Montessori Inspires Career Helping Children Thrive
Jul 31, 2014 12:01PM
● By Sheila Julson
When innovative teaching method founded by Italian educator and physician Maria Montessori took root in Milwaukee during the 1970s, Priscilla Bovee, now head of school at New World Montessori School, in River Hills, knew she could have a rewarding career helping children grow and learn naturally.
Born in New York, Bovee moved to Milwaukee when she was a young girl. As the oldest of six children, she was often in charge of supervising her younger siblings while her father taught journalism at Marquette University. She later attended Marquette, where she received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and learned about Montessori’s work.
However, Bovee didn’t enter the teaching profession immediately after college. For three years, she edited literature for American Appraisal Company, but she was not happy in that line of work. “It’s always good to have a job that you don’t enjoy, and then you realize the difference when you do find the right thing,” she observes.
Bovee recalled how inspired she was by the Montessori teaching methods she had studied, which encourage children to think independently and nourish responsibility. “It all just fit together,” she observes. “I went to a university to learn how to think and how to learn, and I realized that’s what Montessori is all about. It teaches children how to love learning and how to think independently. It is the way education should be,” she affirms.
Bovee pursued Montessori training under Hildegard Solzbacher, founder of the Midwest Montessori Institute, who Bovee credits with bringing Montessori education to Milwaukee. In 1975, Bovee achieved primary Montessori certification. The same year, Solzbacher started New World Montessori School. Bovee promptly started teaching there, and her son and daughter, now grown, attended the school. In 1992, when Solzbacher retired as head of school, Bovee stepped into the position.
“Montessori fits the way children grow and develop,” Bovee comments. “It respects children and encourages their capabilities.” A Montessori classroom, called the Casa dei Bambini, Italian for “children’s house”, is set up at a child’s level; a prepared environment designed to be the ideal place for children to learn and interact with each other. Teachers allow the children to explore the environment in constructive ways.
Rather than classes with individual grades, Montessori education groups kids together in age ranges: 3 to 6 years old, 6 to 9 years old, and 9 to 12 years old. The arrangement resembles a family setting and encourages children to be patient and better deal with other people. “It’s not a competitive system,” Bovee notes. “We encourage children to cooperate and support each other. It’s a very harmonious atmosphere and a peaceful little community. It’s the way we all wish the world could be.” There is no grading system, and testing is minimal.
New World is located in the west wing of the Indian Hill Elementary School building. The property includes a large prairie and a pond, an ideal setting for incorporating Montessori principles of nature study and outdoor learning.
Montessori teachings strictly encourage good behavior, but mistakes are not punished, nor are successes rewarded. “The joy of accomplishment is the reward,” Bovee says. “If we never made mistakes, we’d never learn anything. Mistakes are our friends, our guideposts to try something else that will work. It’s a friendly approach to just being human.”
New World is accredited by the worldwide certifying organization Association Montessori Internationale. Bovee points out that because the term Montessori is not copyrighted, some schools use the name without staying true to the actual Montessori teachings.
New World has approximately 50 students, with some from other countries. Bovee reports that the Montessori program brings positive student achievement and is sought by parents that value education and a sense of community. Friendships grow among like-minded parents that appreciate the value of providing a creative learning environment for their children.
“At the end of the day, the kids often don’t want to leave,” Bovee says. “The school is their home away from home, a place where they’re nurtured and stimulated, a place where they thrive.”
New World Montessori School is located at 1101 W. Brown Deer Rd., in River Hills. For more information, call 414-351-6000 or visit nwms.info.
Sheila Julson is a freelance writer in Milwaukee. Connect with her at [email protected].