Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Marie Dugan: Educating the Absorbent Mind

It all started in 'the little red schoolhouse' in Arden DE in 1971, a rather non-prepossessing multi- purpose facility a/k/a The Buzz Ware Center.
Now, Wilmington Montessori School, only a mile from its birthplace, is a 65,000 sq ft building on 25 acres; the state's largest and acknowledged as one of the top 10 Montessori's nationally. The school was the first to be jointly accredited both by Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSA) and the American Montessori Society. Dugan, Head of School, has garnered numerous awards owing to her efforts for 'her children' and the Montessori mission nationally.
WMS has received a $1 million matching gift from an anonymous donor. This occasion marks the beginning of a fund raising campaign as they celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2013-2014.
How and why this success? By the drive of Marie Dugan, one who found her sole mission in life decades ago and nurtured it to fruition. “The gift is a tribute to 50 more years of joyful learning”, says Dugan. She is confidant in securing the matching funds.
Dugan is back at WMS after leaving the school in 2000. She was asked to be the Coordinator for the Center For Montessori Management Management (CMSM) in White Plains NY., where teachers and administrators achieve credentials from the American Montessori Society.

Now she is back to her beginnings in Delaware as interim Head of School. While she would be the last to admit this, the grant had all to due with her return. Word traveled quickly. Enrollment is up.
To understate, parents, teachers, staff – and most importantly students are thrilled. Dugan, typically modest, paraphrases the book Everything I Know I Learned in Kindergarten with ...”everything I know I learned here at WMS!”
When my first child was two, I had misgivings over sending him to school half the day. That was a mite young, I considered; allied to yet one more expense for a new family. He could do better at home with Mom. Two decades later I was proven wrong. That investment gave as much a return to him - and to his parents - as did DuPont's investment in nylon.
From the 1st...okay, maybe the 3rd or 4th day...my son loved going to school. He loved his teachers and they loved him back. Dugan had two-way mirrors installed where parents could watch their child interact with teachers and peers. Mothers would spend hours there. They gained knowledge about their children. Priceless encounters and precious relationships created behind those mirrors.
There is this native African term “it takes a village”. It does not take long for parents to discover the village that Montessori encompasses.

Montessori education is characterized by an emphasis on independence, freedom within limits, and respect for a child’s natural psychological development. These elements are essential:
  • Multi-aged classrooms; ages 0 to 12 years
  • Student choice of activity from within a prescribed range of options
  • Uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • A 'discovery' model where students learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction
From birth to age 6, the Montessori method observes that the child undergoes striking physical and psychological development. The child is seen as a concrete, sensorial explorer and learner engaged in the developmental work of psychological self-construction and building functional independence. Montessori introduces several concepts to explain this work, including the absorbent mind, sensitive periods, and normalization.
Absorbent mind: Montessori described the young child's behavior of effortlessly assimilating the sensorial stimuli of his or her environment, including information from the senses, language, culture, and the development of concepts with the term "absorbent mind". It believed that this is a power unique to the first plane, and that it fades as the child approached age six.
Sensitive periods: Also observed are periods of special sensitivity to particular stimuli during this time called the "sensitive periods". In Montessori education, the classroom environment responds to these periods by making appropriate materials and activities available while the periods are active in the young child. Identified are the following periods and their durations:
  • Acquisition of language—from birth to around six years old
  • Order—from around one to three years old
  • Sensory refinement—from birth to around four years old
  • Interest in small objects—from around 18 months to three years old
  • Social behavior—from around two and a half to four years old
WMS' elementary program students continue through grade 6.. Outcomes include confident, competent learners,independent, intrinsically motivated, socially responsible, academically prepared for seventh grade.
Dugan this year initiated a class with babies of only 6 months. For them, she opines, there is truly a whole lot of world to absorb.
WMSDE.org 302 475.0555


Angie said...

Love Marie Dugan, and LOVE Wilmington Montessori School. My daughter enjoyed a decade of her life there, and she credits that experience for much of who she is today. WMS instilled in my child a love of learning that she has carried with her into the larger community. I, myself, am a better woman as a result of our years in the WMS community.
Great story!
Angie Wahlig

Carl Wahlig said...

I shall be eternally grateful to Marie Dugan and Wilmington Montessori School for the education, skills, values, and attitudes instilled into my daughter are beyond comparison. Priceless!