As families enrolled in Waterfront Montessori’s middle school begin to consider where they might want to send their children for high school, they are now better equipped for the admissions process.
Like many independent schools, Waterfront Montessori does not give its students the traditional A/B/C/D letter grades commonly used at most public schools and many private and parochial institutions. Instead, students receive narrative report cards that include the letters M for “mastery,” SP for “steady progress,” or P for “progress.”
While this grading system makes sense within the context of Waterfront Montessori’s teaching philosophy, Head of Schools Karen Westman said it was sometimes difficult for educators outside the Montessori community to have a full understanding of what Waterfront graduates were capable of as they moved into high school.
At the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, however, Waterfront Montessori received an important international academic designation that should make it easier for the school’s graduates to deal with this challenge. In April, the pre-K through eighth grade school, which has two campuses in Jersey City, was recognized as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School.
Waterfront Montessori, which has two campuses in Jersey City, had been working towards its IB designation for three years.
Specifically, Waterfront Montessori’s middle school received IB commendations in 12 evaluation areas, including the incorporation of student reflection about their work, student planning, time management, responsibility and accountability for their own learning; the implementation of a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum; strong, high quality teachers; and support of special educational needs. The IB designation team also commented that, of the 40 schools in North America they had visited, Waterfront Montessori’s students were the most engaged.
“This is important to the school because it provides external validation of what we do,” said Westman. “[Traditional letter] grades are not a part of a normal Montessori program. We do assess our students, we assess them for what they know and what they can do. But in terms of presenting what they are capable of to the outside world, having the IB World School designation says we have somebody looking over our shoulders who’s making sure that what we are doing is up to their standards.”
The International Baccalaureate organization was developed to create an international, and internationally recognized, academic standard for students planning on post-secondary education. According to Montessori Foundation President Tim Seldin, the IB designation is critical to increasing the number of elementary, middle, and high schools that are based in the Montessori philosophy.
At present, Waterfront is something of an oddity in the Montessori community, as most Montessori schools focus on early childhood education. Few offer elementary or middle school programs. The dearth of Montessori schools that extend beyond kindergarten, Seldin argues, has hindered the growth of Montessori-based educational programs in the U.S., even though Montessori schools are often highly regarded for their early childhood programs.
“We’ve been caught in a situation where we could not imagine bringing together the resources needed to establish…secondary programs, and the absence of strong Montessori high schools has colored the public’s perception about how seriously Montessori is to be taken,” Seldin wrote in a foundation publication.
Seldin believes that the creation of Montessori-IB designated schools will enable more Montessori programs to extend into the middle grades and bolster the few elementary and middle school programs, like Waterfront Montessori, that currently exist.
Westman said she founded Waterfront Montessori after her children’s Montessori school closed. Like many similar schools, she initially planned to focus on early education, but ended up extending the program to eighth grade after local parents expressed an interest in keeping their children in a Montessori environment for longer periods of time.
“You know, parents kept asking for it, so we just kept on going,” said Westman.
At present, she said there are no plans to extend Waterfront to high school, even with the IB designation.
“High school, I think, is a whole different animal.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.