One important component of the prepared adolescent environment is the community. Adolescents are asking the questions, “Who am I?” and “What is my role in adult society? If the work of the young adolescent is to develop his or her social identity, to form his/her personality, and to take on a role as a member of society, then we must provide a society – a community – to work with. In our Middle School and Council Oak community the adolescents have daily real-life experiences in communicating with people of all ages, problem solving, responsibility, and adaptability.
Opportunities for community experience:
- At the beginning of the school year the Middle School students discuss their classroom setting needs and establish guidelines for respectful behavior and communication.
- The Middle School students learn entrepreneurial skills as they organize and manage a gift shop. This involves decision making, record-keeping, production, marketing, and finances. Their shop is open to the students, parents, and staff of the school, so involves consideration of and interaction with multiple ages.
- They run the weekly pizza day fundraiser to help pay for their trips.
- They provide the cleanup service for the school hot lunch program.
- They work in the local community food pantry for holiday distributions.
- They spend a week working as interns in neighborhood businesses and organizations.
- They join with Middle School students from other Montessori schools for visits to an environmental awareness and leadership camp, where they build shelters, cultivate crops, do cooperative group activities, conservation and ecological studies, and simulations that highlight social issues.
These and other experiences help promote the value of commitment, responsibility, and cooperation, thereby building a sense of their own value in a community and in society.
Opportunities for Creative and Intellectual Development:
Along with social community, our carefully prepared environment includes a variety of activities and approaches to learning that give the students opportunities to use and develop their creative and intellectual powers and to satisfy the unique needs, strengths and interests of the individual.
Multiple approaches are used in all subjects – lessons with note taking, seminars, peer collaboration, independent research, reading and outlining, student presentations, visual projects, experimentation, and hands on exploration.
Integration of subjects and application of knowledge keeps learning alive. For instance, students may research the botanical name and characteristics of sage and lemon balm; read and share folklore about the herbs and the history of their use; sketch the plants in their nature journals; harvest and dry the herbs from our garden; use them in soap recipes; and then price and sell the bars of soap in their shop.
During their elementary years, Montessori students discuss the fundamental needs of humans – those material and spiritual needs that all humans have in common. Cultural studies in Middle School continue to be researched and discussed in terms of how people’s fundamental needs are addressed, but now expand into lively discussions of theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Group learning: Again, adolescents are intensely interested in, and benefit from, interacting with each other. So group learning situations keep them engaged and expand their thinking. The seminar approach to analyzing a reading, for example, encourages careful reading, deep thinking, listening, and communication of ideas. That same approach can be applied to solving a math problem or studying a piece of art, so that students are not just waiting for an instructor’s answers, but are developing independent and critical thinking.
Individualized learning: Attention to each unique individual starts with a student/parent/teacher conference at the beginning of the school year. The students prepare for the conference by independently filling out a detailed questionnaire about their academic, social, and personal strengths, needs, and interests. During the conference they formulate specific goals and plans for achieving the goals. Individualized work is designed for the students to address academic goals. Progress in all goals is periodically evaluated by students and teachers.
As unique individuals, students have the opportunity to make many choices. For example, which immigrant group to research; or in what manner they will present a report on the life of bacteria; or what burning question they will attempt to answer through their own original scientific experimentation; or how they will manage their time and schedule their assignments during the morning independent work period.
At Council Oak the adolescent is supported as he or she tests, discovers, experiences, shares, and celebrates. The Middle School years at Council Oak prepare students for life, giving them the tools and confidence they will need in future education situations and in their adult lives. As Maria Montessori stated, “his whole life should be organized in such a way that it will enable him, when the time comes, to make a triumphal entry into social life – not entering it debilitated, isolated, or humiliated but with head high, sure of himself.”