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There's no shortage of bad news, and I warn you that I'm about to compile some of it for you. But, humming quietly beneath the churn of trouble, there's also good news, in particular for our MMS community. During these taxing times, I offer five observations of real hope that spring from the work and talent of our educators and the resources generously provided by our families. This heavy lift by our whole community is what is keeping our students flourishing on campus.

The Troubling News:

The evidence looks clear: across our nation--and likely the world--the kids are not alright.

Academic growth:

From July's report by the Center for School and Student Progress:

  • "Students made gains during the 2020-21 school year at a lower rate compared to pre-pandemic trends, especially between winter and spring."

From November's study by the National Bureau of Economic Research:

  • "We combine Spring 2021 state standardized test score data with comprehensive data on schooling in the 2020-21 school year across 12 states. We find that pass rates declined compared to prior years and that these declines were larger in districts with less in-person instruction."

Mental and Emotional Health

From the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Associations' joint October statement of a, "National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health." Salient points in the declaration include the following:

  • "We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities."
  • "The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country, we have witnessed dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts."

Tragically, according to June's CDC report, suicide attempts amongst youth have risen:

  • "In May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among adolescents aged 12–17 years, especially girls.
  • During February 21–March 20, 2021, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits were 50.6% higher among girls aged 12–17 years than during the same period in 2019; among boys aged 12–17 years, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits increased 3.7%."

Anecdotally, unprecedented behavior problems are disrupting schools across the country, especially in middle and high schools. The situation at this Oregon middle school--in November it shut down for three weeks because it was not equipped to handle the disruptive, immature, and violent behavior of students-- is emblematic of what I am hearing from colleagues working in middle and high schools across the country.

Likely, there have also been deleterious impacts on the preschool-aged population. Whether from the isolation from peers and community to understandable parental vigilance and fear, efforts to keep children safe have also likely and unintentionally inhibited their development of social skills and executive functioning skills. As is well known, unstructured social play that is less adult-supervised is linked to greater development of crucial executive functioning skills (e.g. self-regulation, focus, planning, predicting future consequences).

The Hopeful News:

The problems are daunting, and I'm unaware of a global panacea. For our passionate school community, however, I have five hopeful notes to share.

  1. Montessori education is increasingly well documented for benefiting academic growth as well as emotional and mental health. There is much evidence showing the intellectual and cognitive benefits of Montessori education (the book, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius is a good primer).

    Just this fall, a comprehensive study was released sharing findings that those adults who learned in Montessori schools as children and/or adolescents have elevated psychological well-being compared to those who attend other schools, including other private, independent schools. (Full study can be found here.)
  2. Montessori education is a powerful builder of executive functioning skills. A study released in the American Journal of Education found that students learning in Montessori schools experience significantly more focus and internal drive than their counterparts in any other method of education.
  3. Multi-age classrooms empower differentiated instruction & learning. Presently, educators in conventional schools are struggling with curriculum that no longer matches their students' needs. Due to the isolation and continual remote learning, pre-pandemic grade-level standards are not matching the abilities of many U.S. students.

    In schools that offer multi-aged/multi-grade classrooms, like authentic Montessori classrooms, individual student learning is already differentiated based on exactly where each individual student is at that moment.

    In Montessori classrooms, learning has no ceiling; faculty are trained to adapt in order to meet the needs of each of their students.
  4. In-person learning is a priority. Given the damage the isolation and endless remote learning are doing to so many youth--along with the availability of vaccines for children six years and older, and the fact that COVID appears to be less dangerous for children--local and state governments are increasingly prioritizing in-person learning in school communities; this will benefit our society.
  5. Montessori education is becoming more attainable. Alongside our commitment to provide over $1 million in tuition assistance to give access to as many MMS students as possible, philanthropists and national organizations are working to make Montessori education more accessible. These facts listed above are likely why Jeff Bezos--a highly data-driven decision-maker-- recently donated $2 billion to support Montessori education for low-income children.

    The National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector is also engaging effectively in making Montessori education far more accessible to all children and adolescents.

What else can we do?

Adults in our society are struggling, too, with significant increases in mental health disorders and substance abuse. It's critical that adults take care of themselves. Self-care is not self-indulgent. It is vital in order to be able to show up with presence, calm, and love for our children and families. Seeking professional help for our or our children's mental health challenges is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage, commitment, and care.

It's also essential that you communicate any concerns that you have with your children's teachers. Educators see your children through well-trained lenses and care deeply for the academic and mental, emotional, and social wellbeing of each of their students. I have seen again and again the incredible outcomes of parents working in active partnership with their child's teacher. Together we form a powerful team that supports healthy development and resilience.

We at MMS will continue to rally every day to deliver safe, robust in-person learning and a deeply caring and supportive school community. I thank you for being part of this grand endeavor during such extraordinary times.

