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Central Montessori at a crossroads

Got a minute? Central Montessori is looking for your input as they consider expansion.

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A happy accident brought Central Montessori to their spot on 20th Street at the foot of Jefferson Park.

“We were driving around looking for a facility and got lost,” says co-founder Anita Pishko. She and her husband Steve ended up at the intersection of Marshall and Cedar, and saw the then-vacant building up the way.

“This would make the most awesome Montessori school in the world,” was their immediate thought. They signed a lease the first time that they were in the building.

This was 2006, before a lot what we take for granted around these parts had come to be: Cold Storage was still a hulking vacant mess, murder in Richmond and the East End was double what it is now, Alamo wasn’t open yet, and almost all of the new Shockoe apartments were still being drawn. More than now, you really had to want to be here.

Central Montessori  (12/2007)

Central Montessori (12/2007)

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Central Montessori is today a bright, bustling environment. The outside space of the playground, backdropped by the city skyline, is right there through the front wall of windows. The center space of the building is open, with tables and chairs, shelves and tools, drawings and maps, and children everywhere. The vibe is lived-in organic order, full of the buzz of active children.

The main room connects to 3 or 4 other rooms behind and above. In each space there are adults and groups of children, pairs of children, and scattered individual students, each and everyone seemingly doing something interesting. It feels like a tremendously fantastic place to be a curious kid.

While I was walking through the school taking photos, individual kids peeled away from drawing maps or whatever to ask their questions of me: “Whose dad are you? What’s your name? What’s your camera made of? Where’s your rain coat?”

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“I can not stress how welcoming Church Hill has been,” Anita offers, “I just fell in love.” She says that the Friends of Jefferson Park were quick to offer support to the small school. From the firefighters at Station #1 to the neighbors up the hill, the community has embraced the small school.

That geodesic climbing dome in the playground out front? “Someone just dropped it off” as an anonymous gift, Pishko explains.

One-third of the students are from the East End, says Anita. In good weather the parents walk or bike to school with the students. The rest come from all over the city, brought by parents attracted to the school’s approach to education, unique environment and proximity to downtown.

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In early 2006, co-worker of Anita’s who lived in Fulton told her about Mary Lou Decossaux’s plans to add a Montessori pre-school to the Neighborhood Resource Center in that neighborhood. Anita, then a teacher at Richmond Montessori School in the West End, along with several other teachers and the director from West End Montessori, devoted themselves to the project and had the sliding scale school open on Williamsburg Road three months later.

Anita says that in the early days of the NRC school, Church Hill families kept making contact looking for Montessori opportunities. At that time the Fulton location was only open to children in that more immediate area.

Having seen the disparity between the most and least affluent Montessori schools in Richmond and the demand in the area, the Pishkos had the idea to open a school in the area. This is how they came to be lost at Marshall and Cedar streets that fateful night later in 2006, looking up what would one day become Central Montessori.

To this day Central Montessori is a companion school to the Fulton program, and offers matching scholarships to matriculating NRC students.

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The Central Montessori community has a choice to make: stay small or take on another venue?

The school started with students 3-6 years old, now serves children ages 16 months to 12-years-old, and has run out of room to expand.

“We exceeded our 5 year vision, we’ve added a new classroom every year,” says Pishko. The school currently enrolls about 100 students, and is full of children. There is a waiting list for toddlers, and the elementary program is at capacity with enrollment closed for the past year. They are weighing the costs of expansion to another facility in the area and looking at their options.

The school has recently launched a campaign to gauge community interest in expanded services. More services would mean adding another facility and more teachers, each of whom has the equivalent of a Master’s degree.

In addition to expanding current servies, Pishko is also contemplating offering a Montessori infant program for children 0-16 months. This would be one caretaker per child, or per 2 children, and would cost approximately $1,300 per month per child. This would be quite a commitment on the part of parents and the school.

>> Central Montessori School Education Survey

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