Investing in 'hidden treasure'

About half of Southeast Fort Wayne is young and poor.


Studies show that 57.4 percent earn $25,000 or less per year, and 46 percent are under age 25.


But instead of seeing these statistics as obstacles, Greta McKinney sees them as opportunities—signs that Southeast Fort Wayne is the city’s “hidden treasure.”


As Executive Director of MLK Montessori School since 2012, she is shaping young lives in the Southeast quadrant.


Reflecting on the legacies of historical figures from Dr. Maria Montessori to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., himself, she notes that some of the people who have made the biggest impact on history have come from the least.


“Where would we be in the world if we didn’t have those people who didn’t have a silver spoon?” McKinney asks. “Of all of those individuals who have made an impact in our community, so many of them have come from nothing. Think how much further we would be with solving problems if all of them had a solid education.”

Greta McKinney, left, is Executive Director of MLK Montessori School .


Cultivating the desire to learn


MLK Montessori School is located on South Anthony Boulevard and focuses on preschool children from ages 3 to 5.


In August 2018, the school will introduce its first kindergarten class, which is already full with a waiting list, and for good reason, McKinney says.


The teachers at MLK Montessori School are licensed in Montessori education, which requires the same level of education as the public school system. They have both licensed and credential teachers, as well.


“We want to bring the best,” McKinney says. “We serve a population consistently that would not normally be able to afford a Montessori education.”


MLK Montessori School opened in 1968 immediately after the assassination of King, and in many ways, it carries on his legacy, challenging norms and serving those who may fall between the cracks of traditional systems.


Instead of lecture-based learning, the Montessori Method of education focuses on self-directed activity, hands-on learning, and collaborative play

In this personalized environment, McKinney has seen children thrive.


“We had a young man who was focused on trucks,” she says. “I found a way to teach him math and everything else by using the truck as part of the learning experience. We use the strengths of a child to help them accommodate their weaknesses.”

McKinney, right, teaches at MLK Montessori School.


While MLK Montessori directly serves the southeast Fort Wayne community, it also has a wider reach because some families are able to drive their children to school, and it offers a bus service.


Many of the children are one of several generations who have all attended the school since 1968.


Each year, a graduating class of 35 students moves into the world with their own set of decision-making skills, feeling affirmed in their personal strengths, McKinney says.


Children in a Montessori educational system are taught to take personal responsibility in their lives not just in their own education, but also in how they interact in the world around them.


Students are taught to clean up after themselves. They are encouraged to express feelings and find peaceful resolutions, to be curious about what is happening in their environment, and to find answers to satisfy their curiosity.


If McKinney knows one thing, it is that children have an innate desire to learn. It’s all about how educators and parents nurture that desire.


“We have to cultivate and grow that,” McKinney says.


She talks about helping children build self-confidence instead of giving them a trophy to make them feel special.


“An item isn’t needed to feel special,” McKinney says. “It’s something that is innate in them that an educator can help them build.”

MLK Montessori School is at 6001 S Anthony Blvd.


Keeping doors open


To help children from all backgrounds have equal access to a Montessori education, Child Care and Development Fund voucher program and the On My Way Pre-K voucher program both assist MLK Montessori to offer scholarships for underprivileged students.


The school also offers partial scholarships for families, McKinney says, but 95 percent of students don’t pay at all.


“Money should not be the deciding factor in a child getting a quality education,” she says. “Children are our largest investment, and sometimes they get the least. Every child deserves an education. Period.”


McKinney knows how important an education is to at-risk children, and she doesn’t want to punish children for what they were born into, thus continuing a cycle of poverty and disadvantages.


“A lot of our children are at-risk due to their socialeconomic status or a limited family structure,” McKinney says. “The one constant security they have is MLK. We continue to work hard to keep our doors open . . . . A family's financial situation should never be a reason for a child not to have a quality education, and our board believes in that.”


Her mission is to invest in children, one at a time.

Students talk at MLK Montessori School.


Thanks to the attention students receive and the power of a Montessori education, each of them is one step closer to finding a place in northeast Indiana’s community someday.


MLK Montessori School continues to foster students’ growth not just cognitively, but also socially, physically, and emotionally.


The biggest testament to this is watching the children at MLK and how they interact with each other and the adults around them.


In the classroom, children engage in conversation, and they are quick to help those around them. Five-year-olds help 4-years-olds, and 4-year-olds help 3-year-olds.


This mutual support and teamwork is a powerful testament to the education they are receiving.


Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”

McKinney and the staff at MLK Montessori exemplify these timeless values.

Read more articles by Stephen J. Bailey.

Stephen J. Bailey is a Fort Wayne native and the owner of PH Digital that was founded in 2006. Based out of the Anthony Wayne Building in downtown Fort Wayne, he specializes in web development, SEO development, social media management, and digital marketing campaigns with numerous companies in northeast Indiana. Stephen loves road trips, sushi, his pups, and spending time on our three rivers.
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