By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
FISHERSVILLE – Founded in Staunton 40 years ago, Staunton Montessori School celebrated a milestone on Friday.
âThe intention was to bring Montessori to the Shenandoah Valley,â said Debra Dance Schmid, who began her first year of school leading the school this year.
According to Schmid, the school started in Staunton and kept the queen city in its name thanks to a move to Verona, then after moving to Fishersville 12 years ago.
Schmid said on Friday that the school will announce during its celebration the start of the Founders Fund Scottie Lu Parker Brandt, named after the school’s founder with a mission to create an endowment for the school and scholarship opportunities for students.
âIt will just be something that will continue to raise money for scholarships,â Schmid said.
The school was founded to pursue the educational philosophy of Maria Montessori, an Italian doctor and educator born in 1870 who first dreamed of becoming an engineer. Its philosophy included an educational environment for students of different levels.
The school started out as a one-class educational institution for elementary school students. Its program for adolescents is fairly new.
âThe social environment is a very important part of the classroom,â Schmid said of the Montessori educational model.
Students learn the importance of dignity, respect and community, as well as self-worth.
“Children learn to discover themselves,” she said of the school environment which encourages self-discovery and independence “so that they can grow at their own pace.”
Schmid said that Brandt founded the school, that he was the sole teacher and owner for a time, and “then to start this legacy and just see him continue to provide this quality education.”
Over the next 40 years, the school hopes to expand its much needed adolescent program in the valley as an alternative program for students in grades 7 to 12.
âIt’s the perfect program that honors what the teenager is,â Schmid said, and recognizes âthey are our futureâ.
âAnd how they can impact their world as adults,â she said.
Students in the program have the opportunity to give back to the local community. For example, some students participate in a fundraiser with the United Way’s Greater Needs Campaign. Others have their own Etsy business through the “Staunton Montessori Bottega”.