I helped open Magnolia Blossom Montessori School in the Fall of 2017. I was excited to build the first Wildflower School in the South. Magnolia Blossom is a private non-profit organization, founded on personal savings and perseverance. Like many early childhood educators, my partners and I were highly educated with the student loan debt to prove it, and felt stuck in low paying daycare positions where we couldn’t impact the change we dreamed of. I was drawn to the teacher led model of education after experiencing the downside of working in schools where administrators made decisions that were far removed from the needs of teachers and children in their classrooms.
As a Teacher-Leader at Magnolia Blossom, I work directly with children and families while working as an administrator after school hours. Starting this business has been one of the most empowering things I have ever accomplished. My Co-Teacher Leaders and I wear many hats: we write grants, run a small business, do marketing, budgeting, human resources, training, parent education, community development, caregiving, mentor emerging teacher leaders, and create policy, all on top of our key daily roles as early childhood educators.
Magnolia Blossom has strived to be an equitable school from our first day. The Equitable Tuition Model provides families with an opportunity to contribute to socio-economic diversity and practice in mutual aid. As an early childhood educator of 11 years, I know that all children benefit from early education, especially Montessori education, regardless of their families’ means. Like all early education programs, since there is no public option, Magnolia Blossom relies on tuition income as its primary source of funding. Therefore, an equitable tuition model is critical to socio-economic diversity because it affords a discount to families who would otherwise be unable to pay the required tuition. One-third of our enrolled families received Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) funding, which only covers about half of our daily operating cost per student. One-third of our families make too much to qualify for CCAP assistance, and pay a lower tuition than market rate, while one-third of our families are high income, and pay a higher- yet competitive rate in the private Montessori market.
In addition to this tuition model, I teach parents every year about what equity is, and create employment policies that promote equity in our school. Even with these efforts, a single-parent home with very low income who enrolls a toddler will pay 28% of their overall income to attend. In comparison, the lowest-earning high-income parent pays 19% of their annual income. And still, both of these families pay as much for early education as they could pay for a mortgage or local college tuition.
See, unlike public schools across the country that are funded by every tax paying adult, early childhood programs, or “day cares”, are not subsidized by governments, local or federal. Somewhere along the way, we decided that every child should have access to k-12 education, but not early childhood education (ECE), which ironically has been proven to be more valuable to brain development, social development, and community success than any stage of learning. Instead of investing in ECE as a whole, the US puts this burden on individual families, and most of all on the educators that work in daycare centers across the country. In my stent of teaching at Early Head Starts, fancy private schools, and modest ECE centers, or even applying for Public district preschools, I constantly found myself being required to obtain more education while accepting lower pay and fewer benefits than my colleagues teaching higher grades. Accepting hours that ranged from 6 am to 6 pm, working through summers and holidays. It’s no wonder that ambitious educators like myself eventually seek positions that pay what we are worth.
So, why am I ranting about the worth of early childhood educators? Because at this moment, we are in danger. Do you remember when discussing the impact of charter schools was a hot (niche) topic? Communities across the country watched as the new “white flight” shut down public schools as families with resources flocked to charter schools and magnet programs. I know we are always discussing how to create “diversity” and “inclusion” in our school districts, and we are still talking about it here in Louisville. Despite generations of efforts to cross-bus for integration. I was a parent at Coleridge Taylor Montessori Public School, and I watched as Montessori parents who could afford private options, or had the privilege of experiencing Montessori preschool programs, pulled their children out of the Title One program to leave for other schools. Leaving the “resides” neighborhood students whose families’ lives were too wracked with poverty to be as present at the school. These well meaning Montessori parents were advocating for their children, using their privilege to provide something “better,” and in the process, took their voice and their resources away from the community.
This is happening now with day cares in the time of Covid-19.
When I opened Magnolia Blossom Montessori, I had trouble finding applicants who weren’t white and wealthy. I intentionally left spots open (read uncollected tuition) until low income families applied. We struggled to find parents who qualified for state subsidies like CCAP, or families who identified as Black or Latinx. My belief was that these families saw our school and assumed they couldn’t afford it, or they wouldn’t be welcome. The majority of Montessori schools are occupied by wealthy white families, and I hear this confirmed over and over again when applicants finally find our school, after touring other Montessori schools. You can imagine my excitement this year when we were awarded a large expansion grant that required us to serve low income families. This growth opportunity allows us to serve more low income families- AND more tuition paying families, and our success hinges on the balance of the two.
