’t Manet paint wealthy people?” “Why isn’t there a train in The Railway?”
So why were our students so interested in these paintings? Perhaps because the art is beautiful, inspiring, and engaging. How lucky are we to live near the National Gallery!
It is more than that. Most chaperones on field trips would re-write the adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” to “you can lead a student to an art gallery, but you can’t make her appreciate the art.” You can command looking, but nothing more. A gallery trip designed as forced cultural enrichment is bound to fail.
Our students looked deeply because they are motivated learners. Our teachers have, as Alfie Kohn wrote last year in The English Journal, “worked with [our] students to create a classroom culture, a climate, a curriculum that nourishes and sustains the fundamental inclinations that everyone starts out with: to make sense of oneself and the world, to become increasingly competent at tasks that are regarded as consequential, to connect with (and express oneself to) other people.”
These are the same motivators that led to the creation of these masterpieces in the first place. Art opens up the world so we can better understand what it means to be human. So does a Montessori education.
And I am sure that each child will be more than happy to return to the gallery to visit his or her new friends, Degas, Manet, and Cassatt, too.