A new way to learn

A move to make Don Titus Elementary in Chetwynd a Montessori school has been met with preliminary approval from both School District 59 (SD59) and parents. It would be the only Montessori elementary school in the Peace Region.

This alternative teaching method will not deviate from the provincial curriculum, but will educate the children using different methods, according to Sylvia Bell, principal of the school.

"With this system, the child gets to progress at their own pace," said Bell. "We want to keep alight the Montessori philosophy ... And if they need more time on any particular subject, they will get more time and they won't feel like failures."

Bell said that the public system has a precisely regimented system that does not allow for individual pursuits, which is very different from the Montessori philosophy.

"There's more attention to the natural world, and finding your place within it," she said.

In a Montessori school children are not taught by a teaching standing in front of the classroom, but are guided to choose their own educational activities.

While this type of system allows much more freedom on the child's part to choose what he or she learns that day, Bell insists that there is still some regimentation occurring.

"We'll still adhere to the B.C. curriculum standards and we still need to track on how kids are doing with testing," she said.

Despite her desire to switch to Montessori, she conceded that she and her teachers have not yet been fully trained in the system yet.

As far as the SD59 board is concerned, Bell said they've been given preliminary approval to proceed with the transition to Montessori. However, she said the approval is tentative and not officially set in stone.

"We have approval in principle," she said.

"Which means, yes, we're going to allow you to proceed but if anything doesn't go well for us we're not going to give final approval just yet."

Bell conceded that while it is rare for the board to reverse their initial position, they reserve the right to do so, based on the outcome of the planning.

When asked if Bell had received approval from the board, Kathy Sawchuk, superintendent of Schools for SD 59 replied, "This (approval for Don Titus' Montessori system) will be discussed at the next school board meeting on June 19."

Other public elementary schools in Chetwynd include Little Prairie Elementary and Windrem Elementary. There is also Peace Christian School, which is a private elementary school.

The closest Montessori school, Swanavon School, is located in Grande Prairie, AB.

Chrissie Spenst, a Chetwynd parent who has two children in the Don Titus School and another on the way in, said she is "very excited" about the Montessori system being implemented.

"I think it's gonna be great for the school, I like the theory of the Montessori system," said Spenst.

"It's a different way of learning because it engages the children in learning more than the public system. The child can choose what they're going to learn that day, but the teacher is still there to help guide them."

She said that some parents would be concerned that this would be a more chaotic system, but she stressed that this isn't the case.

"That isn't the case at all. The teacher won't for example stalk the child and say, 'okay now it's time to do some reading'. She will let the child finish before the teacher asks the child to do something else for a while," she said.

She said that all of the school's teachers and support staff are "very supportive" of installing the Montessori system at Don Titus.

She added, "Nobody was against it."

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