By Kendra Hoskin
“I love how much we feel like a family,” a student wrote when asked to describe The Element, Ottawa’s first Montessori high school. It may seem like a unique way to describe a high school, but it’s a natural response for students at The Element, who all cook, travel, attend meetings and run businesses together. And now, The Element family will move together – from the Alta Vista suburb the school currently calls home to the dynamic Lansdowne Park.
In September 2015, The Element will move beside the Horticulture Building, claiming the entire second floor of 425 Marché Way.
There’s no doubt that it’s a unique location for a high school, but Pat Gere, the school director, says that’s the point. “We chose to relocate to Lansdowne to support The Element’s integrated program, which encourages students to be active, participating members of the adult community,” she said.
Based on the Montessori pedagogy, The Element supports student development and education by encouraging focused engagement within a supportive, mentoring community and engaging students in the adult world they are about to enter.
At The Element, students grocery shop for their cooking program, run micro-businesses, volunteer in the community and participate in public fitness classes while simultaneously completing credits towards their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).
“Our focus is on student engagement,” said Sarah Wheeler, a teacher at The Element. “Instead of looking forward to after-school extracurricular activities, students at The Element can do what engages them during school hours. For example, instead of learning about business from a textbook, students develop and run their own businesses and liaise with successful entrepreneurs.”
Wheeler said it is amazing to see what the students produce when they are given the freedom and tools to be passionate. “Learning becomes fun, instead of work,” she said.
At The Element, students’ schedules are flexible, with time to work part-time or to volunteer, but either way there’s an expectation of community involvement. Wheeler said the new, dynamic location is perfect for this. “It will allow students to participate in meaningful experiences and interactions. It is a vibrant community, where our students will have access to real businesses and professionals.”
The Element grew out of the junior high program that was established at OMS Montessori in Alta Vista in 2003. It is the first Montessori high school in Ottawa, but Montessori high schools have been part of the education system in the United States for some time (Clark Montessori High School in Cincinnati was one of six national finalists in the “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge,” a public school competition).
Interestingly, OMS Montessori, which was established in 1966, was the first Montessori school in Ottawa. The school, which now serves students from 18 months to high school, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
While students from Montessori elementary programs such as OMS Montessori and Glebe Montessori will be welcomed at The Element, the school says that other youth are also welcome. “A previous Montessori education is not required,” said Gere. “A passion for life is.”
Kendra Hoskin is the communications and marketing coordinator at both the OMS Montessori in Alta Vista and The Element.