School celebrates four decades of Montessori education in the Valley
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
FISHERSVILLE — Founded in Staunton 40 years ago, the Staunton Montessori School celebrated a milestone on Friday.
“The intent was to bring Montessori to the Shenandoah Valley,” said Debra Dance Schmid, who began her first academic year as head of the school this year.
According to Schmid, the school began in Staunton, and kept the Queen City in its name through a move to Verona and then after moving to Fishersville 12 years ago.
On Friday, Schmid said the school will announce at its celebration the start of the Scottie Lu Parker Brandt Founders Fund, named after the school’s founder with the mission to create an endowment for the school and scholarship opportunities for students.
“That will just be something that will continue to raise money for scholarships,” Schmid said.
The school was founded to carry on the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator born in 1870 who at first dreamed of being an engineer. Her philosophy included an educational environment for students in different grades.
The school began as a one-classroom educational facility for primary students. Its adolescent program is fairly new.
“The social environment is a very important component of the classroom,” Schmid said of the Montessori educational model.
Students are taught the importance of dignity, respect and community, as well as self-dignity.
“The children are taught to discover themselves,” she said of the school’s environment which encourages self-discovery and independence “so that they can grow at their own pace.”
Schmid said that Brandt founded the school, was the only teacher and owner for a time, and “then to start that legacy and just see it continue to offer that premium education.”
In the next 40 years, the school hopes to expand its adolescent program, which is greatly needed in the Valley as an alternative program for grades 7 to 12.
“This is the perfect program that honors what the adolescent is,” Schmid said, and recognizes “they are our future.”
“And how they can impact their world as adults,” she said.
Students in the program have opportunities to give back to the local community. For example, some students participate in fundraising with the United Way’s Greatest Needs Drive. Others own their own Etsy business through the “Staunton Montessori Bottega.”