Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High students just culminated one of their project based learning assignments – hatching, growing, and releasing brown trout.

Junior High science teacher, Tim Goetz, released the trout in a cold water tributary of the Smith River near Bassett, Virginia. It was a Friday morning in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, our Junior High students would have been stream-side with Tim, and it would have been their job — not their teacher's — to complete the final step of their semester-long project. Instead, students joined Tim virtually to watch the trout meet their natural habitat.

As the trout grow, they will make their way up river into the Smith River. Along the way, they will eat land and water insects, zooplankton, worms and other aquatic creatures. They will also search for hiding places from predators, including birds and other fish. Tim Key, a member of the Nat Green Fly Fishers Club, who was present at the release said "these are some of the best fish I have every seen."

The fish were hatched at Greensboro Montessori School as a part of the nationwide Trout in the Classroom program, with support from the Dan River Basin Association, and Tim Key of the Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club. Over 250 eggs were given to the School on December 5, 2019 and the first hatch was December 10.

The fish were raised in a 45-gallon, cold-water aquarium at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Greensboro Montessori's Upper School. To quickly prepare the correct growing environment, students mixed five gallons of water from the School's pond with 40 gallons of tap water. Students tended to the fish daily, including feeding, changing water, and water testing. Daily water tests included pH, ammonia, and nitrites with the goal of recreating a natural, cold-water trout habitat. This attention to detail resulted in the science room smelling more like an outdoor classroom next to a river than a traditional classroom.

Eighth grade student, Nina, was the head aquarium tender and her classmate, Ava, provided the backdrop art for the aquarium.

Prior to COVID-19, Junior High students were scheduled to travel to Virginia to release the trout themselves. Their expedition would have been part of their April Land Week, one of several weeks a year when they learn at Greensboro Montessori School's 37-acre satellite campus in Oak Ridge, N.C. With schools throughout the state suspending in-person learning, the students' land week and field trip was cancelled, but not their learning. Students participated in the trout release through a Live Lesson via Google Hangouts. Tim also documented the release on GoPro cameras so he could share the experience with the entire school community, Toddler through Junior High. After all, Greensboro Montessori School students learn everywhere, whether its the indoor, outdoor, or virtual classroom.

Learning through purpose-filled, project-based learning — like hatching, raising, and releasing brown trout into their natural habitat — is not the exception to the rule at Greensboro Montessori School. It is the rule. Our students learn through completing meaningful work, which often results in real-world benefits to the community. Through the multistep process of researching, designing, implementing, refining, analyzing, and presenting their projects, our students gain real-world skills such as resiliency, creativity, curiosity, time management, and public speaking. They also develop a sense of self-worth by understanding the value of their contributions to society and experiencing personal fulfillment.

Click here to read about about another real-world project our Junior High students are leading: inoculating, growing, harvesting, and selling shiitake mushrooms.

In addition to Trout in the Classroom, Dan River Basin Association, and Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club, Greensboro Montessori School would like to thank Oliver Rouch from K2 Productions for lending us GoPro cameras and editing our release footage. We also want to thank Tim Key for his work behind the camera.

My very first year at Greensboro Montessori School, I worked alongside a wise and wonderful teacher, who is also my Montessori mentor. As our year together progressed into late spring, she suggested we teach a unit on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and sent me afield to pick up a caterpillar tent from a local butterfly farm. It was a curious-looking contraption: a flowering milkweed plant with a gauzy covering. A week into our journey with this kit, my mentor had a family emergency that took her on an unexpected trip overseas ... for four weeks. At a moment’s notice, I found myself entrusted with the care of 12 children; one gerbil (my mentor knew I didn’t do rodents); a ragtag tray of fava beans sprouting in paper cups; and this milkweed plant, the presumed setting for the miracle of metamorphosis. That is, if I could keep it alive. It didn’t take long for me to realize that with this lowly plant came some extraordinary lessons in faith, respect, awe, tenderness, and trust.

For those uninitiated in the art art of raising caterpillars: they take a while to become visible. A long while. Though we’d been promised that our plant came with a pair of Monarch eggs, those first two weeks rolled by with nary a sighting of the little beasts. Every day we checked for them, and every day I saw the skepticism grow in my students' eyes as I described the wondrous sight we were going to behold. Probably. Eventually. The morning we finally noticed wormholes in the leaves — evidence that our charges were indeed hatched and hungry — felt like waking up to breakfast in bed on your birthday.

Once our caterpillars became visible, they grew at a blazing speed, delighting the toddlers with their impossibly lovely stripes and ravenous eating habits. The students relished the idea that these creatures never, ever accepted any food but milkweed. “Wouldn’t you like some pizza, dears?,” I’d ask the worms. “Maybe a nice cup of coffee?” The children would squeal, “NO WAY!,” perhaps reminded of their own choosy appetites. An assortment of suggested names were bandied about, ranging from Lexy to Tiger to Dobo to Burp. (The caterpillars didn’t seem to have a preference.)

