Montessori Children’s House Marks 30th Year
GODFREY – When Rod and Jane Connell first opened a Montessori school 30 years ago, they could hardly imagine they would one day be teaching the children of the children who first enrolled.
Over the years, the school has become a true family affair.
The Connells’ daughter Salem Newman teaches nutrition classes and handles much of the school’s business. Seven of the Connell’s grandchildren have attended the school, with an eighth expected to come when she is old enough.
“I’ve been blessed,” Rod Connell said. “I have never quit enjoying teaching – that’s the main thing.”
Unsure of what career path he wanted to follow, happenstance introduced Connell to Maria Montessori’s educational philosophy.
Connell was in Miami with his wife when he stumbled upon an ad in a magazine for a Montessori training center. Connell decided to take a look and immediately knew that this is what he wanted to do. Jane Connell also became certified to teach in 1980.
The Montessori method stresses personal responsibility, self-paced learning, social skills and a love of knowledge.
“Montessori believed in educating the spirit, the mind, and the body – what’s called the whole child,” he said. “We’re just as concerned that children grow up to be decent people and get along with one another. If you can’t do that, life will be frustrating.”
In 1979, the Connells opened their first school on Elm Street in Godfrey with approximately 20 students ranging in age from 2 to 6.
Rapidly expanding their enrollment, the school moved onto the campus of Lewis and Clark Community College in 1988. The school now has more than 120 students in pre-school, elementary education and day care.
“Dr. Chapman had two children that we were teaching at the time,” Connell said. “Coming here has been our biggest blessing. The college is really good to us.”
Ideally located, the school is situated on property that borders hundreds of acres. This easy access promotes students to explore nature.
Always offering encouragement of young people’s interest, Connell wrote poems about snakes to entertain and educate his grandson Christian DeVerger, now 14.
Because DeVerger would always get his work done early, the student had time to do detailed research on the computer. Starting as a fun project, the pair decided to compile Connell’s poems and DeVerger’s research into a book.
The book, “Silly Snake Rhymes ….. and the real stuff,” will soon be published by Tate Publishing.
By being allowed to make choices on how they use their time, Newman believes that children are able to become comfortable with who they are.
One of the older students, Abe Ritchey, 12, has been at the school since he was 3 years old. He enjoys the ability to work at his own pace and credits this philosophy with helping him overcome a speech difficulty.
“They encouraged me to take speech therapy step-by-step rather than expecting me to do it all at once,” said Ritchey.
As for the future, Connell hopes to continue “to help children reach their highest potential and be good human beings.”