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Montessori School Director Facilitates Holistic Learning Approach for Children

By Harland Stewart and Dylan Smith
Hottytoddy.com interns
jhstewar@go.olemiss.edu; dtsmith@go.olemiss.edu

The Magnolia Montessori School program in Oxford has been educating children with a more holistic approach than traditional schools since moving to the area in 2014. Backed by the science of neurological and developmental psychology, the school’s method of teaching allows children to be more proactive and creative inside and outside the classroom.

Designed to help each child reach his or her own unique potential, lessons are given individually or taught in small groups. The Montessori method emphasizes project-based collaborative group work and problem-solving for elementary students ages 18 months to 6th grade.

Hattie, a student at the Magnolia Montessori School, preps her daily snack. Photo provided.

Edy Dingus, executive director of the Magnolia Montessori School, has a passion for helping children reach their full potential. Dingus has been with the program for almost a year and a half. Prior to her current position, she proudly volunteered with AmeriCorps – a national service organization.

“Our hope is to foster independence and creativity through an individualized method of education, where we put engagement along with social and emotional development first,” Dingus said.

The Montessori Method focuses on social and emotional development, but the children are also challenged in the classroom. Ellen Meacham is a proud mom of a student in the program.

“Each week, my son meets with his teacher and they go over his work from the week and set goals,” Meacham said. “They use the state requirements for his grade level to shape and inform those goals. Then, during the coming week, he decides if he wants to do all his math goals one day and his language another, or some of each each day. He has some choice, but he can’t choose to goof off.” 

This method was developed by a woman named Dr. Maria Montessori, who opened her first school in Rome on Jan. 6, 1907. 

Montessori’s early interests were focused in psychiatry. She later developed an interest in education, attending classes on pedagogy and immersing herself in educational theory, according to the American Montessori Society. Using science and observational methods, she designed learning materials that fostered a child’s natural desire to learn. The North American Montessori Teacher’s Association (NAMTA) estimates that there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the U.S. and about 20,000 worldwide.

Along with a more focused form of teaching and encouraging good behavior with children inside the school, Dingus says the school also tries to give to the community outside of their organization. To do that, they donate some of the food they grow in their garden to organizations in need through the food program. 

“We have a school garden that is in part grant-funded,” Dingus said. “The reason it is grant-funded is because we donate the surplus from our garden to area food pantries. That helps our children, staff members and community to understand that we have the power to serve needs when we can. That helps to develop that compassion.”

In addition to the food program, Dingus is helping create new opportunities she hopes to launch as soon as summer 2020.

“We’re in talks about creating both nature and empowerment programs that will open to the community, but we are also in the process of creating full summertime care that has different themes for the camps. This program will be open to parents who have children between the ages of 18 months to 12 years,” she said.

As Dingus and her staff begin to integrate these programs into their framework, one thing will never change: the progressive vision and direction of her goals with the Magnolia Montessori School. As much as Dingus gives to local children, she explains just how much of an impact the children have on her.

“The most rewarding part of the job is that I just love the idea that I get to captain a ship collaboratively with my fellow staff members—who are all phenomenal—and we get to work with the community every day,” she said. “My other favorite part is getting to see these children grow in positive, proactive, independent and innovative ways.”

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