LAKE JACKSON — Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Lake Jackson has served the community’s preschool needs for more than 30 years. Starting in September, it will bring a new offering to the Brazosport area through a Montessori classroom.

This school will serve children 2 1/2 to 6 years old in different ways than a traditional preschool or grade school.

“The biggest difference is that the curriculum follows the child,” Montessori teacher Rachel Silvas said.

Silvas, who has a master’s degree in education, has spent six weeks training at the Houston Montessori Center and a year completing an internship in preparation for her first Montessori class.

They also place children in multi-age groupings, which helps them learn from each other, Chapelwood Preschool Board Chairwoman Cheryl Fowler said.

Maria Montessori, one of Italy’s first woman doctors, began her eponymous education system in 1907 after observing the way children naturally learned, according to a Montessori brochure. It’s a scientific-based approach to learning that led to gains that exceeded all expectations, the brochure states.

Fowler’s children attended School of the Woods in Houston when they were young, she said. When they switched to public school, they were “well ahead” of the curriculum, Fowler said.

Montessori has gained traction since that time with many more schools opening up in the Houston area, she said. Chapelwood staff worked for the past three years to open the church’s Montessori classroom, Fowler said.

Montessori-based schools have previously opened in the Brazosport area, but eventually closed, she said. With the church’s backing and community support, Fowler is confident about the Montessori school’s chance of survival at Chapelwood.

Fowler was a Godsend to make the Montessori school at Chapelwood happen, Senior Pastor Peter Cammarano said. Church leaders knew the program would need someone passionate, skilled and with the support of an organization or institution to bring the dream to life, he said.

A wall had to be knocked down between two smaller preschool rooms in Chapelwood United Methodist to create a larger Montessori classroom, which was just the beginning of creating the room’s environment.

The environment is centered on children, with child-sized objects and furniture to make the children feel it belongs to them, Silvas said. The children will be guided and directed, but have ultimate freedom to decide what to work with, she said.

The education approach takes the students “from concrete to abstract in all aspects,” Silvas said.

The children are taught to be respectful and mindful of their environment, Silvas said. The materials they work with are taught to be self-correcting, so students will be able to recognize on their own if they make an error, she said.

This is another way Montessori differs from traditional education. If Silvas observes a student make an error, she will not interrupt, she said. Rather, the students have a set time period to figure things out on their own, and if they are not able to, the teacher will reintroduce the lesson after the allotted time period, Silvas said.

The teacher is not the main focus in a Montessori classroom, Fowler said. In fact, another adult usually can walk in the room without disrupting the students at all since they are not accustomed to focusing their attention on the teacher, she said.

Overall, the Montessori approach to education has been developed from a scientific background and universally used for children of all ages, Silvas said.

“It’s proven and it works,” she said.

The Montessori school starts class Sept. 4. It will be a five-day program with both half-day and full-day options, according to a news release. Seven students have registered and there is room for more, staff said.

Chapelwood still offers traditional preschool and before and after school care. For information or registration, call Preschool Director Jennifer Burkhart at 979-297-1320.

Maddy McCarty is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0151.

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