January 30, 2015, Friday

I had just set my alarm phone’s clock to 7am when it showed “Alarm set for 3 hours and 20 minutes from now.”
Great. Just four weeks into the New Year and I already couldn’t get some decent sleep. I think I’ve only slept less than 20 hours for the entire week. TGIF I muttered as I closed my eyes.

I couldn’t remember the last time I woke up at 7am to make a 9 am appointment, simply because I’ve tried to avoid even being near any MRT station earlier than 10 am.

But since it was an invitation to a school event, from a friend, I thought “what the heck, at least I get to see some cute kids do their field demo and see their science projects.”

You see, if I haven’t gotten lost in this crazy world of media, I think I would have pursued a career in the academe. I loved being in school (except for the studying and having to come to class everyday part) and I thought it would be cool to be working with the teachers who used to torment me.

I also figured it’s one way to never get old since you’ll always be dealing with young people and be “in” with whatever is cool for them.

So in my excitement, (and because I also had a lunch event and a script to submit by 1pm) I decided to skip breakfast so that I could watch the school program in its entirety.

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Being a graduate of UST and Lourdes School of QC, which had moderately large school population, I guess the first thing that surprised me as soon as I stepped into the gates of Montessori de San Juan, were the number of students that I saw at the quadrangle, which I estimated was less than hundred.

We were then introduced to the Montessori de San Juan Vice Principal Sandy Arellano, who directed us to check out their Math and Science Fair, although I wished she took us on a school tour first so I could check out their cafeteria instead. I guess I was beginning to feel the effects of skipping breakfast.

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So we went around and asked the students about their science projects which they gamely described in very fluent English. There were a few that caught my attention, such as a roller coaster made of popsicle sticks, a solar powered oven, a lightbulb that is turned on by dipping the cord in a glass of water, soda and an energy drink, and a “natural” cleaning spray made of vinegar, (which just made me crave for chicharon instead).

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We missed the field demo, and Miss Arellano was already busy preparing for the awarding ceremony. It was later explained to us that the students were divided into four branches named after trees. Each year students were assigned a team which is composed of students from every grade level, throughout the school year there will be several competitions among the branches with corresponding points and the branch that gets the highest points by the end of the school year gets a free day off. It was like the houses at Hogwarts, minus the magic part—or the threat of Voldemort.

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The kids were cute, but the choreography part could have been a lot butter, I mean better. (I really shouldn’t have skipped breakfast or at least had coffee)

After the awarding, which the Narra branch won, we finally got to interview Miss Arellano in one of the classrooms and it was there that I realized a lot of differences between the Montessori way of teaching as compared to the regular school system.

Arellano was proud of the fact that it was her grandfather, Oscar Arellano, was part of Operation Brotherhood, who brought the Montessori way of teaching in the Philippines in the 1970’s.

“My lola then decided to put up our own school, the Montessori de San Juan, and since then my aunts would be sent to study in Europe to get their Montessori training. They were trained in material making, and on how to teach the material in the classroom. But since the Philippines was not ready for a pure Montessori system (which did not use textbooks and relied mostly on the materials created by the system) the method eventually evolved into what is now known as the progressive way of teaching.”

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For pre-school Arellano said they use a mix of Montessori and progressive method, like a Modernized Montessori. “A lot of materials are still being used, but there are no books, definitely no homework for pre-school, everything is worksheets, modules and hands-on activities related to the subject matter. As they get older, it becomes a semi-progressive, semi-traditional setup, because we introduce books mixed with modules and the kids have their notebooks and a little homework,” she explained.

Arellano said they try to keep homeworks at minimum since they would rather assess the performance of the children inside the classroom.

“Our classroom activities involve 90 percent application and only 10 percent discussion, so a lot of the kids are able to see the practicality and the use of the subject matter they are learning. We try to show them the direct applications to what they are learning.”

Letter writing for example, instead of just teaching their grade school students to write letters, they also bring them to the post office to introduce them to the postal system.

The same goes for their field trips.

