Charles Towne Montessori guides young people to take ownership of their education process while instilling confidence and accountability
Engaging children in the education process has been a challenge as long as there have been children and adults trying to teach them.
Charles Towne Montessori School in West Ashley goes about that challenge in a creative, innovative way. The Montessori model encourages collaboration among students of mixed ages and teachers in a way that fosters an interest in learning and helps ensure student engagement.
Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician in the early 1900s, recognized that traditional education models did not honor the child, meeting children at their own level. The Montessori method fosters a passion for learning, instead of forcing a child into a mold.
“Montessori approaches each student’s education based on a child’s individual development,” Head of School Susan Burkhardt said. “The student’s style of learning guides the process. Teachers present material, and the student learns from the material in a way that makes sense to them.”
A typical classroom at Charles Towne Montessori consists of children in a range of ages involved in what might seem to be uncoordinated or unstructured activities. But that’s not the case at all, Burkhardt said.
“Classroom activity is always purposeful,” she said. “Students are learning all the time. Montessori teaches students to be accountable for their own progress and to self-direct the learning process. If the teacher were to walk out of the room, students would continue to do their work. They don’t need a teacher standing in front of them to keep learning.”
Montessori students achieve independence in thinking and learning, Burkhardt said. They also gain confidence in themselves, an important characteristic for learning at higher levels of education.
“Independence is at the heart of Montessori philosophy,” she said. “If that is nurtured in students and they become more independent thinkers and learners, the more successful they are.”
Charles Towne Montessori is nearing completion of a new middle school building set to open in the fall. For the first time, the school will have instruction programs for students ages 12-15, which will take them through eighth-grade level.
“We are really excited about this next phase in our history,” Burkhardt said. “We have been building up to this for years, and our parents have asked many times for middle-school level programs. Now we can give them that.”
Charles Towne Montessori is unique among Montessori schools in South Carolina. It is the only one accredited by the Association of Montessori International, which was established by Dr. Montessori in 1929 to ensure accredited schools adhere to her principles and philosophy. Other Montessori schools in the state, including six others in the Charleston area, are accredited through the American Montessori Society, established in 1960.
Beyond the education process, Charles Towne Montessori builds a culture of tolerance, acceptance and accountability, Burkhardt said.
“Our students learn to accept different points of view, different cultures, at an early age. The students who come out of our school are not only successful learners, but also some really nice people — thoughtful, respectful, engaged and accountable.”