Natalie Celeste, Principal of CMSD’s Tremont Montessori School | Photo by Ted Zbozien
A special report by The Tremonster
The tuition-free, Pre-K-8 school in the heart of our neighborhood, Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Tremont Montessori, has a new principal at its helm: Natalie Celeste. Celeste, a Montessori-trained educator, will steward the over 100-year-old, child-centered educational approach based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood.
The Tremonster sat down with Celeste in a Tremont Montessori classroom to talk about her new role and the time-tested Montessori educational model.
The Tremonster: Welcome to Tremont! What kind of expectations do you have for our Tremont Montessori students?
Celeste: Primarily, I’m a Montessori-trained person. As that kind of administrator, that’s the focus I look at with my classes. This is my first year here at Tremont Montessori, and so it’s the opportunity for all of us to keep asking the question, “What will work best for our students?” Dr. Montessori was very clear: first and foremost, it’s the dignity of the person. We all learn to interact with each other in a way that is respectful and maintains dignity – even if we disagree. Ultimately, what I want is that when a child leaves 8th grade, they are prepared to succeed at any high school of their choice. They [will leave prepared for a wide range of options such as] MC2STEM, [Cleveland Early College High School, the Cleveland School of Architecture and Design, the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine], or they can go down to [the Lincoln West School of Science and Health]] for the Metro Health Partnership; they can go to any school and feel ready.
The Tremonster: What is most unique about Tremont Montessori’s educational structure and philosophy?
Celeste: It would probably be our multiage grouping. We have PreK-K, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd together, and currently, when we hit fourth grade, we have [4th and 5th grades] together, and then we have 6th, 7th, and 8th as our Middle School. Also, our primary focus for us has always been “following the child,” which is a key Montessori theory: you follow the child, you know what you need to do next as an instructor. In a public system, what that means is we have the responsibility to know what’s expected of [our students] on tests, or what’s expected of them when they go to different high schools, and our teachers are constantly preparing.
The Tremonster: Can you give us a picture of what a Tremont Montessori classroom looks like and how this child-centered education works?
Celeste: What you would find if you walked into a typical classroom – if you see these mats in front of me, those are called work mats – and the students would be all over the room, probably…not sitting in rows and desks and chairs by themselves. They’re working on pretty big material and usually it’s material that they’ve chosen. They didn’t choose it out of thin air; there’s what we call “work plans,” and that is, the teacher is constantly looking at and assessing what the child has done; where their gaps might be. Most of our materials that are Montessori materials are didactic, and they’re self-correcting, so a child should be able to catch the mistakes that they made. But if they haven’t, the teacher will say, “Oh they missed this part; they need another lesson on this, or they need more practice on that.” The work – that’s why, when I say it’s child-centered and it’s child driven – there’s choice, but there’s choice within the framework of what they’ve been doing and where they need to go.
The Tremonster: Does the child-centered, creative Montessori method prepare students well for standardized testing?
Celeste: For us as Montessorians, you see our materials, right (Celeste gestured to the creative and colorful educational materials around the classroom)? They look a little different from what you would see on an assessment. The teacher is the person who really facilitates, who bridges that gap of how to get them prepared for that OST, or how to be ready [for other standardized tests]. When they’re following the child, it’s really about that informal assessment, and that is: “What do I see with my eyes?” “What am I noticing that they’re doing when I interact with them?” You’ll see some teachers will have checklists where they are then taking notes; they’ll have the scholars’ names there, and they’ll be taking notes as they’re going around, and then their lesson planning is really to think about what materials that can introduce, or because we have multi-age, it is the opportunity for young people to be leaders to each other. “So, who is really good with that material who would work with this student around that topic?” When it’s done well, I think fundamentally, a child realizes that they’re here – that this is a job (Celeste laughed); that they’re here to learn.
Tremont Montessori is located at 2409 West 10th Street, and you can find more information about Tremont’s tuition-free Montessori education by visiting ClevelandMetroSchools.org/tremont, or calling 216.838.9850.