**enter the corona-virus epidemic**
Magnolia Blossom Montessori had achieved modest savings over the first three years, largely due to constant enrollment and meager pay for Teacher Leaders. Heads of School were paid about $21k a year, and assisting staff only $10.50 an hour, with no benefits. These wages are not sustainable- or frankly ethical, especially for well educated professionals with student loans to pay back. We were already carrying the financial weight of providing access to others on our backs. When Magnolia Blossom was mandated to close in March, 2020:
A July survey from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) revealed that 86% of childcare providers are serving less children amidst the pandemic. Almost as many faced new operating costs, such as additional staff, legal fees, and cleaning supplies. Enrollment had plummeted by two-thirds and 40% of programs surveyed, including half of all minority-owned programs, said they would permanently close without substantial government aid.
At first, I was not worried about a drop in enrollment. At the beginning of the school year, we had 30+ applicants in the queue, and our 36 spots were full. But then the turnover began. Even before we opened our doors for fall 2020, 10 families decided to leave because of a change in life circumstances. Parents lost jobs, needed to move closer to family, or just decided to keep their child home because Covid-related risk factors. On top of that, those families who qualified for CCAP were having trouble (and still are) getting approved, as offices are closed to in person visits, and system errors are plentiful even when staff isn’t working from home. Most of the time, we hear that parents are waiting on the phone all day and not getting through. Even when they do get through, CCAP only pays us for days children are present, so every day spent in a required quarantine will be a day we go unpaid.
Experts say that this childcare crisis will have a domino effect on the economy. Women and people of color are disproportionately employed in low-wage care work, including ECE. Magnolia Blossom struggles to find qualified teachers who are in a position to work for so little. We fear that ECE educators will find better opportunities that pay what they are worth and leave the industry entirely.
As I try to fill the last open spots, we hear, “I think we are going to sit this year out,” or “we decided to get a nanny until the pandemic is over,” because it’s “just too risky.” And you know what, I agree with those families 100%. Every family should be afforded the choice of their family’s safety over sending their child to school. But it’s not a choice every family has. Because right now, our application queue is finally filling up with CCAP eligible and low-income families looking for a safe place for their children. The problem is, we can’t afford to operate on a full docket of low-income families. An equity based model requires participation and inclusion from families of all incomes. Something has got to give. Or Somebody. And if higher-income families aren’t willing to stick out this pandemic with those families who can’t afford to stay home from work or pay a nanny, they might not have a school to return to when this is all over. Then we are really going to have to rethink our economy from the ground up.
STATE CHARTER SCHOOL LAWS ENABLE “WHITE-FLIGHT CHARTER SCHOOLS”
School Choice, Charter Schools, and White Flight
The New White Flight
How COVID-19 is Impacting Child Care Providers
COVID-19 Has Nearly Destroyed the Childcare Industry—and It Might Be Too Late to Save It
Most learning happens in the first 3 years
Hello Magnolia Montessori Families and Community Members!!!
Magnolia Montessori has BIG NEWS!
WE have achieved our fundraising goal to move forward with our expansion! This means:
Magnolia Blossom Montessori will be located at 950 S. 3rd Street in SoBro.
We still have a few open spots for 4 and 5 year olds who are low income. Please share our good news!
Hello Magnolia Montessori Families and community!
We want to start out by saying that we miss each and everyone of you dearly. We would also like to acknowledge you for your ability and efforts, to adapt and take on the educational role as we have been separated during these difficult times. We know how hard it is for both children and adults to make such drastic changes in their lives and we endlessly appreciate your support as we go forward on this journey together.
We hope you are finding the resources and updates helpful and it brings much needed joy to our hearts when we receive updates from your families, please continue to share with us how your family is practicing life skills, creativity, giving back to the community, play and family time at home.
