Program Director Theresa Powers recently sat down for a conversation with Lower Elementary Teacher Maria Flores about her experience at MSSA. The conversation has been edited for print.
Hi Maria and thanks for talking with me. How did you end up at MSSA?
In the late nineties, we were moving back from Mexico City to the United States, and my husband and I settled on San Antonio as we were looking to continue a Montessori education for our children. I wanted to find a school for myself to get back into teaching as well. At that point, MSSA was known as the Judson Montessori School, and it fit the bill for all of us.
The Lower Elementary years are special years for students in terms of development and growth. What qualities do you see in LE students?
LE is a very special plane of development, and it’s my favorite plane of development. It’s the difference between “I can do it for myself” and “I can think it for myself.” The curiosity, the creativity, the imaginative play that children bring to the lessons as they are presented; it’s a magical time.
Can you tell me a bit about the Five Great Lessons of Montessori and how they fit into the Lower Elementary curriculum?
The Great Lessons are the way we introduce all areas of study. They give us a nice broad picture and then we take the concepts down to the individual level. The Great Lessons include: The Story of the Universe, The Story of Life, The Story of Humans, The History of Writing, and The History of Mathematics.
Why are they called stories?
All five lessons are presented in the format of a story – it’s a way of engaging the child and bringing a level of understanding and connection between topic and child. When Montessori teachers get trained on the Great Lessons, they are invited to share the stories presented to them by their trainers, and then teachers get to adapt them over the years as we bring our own voice to the stories.
Do have a Great Lesson you like best?
The Story of the Universe. First, we tell the story impressionistically, and then the second time we tell the story, it is a presentation with experiments. The third-year students get to present the experiments, so they are the ones demonstrating the concepts. An example would be solid, liquid, and gas. We use dry ice – we place the solid into a liquid and it produces a gas.
Do you have a favorite Montessori material?
It would probably be the base ten set. Students use it to do arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division – even algebra. It provides an accurate model of arithmetic concepts, and we use it all three years in LE. The base ten material was actually tested as a prototype here when the school was Judson Montessori School before it became conventionally available.
What keeps you at MSSA?
It’s a very accepting community, and it’s that sense of family; it’s very welcoming here. What has kept me here recently is this feeling of progress. There are great things happening here and the future is looking bright, and I want to be part of that.
I loved meeting Queen Elizabeth the tarantula a few years ago. You don’t currently have a tarantula – what do you have now for a class pet?
We have two turtles, Jumper and Clover – and several fish. We wisely no longer name the fish since the Tony Parker incident – we named a fish after him, and when the fish passed away we inadvertently started a rumor about Tony Parker.
Why should students stay at MSSA to continue from Primary to LE?
It continues that road of the individual. The child is respected for who they are, and this allows them to grow into who they will be as an individual. There are a variety of approaches including one on one lessons, small group lessons with peers, and larger group work with peers. The mixed ages allow the older students to provide knowledge to the younger students as well a great support system. It’s wonderful to see how all the years work together.
What changes over time in LE from first to third grade?
First years come in a receptive mode; the goal is to help them understand that they are in charge of their learning. It’s about giving them support as learning becomes intrinsic – and bringing that awareness to them. As they get older and into their second and third year, they build on their knowledge and expand on it.
What does the transition from Lower Elementary to Upper Elementary look like?
It is almost like the students have outgrown LE, and they are looking for what’s next. It keeps getting better and better each year – the students are ready for the next challenges, and they are excited about the next challenges and looking forward to them. With all the work they have done in LE, they are ready for the next experiences in UE.
What do you like to do when you are not at MSSA?
I enjoy moving. Hiking, biking, and running – and we recently took up golf and that’s become an obsession. I run half-marathons with my grown children and I love traveling. My goal is to get to all seven continents and I am halfway there.
I started out with Montessori as a great education for my kids and ended up finding that it works for me well as a teacher. Montessori fits my teaching style so much better than a traditional school, and I am glad I found it for my children. All four of my children went through Middle School here at MSSA, and what I love is that they reflect back on their experience here in so many ways in which they can see the impact in their adult lives.
Maria Flores is the Lower Elementary Level lead. She is originally from Colorado and has a BA in Psychology, Communication Disorders, and Speech Science as well as a Diploma in Education from the University of Colorado. Maria received her Lower Elementary Montessori Certification from the Center for Montessori Education in New Rochelle, NY. She is currently in search of a female tarantula to add to her class menagerie.