One sunny morning, we found the caterpillars hanging from the leaves in their mysterious “J” formation, the behavior that immediately precedes the formation of the chrysalis. Within hours, they were caterpillars no more. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I could never have imagined the reverence and care the students extended once this transformation had taken place. They seemed to instinctively know their tiny pets now needed silence and space. Each morning, the toddlers took turns standing guard by the milkweed plant, gazing solemnly at the astonishing beauty of the chrysalises, misting them gently with a spray bottle. Many days of inaction followed ... yet, having awaited their friends’ first emergence, the students now had unwavering patience and faith. Some miracles, they’d learned, are worth waiting for.

When the butterflies emerged during the last week of school, we carried them to the playground and prepared to set them free. Before they departed, they allowed each and every toddler to hold them awhile and sing them a send-off song (the choice was painfully obvious: “Let it Go”). When the monarchs finally took to the sky and fluttered toward the Primary garden, I knew the students and I were feeling the exact same mix of elation and heartache. After all, many of our toddlers themselves would soon be flying to the other side of the playground fence, away from the nest of our classroom and our many loving days together.

Six years later, having raised monarchs with every single toddler class I’ve taught since that first year, it’s time for my own metamorphosis. I am so excited for the new challenges and relationships that await me as I transition into the director of CASA role at Greensboro Montessori School. Yet there’s something about teaching that simply can’t be matched by any other profession. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the beautiful metaphor of little children caring tenderly for the tiny, fragile caterpillars whose lives begin in our classroom. I hope that’s in small part because they, too, have felt tenderly cared for here; that they understand the reverence and awe a teacher experiences as they watch their students grow, and the bittersweet pride they feel when it’s time to set their students free.

This year, when our current crop of monarchs depart for the great big world outside, we’ll all be ready to spread our wings and join them, together, in flight.


Brooke JuneauAbout the Author

Brooke Juneau joined Greensboro Montessori School's Toddler faculty in 2013. She holds her Infant & Toddler (bith to 3 years old) Montessori teaching credential and graduated from Hampshire College with a Bachelor of Arts in education and human development. Brooke is the mother of three boys. Her middle son, Hayden, graduated from Greensboro Montessori School in 2017. Brooke plays the guitar and loves singing with her students. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, Brooke will be the School's director of CASA.

“Layer it and layer it and layer and layer it, and layer it, and layer it, Compost Cake!”
“Turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, Compost Cake!”
“Pile it high, pile it high, pile it high, Compost Cake!”
[dt_sc_hr_invisible_small]
If you’ve heard this song about compost all around campus this fall and winter, it’s because we got new compost bins in the Primary and Lower Elementary gardens! Why did we get new bins, you might ask? Two reasons:

  1. We needed more space for the volume of organic waste we produce (a combination of garden waste and food scraps from the students' lunches and snack preparation)
  2. We wanted to try a more interactive, faster, and developmentally appropriate compost model for our younger students.

So what did we get? If you visit the Primary and Lower Elementary gardens, you’ll see some giant green cylinders sitting on a rotating axis. These compost bins are called tumblers. Tumbler compost models allow students of all ages to spin the compost (working those gross motor skills), in addition to speeding up the composting process. In our old bins, it took at least a year for our food waste and garden scraps to decompose fully, we'll make finished compost in as little as two weeks. Cheers to that!

What is Compost?

Compost is the product that’s left after organic matter has fully decomposed. It’s also called humus. Human-made compost comes from carefully mixing food and garden waste materials — ingredients high in either nitrogen or carbon — and placing them in an environment where they can decay. When the decaying process has gone well, we put the finished compost, or humus, back into the garden soil and grow healthier plants by improving soil fertility.

Why do we compost at Greensboro Montessori School?

For starters, compost has a longer ground-life than other fertilizers. It lasts longer in soil than crop residues or animal manures that degrade rapidly here in the humid Southeast. This longevity makes for healthier plants and food crops. Composting also reduces our waste throughout campus. By diverting organic matter from the landfill and into a closed-loop cycle, we transform our “waste” into a fertilizer for our gardens and food for the microorganisms that live in the soil beneath us. We also save money by eliminating the need and associated cost of additional soil fertility inputs. And let's not forget, composting is just plain fun!

Can you think of any other reasons to compost? Maybe, that by doing it, we are feeding the worms our Toddlers so adore? That it’s a responsible use of resources? That it's a project-based way to teach science? Share your thoughts with us! And, if you want to learn more, please join us at our next Community Garden Workday for more composting tips and tricks with our environmental education faculty. We’d love to have you.

