Salome Fernando gets a hug from a student. Ash Daniel Photo
This is all I ever want to do," Salome Fernando says. Until 2007, the Montessori-trained teacher hadn't worked in a nonprofit. She had studied in Sri Lanka and had taken childhood-development courses at the University of California, Los Angeles.
When she and her family moved here after 15 years in California, Fernando looked for a Montessori program to join. This method of education developed by Maria Montessori in the slums of San Lorenzo, Italy, for the poor who were thought to be lousy learners, is today a highly sought-after alternative. Children learn through semi-structured play and pursuing their curiosity. They learn social skills and empathy.
Stamped With Success
The Greater Fulton Neighborhood Resource Center's program began in 2006 with a summer half-day program. By the next year, it was clear that working parents needed an all-day school for their children. Grants and city assistance made this possible.
"We used to really have to scrimp for supplies," Fernando says. "We'd get two, three dollars, ‘Don't go crazy,' " she says with a wry laugh. "And then we had donations from other Montessori schools here, and over time, we've improved."
So have her charges. In September 2008, the NRC Montessori Preschool sent its first graduate to kindergarten at Chimborazo Elementary School. The child scored a 96 on her reading test. The next highest grade in the class was a 68. At present, there are 16 children, 2 1/2 to 5 years old.
"One of the aspects of Montessori is that you're better off the more you can stay in the classroom; children are like sponges, they absorb everything." Staffers hope that the program can become a Montessori charter school one day.
Early in 2009, when the new city administration was forced to make budget cuts, an axe was taken to funds for the NRC's education programs. The move to strike $30,000 would have left the NRC with a shortfall of $15,000. Parents rallied. Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones visited the school, and the funds were restored.
"It's nice to take kids in when they're younger," Fernando says. "They'll stay longer."