Cooper School Montessori class student Reese solves math problems by using beads during a recent exercise. (Photo by Alex Johnson)

Education alternative has been in place for 20 years

By Alex Johnson


With more than 60 students enrolled at Dyer Intermediate School and about 120 enrolled at Cooper Elementary School, the Burlington Area School District’s Montessori program offers a style of learning that is applied in businesses such as Google and Amazon.

Operating on a three-year cycle, students are grouped together based on their age and grade level. It places students 4 to 6 years old together, students ages 6 to 9 together, and students aged 9 to 12 together, in the hopes of fostering an environment that “encourages independence,” according to Montessori teacher Michelle Glisch, who teaches at Dyer.

Glisch and other Montessori teachers invited a reporter to observe the district’s program in honor of Montessori School week – which is the last week in February.

In place of the traditional teaching model with a stationary desk and textbook, students are taught the core curriculum, in addition to areas of learning by their own choice called “works.”

These works range from learning about the countries and capitols in the entirety of Europe or learning how to construct text and answer questions concisely.

“My favorite thing to learn is the math shelf,” said Cooper student Parker Whiteside. “I really like the numbers.”

A different feel

Walking into the Montessori classroom might seem a bit jarring at first, seeing students working on the carpeted floor, or talking in groups while they work on assignments, but the program is required to follow Wisconsin learning standards with a basic framework.

But this open space serves a purpose – one that Montessori students and teachers say helps them learn deeper and more thoughtfully.

Dyer student Madeline Thompson said, “Our work plans are personalized. We get to do work on our own time.”

Other students shared they are currently working on a literature circle, where they read and annotate a novel for in-depth group discussion, while other students were working on math problems at their own pace.

Dyer students work on a two-week schedule while Cooper students work through a one-month schedule, choosing their works and completing daily goals that their teachers check-off throughout the day.

“We’re not better than (traditional learning),” Dyer teacher Anneke Thompson said, “just different.”

Thompson added that the program has always had “strong parental support.” She said the program was “parent initiated” when it began for the 1997-1998 school year.

To read the full story, see the March 1 edition of the Burlington Standard Press.