We want to remind you that play is the MOST important way to learn and that you have everything you need to continue your children's education at home! Use this time to strengthen your family’s relationships with each other. This is a team effort and is a great opportunity to get everyone working together to prioritize the communication, cooperation and caring environment you have always wished you had time to create within your home.
It is once again time for us to update you on our growth into Magnolia Blossom Montessori's expansion project and we hope it can bring some insight into the bright future we see ahead of us!
Although we have been away (too far away), from the most valuable part of our work as Montessori guides, your curious and encouraging children, we have not wasted a moment of our time in the process. Below are the things we have accomplished since we have been gone.
We would like to acknowledge the Wildflower network for their support, updates and resources, they are helping us to support you. They have provided meetings among school leaders and are checking in regularly to see how they can best support us as we push our way through the challenges of social distancing.
We would also like to thank you for everything you do to keep us moving forward and we look forward to seeing you all in the near future! We hope that your loved ones stay safe, healthy and please, keep in touch!
With love, and blowing hugs-
Whitney, Brooklyn, and Melinda
Hello Magnolia Montessori Community!
It's time for a Spring update for all of those who love, attend, and follow Magnolia Montessori's work.
We have been working very diligently on making our expansion next year a reality. Myself, incoming Teacher Leaders, supporting teachers, and current and past parents have all pulled together to find and apply for grant funding. We have spent months looking for rental spaces to house our new endeavor, and now we are in the midst of negotiating leases. It is always our goal to maintain transparency with our community, so that everyone has the autonomy to act in their best interest, to participate where they feel called, and to offer advice and support when needed.
Summary of purpose:
We always welcome feedback, questions, and mutual support. Thank you for following our success and progress!
Hello Magnolia Community!
Last week we had an event titled "Magnolia: Past, Present, Future," at our potential new location in downtown Louisville. We had a great turn out. Prospective parents, founding families, and current families all turned out to see the story of our school and imagine our future together. Our new 3-6 teachers introduced themselves along with our new violin instructor. We shared food, drinks, and raised $800 in raffle tickets for our start up journey- while 3 families walked away with lovely gifts of bourbon.
Magnolia Montessori is committed to transparency, and to that end we want to keep you updated on our journey to our vision.
We will be posting our current budgets, and projected start up budget on our website soon, so look out for those so you can see how we are spending every dollar. Our grant-funding goal is $50k. This money will be used to secure our new location, pay for rent while the space is renovated, pay for renovations, supplies for the new school, furniture, appliances, and staff wages during the startup process. Currently, we are almost to our lowest goal- meaning if we raise $10k more in grants, we can move forward with expanding the school. Our high goal, of $50k is $40k away- and that would allow us to get all the things we need at the quality we want in our new space.
In the event that we don't reach our fundraising goals, enrollment deposits will be returned to families who have confirmed enrollment. We promise to be transparent along the way to give families enough time to find a place for their children. If you have ANY questions, never hesitate to ask. In the mean time, cross your fingers for Magnolia Montessori, network with us, share your resources (financial or social), and work with our community to reach as many children as we can!
The new year brings big news for Magnolia Montessori! We are growing along with your children. Magnolia Montessori will be adding a studio for 3-6 year old children, led by two Montessori trained Teacher-Leaders! This expansion births "Magnolia Blossom Montessori," and we will be working hard in the next 6 months to sure up starting funds, solidify a new location, and begin enrollment.
As in the past, Magnolia Blossom Montessori will be a Wildflower School, Teacher-Led and committed to equity. We will reserve 1/3 of our enrollment spots for very low income families, and provide tuition assistance.
We are now accepting applications for toddlers (1-3) along with 4 and 5 year olds for the 2020-2021 school year.
Please share far and wide!
News about our bilingual program:
Children under the age of three are in a sensitive period for developing language. Research shows that this is also the best time for children to learn a language other than the one spoken at home. At Magnolia, we practiced dual immersion with English and Spanish for the first two years. I know many parents highly valued this program. We are sad to say that our Spanish speaking guide is no longer available in the same capacity they once were. Because of the immediate demands of caring for young children with qualified care givers, we were able to hire an incredible assistant right away, but not a Spanish speaking guide.
