By Suzanne Lawson, Assistant Head of School & Director of Admissions
About two months ago, I received a mailing from my alma mater, the Whitby School, where I attended from almost three to eleven years old. The Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut was founded in 1958 as the first American Montessori School. The American Montessori Society (AMS) began at Whitby; AMS is the same organization where many Bridgeview Montessori teachers have trained and with which our school holds an affiliation. In the mailing was an Alumni Update card along with an invitation to their Founders Celebration in recognition of their fiftieth year. I started to think about my years at Whitby, realizing that it too was a young school when I was there just as Bridgeview Montessori is a young school. Preparing to write my Alumni Update started my thinking about some other commonalities.
I think of the spiral. My spiral began in a Montessori classroom at age 3. My mother tells the story of my older sister going off to Whitby without me. Mom explained that as soon as I was out of diapers, I could go too. According to family lore, that was the motivation I needed; I started at Whitby soon after that conversation.
I remember the cooling feel and substantial weight of the metal insets. I remember the knobbed cylinders. I always loved the littlest ones. I remember a box of chocolates being taken from my open cubby and the community meeting that followed -- every member of the community sitting on the steps of Caedmon Hall to discuss trust. I remember that nouns are marked with a large black triangle when using grammar templates to identify parts of speech. I left Whitby after fifth grade but was forever affected.
Both my sister and I feel that our experience at Whitby was fundamental in our development. My sister and I consider ourselves lifelong learners, both earning advanced degrees, both becoming educators (to our businessman father’s chagrin), and both choosing independent schools for our children. I see my children as creative and independent thinkers who can sit down and focus on the work in front of them. I see them as forever curious and motivated -- on their way to becoming lifelong learners. To borrow a phrase from a wonderful educator friend of mine, I believe that we all have “growing edges;” we all have more to learn. I absolutely believe that my sister and I, and my children get these qualities from Montessori.
My spiral has brought me back to Bridgeview Montessori School. I feel connected when I touch the long bead chains and remember that the eights are brown and the nines are royal blue. I struggled with those. I hear and I then remember the muffled jingling sound that a thousand cube comprised of ten bars makes when you lift it. When I’m giving a tour to a prospective family, I find myself touching the material, asking parents to feel it too. It is compelling.
We think of the spiral as an outward and upward trajectory for our community of learners, but for me, spiraling back, down, in has been just as inspiring.
I am finally getting to my Whitby Alumni Update card.
Name: Suzanne Lawson
Class of: I left Whitby after 5th grade, spring of 1977.
Occupation: Assistant Head of School & Director of Admissions, Bridgeview Montessori School
What have you been up to?
Ironically, I find myself the Assistant Head of School and Director of Admissions at Bridgeview Montessori School where my children, Jane and Thomas Earley, went for 6 and 7 years respectively, both finishing Elementary II. After teaching English in non- Montessori independent secondary and middle schools for many years, I relocated to Cape Cod with my husband Mike Earley, leaving the classroom to be at home with our two children. As we were searching for a school for them, we found Bridgeview Montessori. The nostalgia I felt upon entering the classrooms was wonderful, and I knew that I wanted Montessori for my children. Just as my mother taught at Whitby while my sister and I attended, I too have joined the faculty at my children’s school. Mike served as the President of the Bridgeview Montessori Board of Trustees just as my father did while I was at Whitby. Just as my family growing up was, my family now is drawn in by our Montessori school. Needless to say, Whitby, Montessori education, and now Bridgeview Montessori are in my blood.