Current Kettering University professor Dr. Benjamin Pauli and former Kettering professor Dr. Vivian Kao have been instrumental in starting a Montessori program at Durant Tuuri-Mott (DTM) Elementary School in Flint over the past two years.
The development of the program catalyzed from the lack of non-traditional public school opportunities for families in Flint. Kao, Pauli and the other members of the community group, Public Montessori for Flint, pushed for the addition of the program through Flint Community Schools to help diversify educational offerings in the community. The program is unique because it’s public and open to all students while most Montessori programs are usually private.
“We are community-minded parents,” Kao said. “We wanted to support our children by giving them a creative, quality education but we also wanted to support public schools.”
Kao and Pauli studied together at Rutgers University. They married just before entering graduate school and both took positions in the Liberal Studies department at Kettering in 2015. Kao is now an assistant professor of Composition at Lawrence Tech in Southfield, Michigan while Pauli continues to teach at Kettering. They live in Flint and their son will attend the Montessori program at DTM this coming fall.
The Montessori program has three distinguishing traits that differentiates it from traditional schooling. Firstly, students are not confined to desks, instead, they are permitted to travel to different learning activities in various parts of the classroom. Secondly, all of the classroom activities are hands-on and do not involve worksheets. Lastly, the classes are designated by age cohorts with a three-year range. The purpose of the program is to make the learning experience a more immersive and hands-on experience.
“Kids who naturally gravitate towards math will choose the math-related activities. Kids who are more verbally inclined will naturally gravitate towards the letters and alphabet,” Kao said. “They learn at their own pace.”
Currently, the Montessori offerings at DTM are for kindergarten and first grade students only. In the next academic year, the program will add second graders, but the hope is to expand to higher grades based on community demand for the alternative offering. The hope is that in the next decade, Flint has a complete Montessori elementary school within the public school system.
“This gives parents choices especially those parents who are looking for something other than traditional schooling,” Kao said. “Right now they have to go out of district and we would like to see them stay in Flint.”
Interested parents can go to flintmontessori.org to learn more about the program and fill out an interest form. The interest form is the first step toward enrollment. After completing the interest form, parents will be contacted by the district with more information about next steps.