PAMPLICO, S.C. -- Florence County School District Two will add third grade to its Montessori program this fall.

The addition of the three third-grade Montessori classrooms will bring to 12 the number of Montessori classrooms at Hannah-Pamplico Elementary-Middle School.

Montessori is a different approach to education than a conventional classroom, said Hannah-Pamplico Elementary Middle School Principal Legrande Richardson.

“You’re not going to see rows of desks,” Richardson said. “You’re going to see them actively engaging. They’re going to be in the floor, they’re going to be on mats. Each student has a different activity plan or instructional plan.”

The school currently has traditional and Montessori classrooms operating simultaneously. The Montessori program is available to students at parents' request, according to Richardson. Currently, there are about 50 Montessori students in the program.

“Right now, it’s been pretty popular, so the vast majority of our students are choosing to stick with the Montessori,” Richardson said.

Richardson said the school takes care to follow the state standards as well as trying to stay true to Montessori.

“We certainly try to be true to Montessori, but you do have to ask your teachers to try to do what we call crosswalks, where we sit down and say, ‘Here’s a Montessori curriculum, but here’s what the South Carolina state standards are,’” Richardson said. “We have to make sure that they overlap.”

When third grade is added to the Montessori program, Richardson said, this will be the first year that students who will be in the program take part in state testing. He said that it will be a good indicator of how the school is doing with overlapping the South Carolina standards with the Montessori program.

The program’s integration into the school has taken a lot of dedication and time, Richardson said.

“It’s not easy; it’s not like picking up a three-ring binder with curriculum in it or a textbook,” Richardson said. “It’s very hands on.”

Throughout the process of adding the Montessori program, teachers have had to dedicate one Thursday per week, the school has had to order new materials and the teachers have had to work to build lessons.

Richardson said the program began almost four years ago as a part of a grant with Floyd Creech in Florence One Schools to start an early childhood program in Montessori in the district.

“Our idea was to start one class,” Richardson said. “It just kind of took off. It was well received and really popular in the community. We started on it around March and April, and by the time the school year started, we were up to four classes.”

The first class offered was to 4- and 5-year-old students, and then it expanded to a primary class of first- and second-grade students.

Richardson said the school plans to extend the Montessori program through fourth grade, and allow students to have fourth grade as a transition year into the middle school.

“I think it will always be community choice,” Richardson said. “I don’t think it will ever not be. Our district has been dedicated to not becoming a complete Montessori school, but offering this as a choice or option for parents.”

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