We are hopeful that providing a dual immersion program will be in our future again, as we know the value of this opportunity is immense for children and the future of our community. If you want to speak more about this challenge, please let me know. If you have any ideas about how to make this dream a reality again, please let us know! In the mean time, be assured that Magnolia is providing a high-quality environment to support your child's language development and to reach their fullest potential.
Head of School
Magnolia Montessori has some news! As our school evolves its purpose, we are sad to announce that one of our teacher-leaders, Clare Gervasi, will be stepping down at the end of this school year as co-head of school. They will be relocating to Chicago with their family for new and exciting adventures there. We wish them the best as they follow their purpose!
This means that Magnolia is shifting and has a growth opportunity. Whitney will be head of school by herself next year, surrounded by a team of three talented educators and Magnolia families who will support her and the school. Magnolia is in a process of discernment about who will fill the role of co-head and how to solidify that Magnolia thrives going forward. We are actively looking for an co-head of school who is Montessori trained and who wants to step into this leadership role long-term. We are also looking for broader and deeper community support on the financial level to ensure Wildflower's sustainability and growth in Louisville. If we can find this leadership and support, we look forward to growing more beautiful, neighborhood Montessori schools that Louisville needs and deserves.
Thank you for all the love and enthusiasm you have shown for our school thus far. We look forward to deepening our ties to community through new commitments and opportunities in the year to come. Check out our Teacher and Board Bios on our updated website!
Whitney, Clare, Bettina, Matthew, and Diana
The Magnolia Montessori Team
Hello Magnolia Montessori Community!
The first week of September has been a truly inspiring one for our school. Last Monday and Tuesday we hosted open-houses to introduce ourselves and our new space to the families around us. We were thrilled (and a little surprised) to have such a big turn-out! We met families we have been talking to for months, families who live in the neighborhood and just noticed our sign go up, and families who have been following us on social media and wanted to come see what we are all about. Some folks had toddlers, some were expecting, and others are just curious to see what Magnolia is all about and be a part of it. THANK YOU for sharing open house with us if you came. To see our space filled with little ones, with their hands on the materials we've made, initiates our new home with love.
We talked about the need for community and the principles of Magnolia Montessori. We were pleased to hear that folks expecting children, or with children too young to attend, would still join us for our open, monthly parent education potlucks, and be a part of this growing parent community around us. Don't forget to sign up for our calendar and subscribe to our events on Facebook to get notified about when those happen!
If you attended our open house and have not yet made contact electronically, please send us an email or fill out a contact form on our website. We want to know more about you and your family, and how we can be together in community.
On Wednesday we collected the last pieces of information for our childcare licensure application and drove to Frankfort to hand it in and shake hands with the person who will read it. On Thursday, we had a mock licensing consultation to make sure our space is ready for the state to approve it for children. Every step of the way we are reminded that we are pioneers. Each person from each agency that approves a childcare center's progress will note to us, "I've never seen anything like this." They have found us difficult to regulate. We are not a school house with many classrooms, a bureaucracy with a chain of command, or a for-profit start-up with aspirations to build an empire. When they look at regulations, they usually read in a way that doesn't include our vision, our actual space, and our qualifications. It is clear that we are pushing the limits for each person that walks in, inviting them to expand how they view business, community, and early education. While this is an opportunity and a charming process, it takes finesse and patience. We are hopeful because from what we are hearing, the license will come through a bit more quickly than we expected. But just to be safe (and realistic according to our experience so far) we are estimating our open date to be 4 weeks from now. (First or second week of October, in other words.)
Until then, we invite all families in our community to continue to drop in at Magnolia and spend time in our space. We want to get to know you and the youngest members in our school, and for you to get to know each other. For those enrolling, it is a good opportunity for your child to get comfortable in the space and with us. We look forward to seeing you in this next part of the process!
written by Clare, originally in Feb. 2016 and recently updated.
It must have been during my training as a doula, before I had a child of my own, that I first read the adage that “Peace on Earth begins at home.” The simple quote resonated with my deepest sense of what I know to be true, and was only reinforced through my research into conception, pregnancy and birth, through such books as Birth Without Violence by Frederick Leboyer, or Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin.