If you're interested in learning more about the science of composting, read this article from Live Science.


Eliza HudsonAbout the Author

Eliza Hudson is Greensboro Montessori School's lead environmental educator. Eliza holds her bachelor's degree in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. She has built and tended school gardens, taught hands-on cooking lessons and connected local farms to school programs working for FoodCorps. Prior to joining Greensboro Montessori School in 2014, Eliza was a classroom and after-school assistant at the Richmond Friends School, a farm intern at a family-owned farm in Ohio, and served as assistant director at a summer day camp in an urban community garden in Durham.

Greensboro Montessori School has taught environmental education since 1995 and has been permaculture gardening on its campus since 1997.

Within the three-year cycle of Lower Elementary (first through third grades), students and teachers spend one year studying the fundamental needs of humans. This theme is woven throughout their curriculum and students embark on relevant research projects providing purpose and context for their learning. Over the year, the students learn why food, water, shelter, clothing, art, and community are necessary for humanity and how these needs have remained consistent throughout our time on Earth.

One of the ways our students share their growing knowledge of human civilization, and our most basic needs, is through their Festival of Light presentation. Students read the book “Celebrations Of Light : A Year of Holidays Around the World” by Nancy Luenn. The book is a springboard to research projects centered on 12 countries and the light-themed cultural celebrations that both define and unite them. It provides exposure to the diversity of our world while simultaneously highlighting how light brings people together.

Students form teams, each taking one of the 12 countries and its respective celebration. From there, they delve into the history of the country, its culture, and the celebration. They study some of their nation’s accomplishments, art, food, geography, religion, storytelling, traditions, and writings. All of this research prepares them to participate in Greensboro Montessori School’s triennial Festival of Light.

The Festival of Light features all of our Lower Elementary students in an evening presentation for their families, faculty, and members of the greater school community. Each of the 12 teams prepares a narrative on their country’s celebration of light. The celebrations include:

The presentation itself anchors our students’ research in purpose and provides these first, second, and third graders with a nurturing and challenging academic experience. Surrounded by their families, friends, and teachers, students share their knowledge in a safe space where they will be celebrated for their work. The Festival of Light also challenges our students by pushing them to develop and expand their public speaking and presentation skills in new ways.

When the last celebration has been presented, the audience chairs have been put away, and the families have left for home, there’s no doubt our students have been part of an educational experience. One that has taught them about the fundamental needs of humans, community, teamwork, and so much more.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Lower Elementary students rehearse for Greensboro Montessori School's triennial Festival of Light.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School.

Students reenact the Candlemas tradition of going door to door singing for a candy treat.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Students present the Chinese New Year, which is celebrated in China and Taiwan.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Pictured to the left is a student-made float for the Lantern Parade celebrating Eid al-Fitr in Sierra Leone. The celebration of Buddha's birthday in Korea is pictured to the right.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Here are the faculty, off to the side, letting the students take the lead in presenting their student research.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School.

Students present the menorah and the lighting of the candles for Hanukkah in Israel.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Luciadagen, or Lucia's Day, in Sweden, involves children dressing in all white and leading a procession while also handing out saffron buns.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School.

Las Posadas is a Christmas tradition from Mexico and is a reenactment of Mary and Joseph's search for the inn ("la posada") on Christmas Eve.

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

A third-grade student leads her peers in the final presentation of the night, a secular version of the song "This Little Light of Mine."

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School

Students close their presentation by singing a secular version of "This Little Light of Mine."

first grade, second grade, and third grade at Greensboro Montessori School.

The Festival of Light comes to an end, and the students enjoy tremendous applause from the audience.

Sara Stratton leads Primary students in making dressing for their strawberry spinach salads.

Springtime is always joyful in Greensboro Montessori School's organic gardens. Winter buds swell and burst, capturing the eyes and hearts of community members, no matter their age! Flowers of all kinds call to us and to our pollinator friends, and sooner than we realize, we reach the height of the season.

This year brought a colder and wetter forecast than in the past. We’ve still yet to harvest our first sugar snap peas, but the strawberries and spinach are out with a vengeance! We continue to enjoy the lushness all the early rain and cool weather brought, even as temperatures rise. Here’s a brief update from our spring adventures!

Primary and Lower Elementary have enjoyed plenty of weeding, watering, planting, and tasting. We just finished a week full of strawberry spinach salads, with a bit of fennel and spring onions thrown in for fun! (Check out the recipe below if you’re interested in trying this at home.) In Upper Elementary, we celebrated the conclusion of our Student Climate Change Summit art exhibition with a persimmon-ginger-honey ice-cream party! Everyone agreed it was fun to make and even better to taste!

