By Amy Elizabeth Robinson and Vinca Schaefer
Amy is a local poet, writer, and historian, a current BCMS parent, and a former member of the BCMS Board of Directors. Vinca is a recent BCMS alumna, a dancer and thinker who loves learning about health, history, and geography.
This is an edited transcript of a brief Q&A I did with my daughter, Vinca Schaefer, who attended Brush Creek Montessori School for 8 years, starting in Amber, moving through Eucalyptus for lower elementary, and staying through 6th grade in Sequoia with Jessica. This year she is a 7th-grader at Rincon Valley Charter School - Matanzas. She is far from the only BCMS alum who has transitioned beautifully into public middle school. In fact, when we visited RVCS for parent information night last year, several teachers told us that they loved having BCMS students in their classrooms, as they are such self-motivated and curious learners. But she is the only one about whom I can speak directly.
When we were considering moving Vinca from Amber into public kindergarten, I ran into a neighbor’s daughter who was at the time the only person I knew personally who had attended BCMS through elementary. “What do you remember about your time there?” I asked. “And how was it when you left?” She didn’t skip a beat before answering, “When I got to public school, I realized that I had learned to love to learn.” And I was pretty much sold. This is my bottom line. In this tumultuous, uncertain environment, riddled with the challenges of climate change, inequality, and political transformation, it is so important that our children know themselves, and know how to learn. Montessori pedagogy offers both of these skills, in spades. I am not worried about Vinca getting lost in the swirl. She has had years of a solid foundation, of teachers observing her and working with her to encourage her gifts, and gently guide her into her dis-comfort zones, when she is ready.
In Sequoia, Jessica helped Vinca get ready for middle school, both emotionally and academically. BCMS is not a school that puts blinders on. The teachers and Heads of School know that the school occupies a unique niche in the Sonoma County educational landscape, and they know they are preparing students for life. Preparing citizens, preparing human beings. We are parents who pay for Montessori elementary school tuition not for the glitz and glam of more, extra, shinier, but for a foundation of empathy and self-awareness, for the home-away-from-home environment, for the pedagogy.
One last thing - our son is still in elementary here. And I will just say this bluntly: he started reading late. But having watched Vinca move through ahead of him, and having taught ourselves about Montessori pedagogy, and also knowing that his father did not start reading until 3rd grade, we watched, and waited, and talked to Pauline when we felt it was necessary, and made sure we had lots of big, beautiful books from the library lying around our house at all times … and he got there. He got there without being made to feel like he was less or behind or different in a negative way. He got there when he was ready. And he created a lot of amazing art while we waited, which we would not trade for anything.
And now, with no further ado, Vinca will tell you what she thinks. She’s very honest!
February 2, 2019
Vinca, what aspect of BCMS helped you the most when you moved to middle school?
You know how there’s mixed classrooms of different ages? So, we had connections with different people who are different ages than us, and we could help them with different things. I think that was one of the things that made it really easy for me to just kind of, transition. And it wasn’t that big of a difference, because at the school that I transitioned to, it’s a charter school, and its charter is project-based learning, which is kind of a Montessori style. So I think that was easier.
Do you think that the things you learned about conflict resolution at BCMS helped you in your new school at all? And if so, how?
I think it helped me especially with group projects, like, working things out. I think that if a conflict comes up, and … we have to problem-solve, I think what I learned about conflict resolution helped me.
What about work habits? Is there anything similar or different about Brush Creek and your new school?
Um, I don’t think there’s much a of a difference. Especially in 6th grade I think I got my homework done on time. Well, I always got it done on time but I wasn’t doing it the morning of! [Laughs.] But … I don’t think it’s changed. But I do think that if you go to a school that has … one class that has all the subjects, then when you transfer to a middle school normally you change classes and you have different notebooks and things like that, it can be confusing … At my school we have a website, so we can see what’s due the next day, and I think that if you didn’t have that I think it would be a little bit harder, the workload. But I’m doing okay.
What were some of the things you were worried about before you changed schools, and have those worries come true?
I was worried about making new friends. Because I didn’t know anyone except two people and I knew that at least one of them had friends from another school. But I actually don’t think that made any difference. Cause, well, no! Those worries haven’t come true!
So you have friends now?
Yes, I didn’t really have any trouble making friends!
Do you feel like Brush Creek made you feel more confident in meeting new people? Did that have any effect?
Yes, I think so.
Why? Can you explain?
Well, if you have mixed classrooms then you are [in one class] with the same people moving up through school, but sometimes people leave to go to different schools, and sometimes people come from another school, so I think I learned to hold my own.
How did you feel academically? Did you feel like Brush Creek prepared you? Did you feel like you were behind, ahead, or just about right in different subject areas?
Well, um, one thing: math! I was ahead of most of the class in math. Well… so, we have different trimesters and in the first trimester I was struggling a little bit because I didn’t understand what we were doing really.
Can you explain that? You didn’t understand the subject, or the way it was being presented?
The way it was being presented. And then, um, now in the second trimester we’re learning about adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing signed numbers, and working with rational and irrational numbers. And I had learned how to add and subtract signed numbers in 6th grade, so that was pretty easy for me.
And then, history. [We] picked up … where we had left off in 6th grade. And then science. I don’t really remember the beginning of the year in science!
But how did science class feel?
It felt.. Well, we didn’t do a lot of science experiments… in 6th grade, so it wasn’t new to me, it was just not as familiar.
Do you have anything to say about having art and music inside the school day at Brush Creek? Because that’s unusual for elementary schools, these days.
I really liked it!
Is there anything you want to say to kids or families who are thinking about staying at Brush Creek through 6th grade? Anything you would like to say to them, either to help them make their decision or to help them succeed?
I would say that if you start in preschool you normally move up with the same kids so you develop pretty strong relationships, so if your friends aren’t going to the same school as you it’s hard, if you leave your friends. Also you build a strong connection with the teachers and that’s hard, because if you don’t have a younger sibling to go back and visit, that must be hard.
Do you go back to visit?
I go back to visit because I was at that school since I was three and it is just kind of … it was my home.
Having connections with the teachers is not just a hard thing, is it? Is it also a good thing?
How is it a good thing? How did it help your learning, your development?
They really get to know you and they know how you learn and it helps. Especially if you have a small class, you can have individual lessons, and they can teach you what you need to learn.
Do you still feel like you are supported by them, even though you’ve left?
Anything you want to say to the teachers?
Just … [pauses and gets a little teary-eyed] … thank you so much.