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The Proof is in the Pudding

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Kindergarten graduating class 1997 Hilary Nusbaum, Amy Gannon, Bee Cox, Zack Carlson and Teeya Smith Kindergarten graduating class 1997 Hilary Nusbaum, Amy Gannon, Bee Cox, Zack Carlson and Teeya Smith

Madelen Rowe retires as a kindergarten teacher as her first local kindergarten class graduates high school

In the late 1980s, the Memorial Community Center in Hope began offering a pre-school program for area youth. In the early ‘90s Madelen Rowe, trained in the Montessori method, took over the school and in the fall of 1996, at the request of parents, the successful preschool program added kindergarten to center’s offerings. Five students enrolled and attended school Monday through Thursday.

“I had already been with those five for two years, an I knew how smart they were. And you know, children always rise to your expectations.”

That was 13 years ago, and those students are graduating high school this year. Rowe eventually left Hope and opened the Learning Center in Ponderay, offering the same successful preschool/kindergarten Montessori program through the years This year’s kindergartners graduated in late May, and Rowe took off her apron, sold off her equipment, and retired from teaching.  “That this is happening now, when my first class is graduating high school, somehow seems appropriate,” she said.

Hillary Nusbaum will receive her diploma with her fellow classmates from Sandpoint High School on Saturday, June 6. Having completed her graduation requirements by the first semester, she has spent the last few months working as a nanny in California. She’ll return to California in the fall, where she’s enrolled at Santa Monica College. She plans to major in business with a minor in photography and hopes to eventually find work as a photographer that will allow her to travel.”

“She (Madelen) taught us so much art,” Hillary enthused. “I remember we went through a lot of macaroni! She was just such an amazing teacher,” she added. “She was always very loving, no matter how obnoxious we were. And besides, she taught me how to spell my name!”

“Hil always did march to the beat of her own drum,” laughed her mom, Debb, a school counselor in Sandpoint. “I am so glad I signed her up for that kindergarten class. I wanted her to have an intense educational experience.”

Amy Gannon will graduate on Friday, June 5 from Clark Fork High School, third in her class. Amy is enrolled at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho where she plans to major in business, and is hoping to participate in study abroad programs to fulfill her dreams of travel.

 “Most people probably don’t remember what they learned in kindergarten, but I do,” said Amy. Miss Madelen (as all the students called her, despite her being a “missus”) made everything seem like a game. She was always nice, always smiling. I remember she always tried to instill good manners with food, though she wasn’t always very successful.”

Teeya Smith will graduate in June from the Olive Grove Charter School in Los Olivos, California. This fall she will be attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she plans to study opera and major in voice. “I really appreciate that experience,” she said. We had such close-knit relationships. And Madelen created a program that was really student-driven; I got to do my own thing.” One of Teeya’s favorite memories from Kindergarten—”all our little field trips. She was always taking us on walks.”

Bea Cox is also graduating from Sandpoint High School this month. Zack Carlson left high school last year.

Rowe has followed those first five students throughout the years, clipping out pages in the Daily Bee whenever the students were recognized and sending off congratulatory cards. She plans to attend each high school graduation that she can. Her former students say they’ll be glad to see her, and thank her for the foundation she gave them in their educational endeavors.

“It’s going to be so great to see her,” said Hillary. “You know, she just sent me a card last year after she saw something about me in the paper. It’s so amazing that she remembers us and still cares about what we’re doing. She is such a loving person.”

Rowe says she’s proud of what that first class has accomplished with their high academic standards. “The proof is in the pudding,” she laughed. “These kids turned out pretty well.”

The Montessori method that Rowe has used to such success is a child-centered process that self-directed activity. There are all types of “work” that children can decide to do, and Rowe also provides “challenge work;” each student is required to choose at least one ‘challenge work’ assignment every day. “I’ve found that the more freedom you give a child, the more quickly they learn responsibility connected with that,” she said. “I’ve always shad just really nice kids, and I found you just have to give them a chance and let them go.

Rowe’s exposure to Montessori started with her own son’s preschool. “I couldn’t afford the tuition so I started cleaning the school and I fell in love with the order and the atmosphere,” she explained. “Montessori is all about calmness and beauty.” A quarter of a century of teaching now under her belt, she says “I’m so lucky that I’ve done what I wanted to do. You know, I got to go to preschool every year—what’s better than that?!

“Montessori is a self-directed curriculum based on a children’s interests, so it really helps to develop a self-motivated learner.”

Maria Montessori, who developed this teaching philosophy back in the early 1900s, wrote, “From the moment the child enters the classroom, each step in his education is seen as a progressive building block, ultimately forming the whole person, in the emergence from childhood to adult. All focus is on the needs of the child.”

The Montessori ‘method’ was built on the idea that children are not just miniature adults—they learn, develop and think differently than adults do.”

“It’s a wonderful way to teach. I love loved teaching students this way. I’m thrilled to have spent my career with little kids.”

The only drawback to teaching preschool, in fact, is the difficulty in making a living, especially given the state of the economy. Because it’s not required for students, many parents often see spending money for preschool and private kindergarten as a luxury they cannot afford.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do now,” Rowe said. “I’ve sold my supplies—my stuff is all over town now and I love that. Somehow it seems fitting that I’m retiring when my first kindergarten class here is graduating high school, and now I’m just going to leave myself open to whatever opportunities are out there.

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Landon Otis

Tagged as:

education, Madelen Rowe, preschool, Amy Gannon, Hillary Nusbaum, Teeya Smith, Bea Cox, Montessori

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