FLORENCE, S.C. -- McLaurin Elementary School will finish the expansion of the Montessori program in 2019. Starting next school year, the entire school will operate as a Montessori school.

“Getting all the materials here, getting the classrooms set up and the teachers trained has been quite an undertaking, but I feel really, really good about where we are, and I am just looking forward to great things,” said Debbie Cribb, the principal of McLaurin Elementary School.

During the 2017-18 school year, McLaurin began moving toward the process of becoming a full Montessori school, making all kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms Montessori. The school added third grade to the program during the 2018-19 school year, and next school year fourth grade will be added.

Prior to the 2017-18 school year, the school had the Montessori program available for half of the children at McLaurin. It was parent choice for students to be in Montessori, and many children were from outside McLaurin zoning, Cribb said.

A Montessori school operates under a teaching philosophy that Maria Montessori developed in the early 1900s.

“Montessori is a different way of teaching; it’s a philosophy that is based on a very sequenced set of hands-on materials,” Cribb said. “Maria Montessori developed this many, many years ago, and it has been adapted through the years, and we have adapted it somewhat to use in a public setting.”

In each classroom, there are lessons with hands-on modules that a teacher will show the children and then allow the students to practice them on their own until mastering the lesson. This gives children a personalized learning plan, allowing them to move at their own pace, Cribb said.

Cribb said this way of teaching students allows them to become independent learners, enabling them to learn even if the teacher is not there.

Cribb said an important part of Montessori is that students learn through a multi-sensory approach to learning, which allows all children to learn in a way that meets their needs.

“Not all kids are visual learners, and not all kids are auditory learners, so this reaches all modalities for kids,” Cribb said.

Even though McLaurin is using a Montessori approach to education, the school still follows state standards and testing.

“We have to make sure those standards are covered as well in the Montessori classroom,” Cribb said. “We still do the state testing. Our expectations for children are exactly the same as a traditional classroom. We just approach teaching them differently.”

Cribb said the Imagine Forward initiative, the district’s plan to provide all Florence One students with a computer device, has been an interesting piece to add to the program.

“All of our teachers were trained in Google Classroom and how to use Chromebooks,” Cribb said. “They sat down and talked about ways to incorporate that into what we do in Montessori without losing the authenticity of a Montessori classroom, but doing service to technology, because students need to understand how to use technology as well.”

Cribb said the Chromebooks have allowed teachers to add extensions to lessons in the classroom, allowing students to take their learning a step further outside the classroom.

Cribb said she first had the idea for incorporating Montessori into the school when she visited schools in Greenville with the program.

“I was so intrigued by the level of engagement that I saw with those kids and the materials,” Cribb said. “I thought ‘this would be great for us to be able to do that in Florence.’”

The Montessori program started at McLaurin during the 2001-02 school year. Cribb and two kindergarten teachers traveled to Greenville every other weekend for two years for Montessori training.

When McLaurin Elementary incorporated the Montessori program at the school, it was the first public school in the area to provide Montessori education in a public-school setting. As word began spreading about the Montessori program, more parents in the district wanted their children to have a Montessori education, so McLaurin expanded to first grade.

“Once we got it here, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we needed to expand, and we kept expanding until we ran out of space,” Cribb said.

Cribb said she is excited to expand the Montessori program to all students.

“I saw those hands-on materials making such a difference, and I just didn’t think it was fair for half to have it and the other half to not have it, so we made a presentation to the board to extend to all students who were zoned for here, and they agreed to it,” Cribb said.

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