As northeast Indiana prepares to go back to school, a new school is opening its doors for the first time in downtown Fort Wayne.
Alyssum Montessori School, an educational center “created for curious minds” ages 3 to 12, has chosen the storefront at 916. S. Calhoun Street as its location.
Suzy Ulmer, who co-founded the school with Sara Gensic, says being in the city’s center is a key part of the school’s approach.
When it opens its doors on September 4, a new generation of students will be finding ways to grow, learn, and eventually lead the future of northeast Indiana in the heart of the region’s urban core.
“When young children are immersed in the community, they want to stay and invest in it,” she says.
Ulmer has been working in education for more than 20 years with a focus on the Montessori philosophy for the last 14 years. She and Gensic will function as “teacher leaders” at the school alongside their primary teacher leader, Aubrie Tinsley.
The Montessori Method of education is a child-centered approach to learning based on scientific observations. It has been used for more than 100 years since it was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori.
“It is based on the powerful concept that allows learners to self-construct and create personal meaning in the world around them,” Ulmer says. “We all learn best by pursuing things that interest us.”
Instead of giving grades to children, Alyssum will offer guidance, Ulmer says. Their focus is on providing support for the inquisitive minds of all students.
The teacher leaders in the classroom will work to become partners with parents to help blur the lines between home and school. This offers continuous support to the students in their pursuits by the trusted adults around them.
Alyssum believes in a Wildflower learning environment that is built around nine principles, including: Montessori, teacher-led education, shopfront settings, innovation, home inclusion, equity, beauty, nature, and an ecosystem network.
These nine approaches provide children with freedoms, modern technologies, parental support, cultural enrichment, and access to nature around them. All of these come together in downtown Fort Wayne.
Innovation, one of the nine Wildflower principles, focuses on using scientific observation as a foundation for the Montessori method.
Ulmer loves teaching children about the Earth’s beauty, as well as the laws of nature through ecology and science lessons.
She is excited to be close to places in the downtown area that will allow children to have this scientific approach to learning through real-life experiences.
Instead of just reading or hearing about concepts, they will be able to touch, feel, and understand many subjects firsthand in the heart of the city.
“Alyssum is close to the Allen County Public Library, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, and the YMCA,” she says. “These places will give children access to art, botany in an urban forest, swimming, and a library full of books and experiences.”
She explains that the Alyssum Montessori classrooms are made “for movement.”
The new space is bright, uncluttered, and child-sized with hands-on materials. It has an open setting with tall ceilings and long windows that look out at the public square outside the Indiana Michigan Power Center, busy with the activity of urban life.
Locals and visitors pass on the sidewalks of Calhoun Street. Families and friends bike the streets of downtown. New murals from local artists brighten the alleyways around Alyssum.
As downtown continues to grow with new business and art, Ulmer sees the opening of a Montessori school as one more step forward in making downtown a place for every person of every age.
“I feel so safe downtown,” she says. “There are so many people out and about both working and living. It’s a great community to be a part of.”
Along with being at the center of local life, another key aspect of urban culture is the way it brings people of all backgrounds together.
Ulmer says Alyssum is making it a point to be inclusive, too. It will accept students at three income levels: one-third low-income, one-third middle-income, and one-third high-income families.
“Our focus is to serve all families of all income levels,” Ulmer says.
The Montessori school will accept vouchers from the State of Indiana for supportive school choices and tuition assistance for kindergarten through sixth grade.
“That is huge,” Ulmer says. “An education should never be denied to someone because of a difficult financial situation.”
Alyssum has a 180-day focus with the students each school year from September 4, 2018, until June 4, 2019. The hours are Monday through Friday from 7:45 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. with after-care available until 5:30 p.m.
Ulmer says the school will have a new and open approach to vacations and spring break, too. She believes it is important to have an educational system that supports all families and their schedules to make sure that no one is left out.
“We are innovative in that we run our school and calendar in a way to support low-income families,” She says. “They need support for their calendar and not a hindrance.”
Ulmer’s enthusiasm for education is not just an asset to her leadership, but also a part of what has helped bring this project together.
The creation of this new space is much like the Montessori approach to learning. When adults come together to carefully and intentionally support an idea (or a child) incredible things can happen.
Now, Ulmer says, it’s just a matter of letting families know it’s time to apply.
The school will be accepting applications on a rolling basis for the 2018-2019 year. Families with children ages 3 to 8 are invited to apply at this time, and one age group will be added each year, after the first year.
“By next year, we will be full,” Ulmer says. “If someone wants to be part of this, the time is now.”