As the public school sector has suffered through myriad labour and health-related closures over the past three years, Bracebridge’s Montessori school has not only survived but thrived.
Since reopening as Lodestar Montessori School in September of 2017 (it had operated as the Montessori School of Bracebridge previously), the school has gone from five students to 60 and added a second location.
According to Erin Kerr, the head of school at Lodestar, there are many differences between Montessori and the traditional classroom environment. Kerr says the Montessori environment thrives on mixed age groupings of three years (the Casa program operates for 3-6-year-olds, the Lower Elementary for 6-9-year-olds, and the Upper Elementary program houses 9-12-year-olds).
“The mixed ages allow students to be teachers themselves, as our oldest students can assist in guiding our younger members,” says Kerr. “It also acts as a foundation that no child can get left behind if they need to take time understanding a concept or lesson. They can excel at their own pace with work they love and are successful with, and marinate at their own pace as well, if some work needs time and dedication in mastering.”
Kerr says small class sizes allow for learning to be achieved in an intimate setting.
“The material is designed for them to use individually, and on their own. Our curriculum is set up to be part of the child’s learning environment and not a part of the teacher’s teaching curriculum as in the traditional setting,” says Kerr. “There’s plenty of movement in the classroom, as well, students are not tied down to one spot; they have the freedom to work on a table or a floor mat. This ability to move in the class environment meets their physical needs in a way the traditional setting cannot.”
Kerr says the pandemic was particularly hard on Lodestar, as much of their focus is on hands-on, in-person learning.
“It’s also hard to teach all the students online at one time, considering we cater to different ages and levels in one class environment,” she says.
Lodestar closed its doors in March of 2020, along with much of the world, but they were able to re-open in September 2020 and remain open to some in-person learning in the winter of 2020 when the rest of Ontario’s schools were shuttered again.
Likewise, while a teacher’s strike closed schools in late 2019 and early 2020 and a strike by education workers closed schools again this fall, the strikes had no effect on operations at Lodestar.
In fact, the school has grown considerably over the past several years. The elementary program now includes 16 students has expanded operate out of 125 Wellington Street.
“We take up two large classrooms out of Dewey College, and still spend our Mondays at Morrison Meadows for Forest School/Outdoor Education,” says Kerr. “This program is my ‘little engine that could,’ it started up because families didn’t want to leave the school, desiring to continue on with the Montessori pedagogy and small school dynamic. We’re looking forward to expanding it again in a few years’ time so that we can offer all the way up to Grade 8.”
Kerr picked the name Lodestar from a song by Canadian artist Sarah Harmer. A Lodestar is a navigating star, she explains, and with the recent success of the school, Kerr is hoping that light will continue to shine brightly in Muskoka for years to come.
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