Read More about Bad News/Good News

January 1, 2022

Dear MMS Community,

The U.S. Department of Labor's 2017 prediction that 65 percent of our children's careers haven't been invented yet seems even more relevant today: What will the world be like when our children step into it as adults?

There are multitudes of inspiring potentials and plenty of worrisome perils too. As we enter our new year together, I encourage us to consider this question: How do we raise our children and adolescents so that, when adults, they enter bravely the world--this world with all its complexities, opacities, joys and sorrows?

Recently I read Viktor Frankl's classic, "Man's Search for Meaning." A trained, practicing psychiatrist, he was imprisoned in Auschwitz at age 37. Frankl spent three years in the concentration camps where his family, including his parents and wife, died.

In his book, Frankl describes the different ways prisoners responded to the beyond hellish conditions and existence in which they found themselves trapped with no end in sight. He notes that concentration camp prisoners had a variety of responses from nihilism, despondency, and defeat, to savagery and selfishness, to generosity and compassion. He famously wrote,

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

That last line always makes me pause: "...to choose one's attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one's own way." It seems to be the core of any fruitful answer to the existential questions of our day: How do we help our children internalize the attitudes that will empower them to dare to live full, purposeful, expansive lives? How do we support them in expanding curiously, not contracting fearfully, into their lives?

Here are four strong strategies for empowering children to choose their own way that I've discovered through my life and my work at MMS:

  1. Rejoice in and fully support what captures our children's interests. Whether it's ornithology, baking, dinosaurs, woodworking, lacrosse, aquaponics, protecting endangered great apes, geometry, ceramics, studying the history of the Byzantine Empire, Rubik's Cubes, baseball...nurture their budding passions to keep them excited about life and learning.
  2. Let them fail and cheer them to "get back on the horse." This is so, so important (Jessica Lahey's book, The Gift of Failure is a must-read). When we rush in to rescue our children from struggle or to protect them from the consequences of their actions – all from loving intentions no doubt – we send the message to them that they are not capable or that failure is catastrophic. We know it is not. Those who accomplish much in their lives inevitably have a trail of failures and struggles behind them. They see their failures as stepping-stones to success. Share this belief with your children often, and share your own stories of the past failures and struggles that helped make you into who you are today.
  3. Praise our children's efforts more than any final product or inherent qualities or talents we see in them (e.g. "I noticed you worked really hard on that..." instead, "You're so smart!" Or, "Tell me about how you created that complicated texture..." instead of, "You're so artistic!"). This teaches them to adopt the growth mindset attitude that it is through effort that we find meaning and success, regardless of how many times we must try.
  4. Role model and equip them with a pro-social worldview.Darwin's observations on natural selection are popularly interpreted to be that humans who are the most individualistic and ruthless survive. In fact, his observations showed so powerfully that humans flourish when we know how to cooperate, support, and uplift and learn from each other within communities. Work to ensure our children see and experience the power and benefit of developing positive, caring, helpful relationships with others. A network of strong, supportive relationships empowers our children to feel confident in the world and humanity.

In the summer of 2019 when he entered hospice and knew he was dying, my father mentioned a number of times to his family this teaching from the Talmud, the sacred Jewish text that offers rabbinic commentary on the meaning of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible:

A wedding procession and a funeral procession meet at an intersection too narrow to pass. One group has to go first. The rabbis conclude that the funeral procession should step aside and let the wedding procession go first: the wedding procession is the future. They are hope. They affirm life. What is life-affirming, what is optimistically future-focused, is what we should always choose. This is not to deny or disregard the past or sorrow and struggle. Not at all. It is to prioritize ultimately, though, life and the future; to rise from our weariness or sadness and to continue to engage fully, and even joyfully, with life.

There is no doubt that it is a difficult time to be a human being right now. And, we human beings are strong and creative and capable. As we step into a new year, I encourage our MMS community to continue to model for our children saying yes to life and to continue to know fiercely the positive potential in children and adolescents and our robust Marin Montessori School community. Let us continue to equip our children with the skills, attitudes, and relationships that will best prepare them to step into the world as courageous and vibrant adults. There truly are so many possibilities, many of which we've not even yet imagined.

Big healthy, warm new year's wishes,

Sam

Read More about Raising Them Bravely: New Year's Note from Sam

We're very excited to launch this new site. We hope it captures some of the magic of our school.

Its main job is introduce Marin Montessori School to families searching for a transformative educational experience for their children. It will also have key information for current families under the Parents section, which you can find on the top right of the header.

We hope you enjoy exploring the site. If you have ideas for additional content or any feedback, please send it to me at tdubow@marinmontessori.org. We encourage you to share the site with other families who might benefit from and contribute to our community.

We're just getting started! You can expect to see new content on this site and additional ventures that hope to tell the story of Marin Montessori in ways that capture the magic of this extraordinary place.


Read More about Welcome to the new website!