By Guest Blogger Ben Payne, director of upper school, Greensboro Montessori School
As middle school students move into and through adolescence (fourth through ninth grade and beyond), it’s imperative they receive authentic support for their burgeoning philosophical questioning, curiosity in the world around them, and deep desire for belonging within their peer group. Greensboro Montessori School honors these needs through the concept of valorization, which is a pillar of the Montessori middle school experience.
Valorization is the process of understanding you are a strong and worthy person, through work and active participation in society – not through work as a means to an end. It is the process of self-actualization and fulfillment. Valorization is not about surviving hours of arbitrary homework or memorizing facts for the next test. It’s about completing meaningful work, unleashing academic excellence, and solving real-world problems. It’s about knowing you are not only valuable, but also valued.
Through valorization, Greensboro Montessori School’s middle school students are active participants in their education. They play the lead role in constructing their own knowledge and are accountable for their own growth. The presence of professional educators who are experts in their respective fields, along with intentionally prepared learning environments, provides the framework for academic excellence.
As Greensboro Montessori School prepared for this school year, we knew valorization was best achieved through in-person learning. The school identified in-person learning as one of five guiding principles during the pandemic. (The remaining four are safety, family partnership, Montessori education, and ongoing monitoring.) To minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 on campus, the school created small, isolated cohorts; adapted classroom spaces; and implemented consistent mask-wearing, among other things. The school also made decisions based not just on the physical health of our community, but also the social-emotional well-being of our students, families, faculty, and staff. Our comprehensive approach to COVID-19 is detailed in our COVID-19 Resource Center.
Because of this approach, our middle school students attend class with their friends, work with tactile learning materials, spend time on our 37-acre satellite campus in Oak Ridge, and participate in most of the normal activities we all know to be part of school. When weather allows, they spend much of their day outside. Though they receive Spanish, art, and music through live, virtual instruction, they participate in these lessons and the entire school day in a real, in-person community that supports their mental health in positive ways.
Our younger students – beginning at 18 months old – are also benefiting from in-person learning and the interactions they need to develop cognitively, socially, emotionally, and physically. Whether toddler or teen, our students engage in meaningful work of the head, heart, and hands. For our middle schoolers, this work ranges from building websites for their student-run businesses to growing and harvesting produce in the School’s permaculture gardens; from competing in science challenges to raising chickens and selling the eggs; from writing a student newspaper to coordinating schoolwide art projects. All of these experiences are not only integrated in students’ academic learning, but also essential work for our school community, thus reinforcing the concept of valorization: understanding you are a strong and worthy person, through work and active participation in society … knowing you are valuable and also valued.
We do not know what next year will look like. However, our middle school students, along with everyone at Greensboro Montessori School, continue to build confidence in knowing whatever the circumstance, we will adapt. And by remaining committed to valorization, we know we will not just adapt, but we will thrive.
To learn more about the Montessori middle school experience, attend Greensboro Montessori School’s virtual open house on Friday, March 5 at 1:30 p.m. Click here to register.
Ben Payne is the director of upper school at Greensboro Montessori School. Prior to joining the School in 2019, Ben led the creation of two charter schools. Ben holds a Master of Architecture from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from the University of Virginia. He is also pursuing his Montessori teaching credential in Elementary I (ages 6 to 9) and Elementary II (ages 9 to 12).
*Sponsored by Greensboro Montessori School