Our field trips are all curriculum based, we don’t just have fun field trips that have no curricular objectives. For Science, our high school students went to the Manila Ocean Park, but we did not take the front of the house tour, we took them to instead to meet the marine biologists, to see how the water is filtered from the Manila Bay to the aquariums, how the food is prepared and sanitized and how they breed the marine animals.”
I asked her about the student population which she said was just around 150, about 12 to 15 students per class and just one section per grade level. She said they could accommodate a bit more students but the small class size was really ideal for Montessori teaching.

“There are several kinds of learners, we have the visual, tactile, and auditory, and unlike in a regular classroom its easier to spot what kind of learner a student is when you have only a few students.”

Once they’ve identified what kind of learner a student is they could then make adjustments so that the child will be able to best cope up with his classmates. Speaking of coping up, I also learned from Miss Arellano that students who need to take extra remedial classes can mean that they are not yet ready for that particular subject level. In a regular classroom setup a child is forced to play catch up which makes it even harder for him to learn.

As for those children who have special needs, the Montessori system allows them to freely mingle with regular kids without having to feel different and the teacher can also give them more focused attention with fewer number of students in their classes.

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With a lot of schools using the Montessori name just like lot of schools use the names of saints (to give it a catholic school appeal), I asked her how to identify if a school is really adhering to the Montessori teaching.
“There are only a handful of true Montessori schools and the best way is to check is if at least the director of the school has been trained and certified by either the European or the American Montessori Society.”

“The beauty of Montessori teaching is that it’s timeless. We are all learning the same thing, but we just apply it differently as time changes. When I was a kid, I was also Montessori schooled and I learned multiplication by using the multiplication beads. Instead of saying 2 times 2 we say 2 taken 2 times is four using alongside those beads to show us what the result is. Another is in teaching the alphabet not through their letter names but letter sounds to that they could easily blend and read it faster. For example the Letter A does not sound like its name so we teach them to say “Ah” like it “cat.”

I really got interested about this Montessori so I did some further research on what it really is. The Montessori educational system is named after its founder, Maria Montessori, who was born in 1870.

She was the first female physician in Italy and though her medical career focused mostly on pediatrics and psychology she was considered a leader in the field of early childhood education and mentored various other experts in child psychology and education including Anna Freud, Jean Paget, and Erik Erikson.

Dr. Montessori believed that children have a natural inclination to learn, and through her research she found that when children were put in a setting with their peers where learning opportunities were available, they can everything without official lessons.

The most common age when children begin Montessori education at 3 years of age although there are some who start as young as 18 months. Children are grouped in wider age spans, typically 3-6, 7-9, and 10-12.
Each child is given an individualized plan for their education, so they are not rushed to learn something they are not ready to learn, nor do they have to wait for their peers to catch up before they can move forward. Since children are given choices in their education, they learn to pursue their own interests. The children learn to learn for learning’s sake, to find their own order, and respect their surroundings. (source)

Since it focuses on children learning at their own pace, its no surprise that several celebrities are products or have studied at the Montessori De San Juan such as Chescka Garcia Kramer, Daniel Padilla. Arellano added that their educational system is also quite flexible to accommodate even visiting students from Korea.
So far, I was impressed but quite hungry from doing the interview, and if I had a kid I’d probably enroll them in a Montessori in their early years. I feel they could provide a good learning foundation.

Although I am not quite sure that older kids like those in high school will benefit from just having to mingle with a few kids. I had some college classmates who came from small schools who got culture shocked during their first few months in UST. They may have difficulty making the transition between Montessori school and a traditional classroom since the culture is different in the regular classroom, and there is less freedom to move around.
Unlike in the Montessori, students are expected to listen to the teacher above all others, and at times the inquisitive nature that is encouraged in the Montessori system can be seen as disruptive or challenging to some traditional teachers. The pacing can also be an initial problem because a child might be way behind in one area, and way ahead in another.

Another thing is that your child may develop a false sense of confidence or over confidence since he is the best in his batch—of just 20 or so classmates—I could be wrong though because it might just be my stomach grumbling.

Montessori de San Juan is located at #3 Montessori Lane St. (between Araullo and P. Guevarra Sts.) Landline numbers 239-1102/725-6306, or visit their Facebook page Montessori de San Juan.

photos taken from Montessori de San Juan Facebook Page HERE


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