I know it is true that “Peace on Earth begins at home,” because I’m living proof of it. I grew up in an urban intentional community of social activists in the 1980s who lived together in a low income neighborhood and worked on a local and global scale to help people suffering different forms of oppression. It was a tight-knit, post-Vatican II / liberation theology Catholic community of mostly white, mostly educated hippyish folks from all over the country who bought up real estate in a run-down neighborhood of Cincinnati and planted a church there. I grew up feeling a sense of belonging to an entire tribe of people. All the kids played in the neighborhood together, while all the adults had prayer meetings and potlucks and drum circles. My friends’ parents’ rules and words carried almost as much weight as my own parents’, and I felt comforted and cared for by all the adults equally.
The community was called New Jerusalem, and while it was a religiously based self-organization of people, the principles I internalized from that childhood experience extend far beyond the ideals of liberation theology. As I grew up into my own spirituality and politics, that sense of belonging, of community, has never left me. From my unique experience of growing up for a time outside of the cisheterosexist nuclear family model of 'one dad, one mom, and 2.5 biologically related children,' I was able to see the possibility for life beyond white American, middle class expectations of family, despite being raised in the midwestern United States.
Understanding how family can be different helped me be able to imagine that other things could be different in our world too. From there, it was only a hop, skip and a jump for me to begin identifying with anti-capitalist politics. Its values of autonomy, cooperation, self-organization, consent and mutual aid aren’t just ideals for me; I’ve seen them work in my own life. And I’ve seen them reproduced in my own life as a parent.
When I became a mother, I came to understand the meaning of community from the other (grown-up) side. The utter necessity of it, not just in raising a child, but in raising a mother. Creating family requires community. “It takes a village” applies as much to raising parents as it does to raising children. I doubt I would have given up on parenting altogether, but I am sure my child’s quality of life would be worse, and the quality of our relationship would less rich.
Normative societal scripts in white, middle class America indicate that parents should look at their children and see themselves reflected back. This is possibly some ridiculous, cruel cloning fantasy, or at the very least a manifestation of a biodeterminist, patriarchal, nuclear model of kinship. However, when I look at my child, I don’t see a mini-me. I don’t congratulate myself on how great he is (as if I could take responsibility for his actions, not to mention his inherent, individual nature); on the contrary, when I look at him, I see the fruits of the labor of so many hundreds of people who have poured their time, effort, money, attention, and love into him. He is so loved. And so am I. I see the support others have shown--beyond support: some kind of collective desire to see us succeed--reflected in his twinkling eyes, in his smile, in his healthy body, his strong voice, his quick wit. By trusting in community to take care of me, I am able to take care of my kid. When I was a child, I thought all the adults took care of all the children. Now that I am a mother, I understand that all the adults take care of each other, and thus the children thrive.
In other words, now that I am a parent, “Peace on Earth begins at home” has taken on a new meaning. It doesn’t mean that it’s my responsibility as a mother to condense all the peacefulness and somehow pour it into my little tabula rasa so that magically, or mechanically, a peaceful person is produced. No. Rather, it means that in accepting and welcoming community in our lives, our homes become peaceful. Mutual aid and support breed peace in parents’ hearts, and our children feel that peace, safety and love.
The most current manifestation in my life of the belief that “peace on earth begins at home” comes in the form of the school that I am building in Old Louisville with two Montessori co-teachers. It is called Magnolia Montessori school, and will be located at the shopfront at 1st and Burnett. Through the process of co-founding and co-leading this non-profit, Montessori, one-room schoolhouse for children under three with two of my most beloved colleagues, I am experiencing new ways to engage concrete skills of mutual aid, humility, shared vulnerability, and earnestness that to me comprise an overall practice of peacefulness and home. My co-teachers are Sam and Whitney, and the three of us are constantly learning and growing in self-awareness, intimacy and trust through the process of starting our preschool. One of the tenets of our school is to blur the line between home and school, and live Montessori values of peacemaking and self-organization, for the families we serve and for ourselves. It feels so good and so right to expand my notion of home to include my co-teachers and this school that we are building. I am looking forward to including in my notion of family and home all the people in the families of our future students, as well as the community surrounding us. I’m looking forward to teaching and learning with this new tribe we are gathering, and I can’t wait to see how we can make peace for and with each other and the world.