Thanks to everyone who attended our Spring Community Garden Workday in the Primary Garden. Together, with roughly 20 volunteers from our school community (ranging in age from 18 months to 70 years old!), we had a blast and accomplished a swath of projects:

What else have we been up to in the organic gardens this spring? We have been incredibly blessed with the generosity of The Fund for GMS. You may have noticed several new Adirondack chairs, benches, swinging benches, outdoor sinks, and chalkboards in all three of our organic gardens. We also have a new Lower Elementary toolshed coming soon. The students have relished in these new additions to their outdoor classrooms, and we couldn’t be more grateful to have such gifts shared with us from within our school community. Thank you, for your continued support of environmental education at Greensboro Montessori School. From all of us on your environmental education teaching team, Happy Spring!

Strawberry Spinach Salad

For the salad:

For the dressing:


Eliza HudsonAbout the Author

Eliza Hudson is Greensboro Montessori School's lead environmental educator. Eliza holds her bachelor's degree in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. She has built and tended school gardens, taught hands-on cooking lessons and connected local farms to school programs working for FoodCorps. Prior to joining Greensboro Montessori School in 2014, Eliza was a classroom and after-school assistant at the Richmond Friends School, a farm intern at a family-owned farm in Ohio, and served as assistant director at a summer day camp in an urban community garden in Durham.

Greensboro Montessori School has taught environmental education since 1995 and has been permaculture gardening on its campus since 1997.

Dr. Maria Montessori was a big fan of field trips. In her words, it was important for students to take “outings” or to “go out.” In 1948, Dr. Montessori wrote: “The outing whose aim is neither purely that of personal hygiene nor that of a practical order, but which makes an experience live, will make the child conscious of realities … When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.” Hence, the Montessori phrase of “going out” was born.

At Greensboro Montessori School, we take the Montessori tradition of “going out” to heart, as our students take academically aligned, overnight field trips beginning in Lower Elementary. Where lessons in the classroom are a springboard to learning, Montessori outings provide the experiences necessary to move concepts from the abstract to the concrete – to let students apply and expand their knowledge in the world around them.

As our students progress from Toddler to Junior High, they learn the rites of passage, including the field trips, which will greet them along the way. Read about all our adventures, or jump to the grade which interests you most!

Lower Elementary

Second and Third Grade: Students enjoy their first overnight outing in second grade. Together, with their third-grade peers, these students rotate annual trips between Earthshine Discovery Center in the Nantahala National Forest in western North Carolina and the Sound to Sea program along the North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. Students spend two days and three nights building upon their lessons in biology, botany, environmental studies, geography, and physical science.

Upper Elementary

Fourth and Fifth Grade: Fourth and fifth graders rotate between annual field trips to  North Carolina’s Outer Banks and Colonial Williamsburg every spring. When at the North Carolina coast, our students experience the region’s rich marine biology and storied history. Students visit national landmarks like Roanoke Island, the first settlement of English colonists, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk. In the words of the National Parks Service, Kitty Hawk is the site where Wilbur and Orville Wright “experimented with flight in the early 1900s, and finally succeed[ed] on a cold winter day with the world's first controlled, sustained, powered, heavier-than-air flight.”

When visiting Williamsburg, students immerse themselves in the history of the American Revolution and explore, as Colonial Williamsburg puts it, “the political, cultural, and educational center of what was then the largest, most populous, and most influential of the American colonies. It was here that the fundamental concepts of our republic — responsible leadership, a sense of public service, self-government, and individual liberty — were nurtured under the leadership of patriots such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, and Peyton Randolph.”

Sixth Grade: Sixth-grade students head to our nation’s capital, where they visit multiple Smithsonian museums, (including the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Air and Space Museum), the National Archives, Arlington National Cemetery, and the National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden. Students expand upon their knowledge of national government and civics, while practicing grace and courtesy in a metropolitan city center. Dr. Montessori writes: “A child enclosed within limits however vast remains incapable of realizing his full value and will not succeed in adapting himself to the outer world. For him to progress rapidly, his practical and social lives must be intimately blended with his cultural environment.”

Junior High

Seventh Grade: Greensboro Montessori School’s seventh graders head west to Tuscon, Arizona, where their years of environmental science studies take center stage in this week-long trip. In addition to hiking Kitt Peak, students spend time at the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2, a state-of-the-art scientific facility. The mission of Biosphere 2 “is to serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching and life-long learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe; to catalyze interdisciplinary thinking and understanding about Earth and its future; to be an adaptive tool for Earth education and outreach to industry, government, and the public; and to distill issues related to Earth systems planning and management for use by policymakers, students and the public.”

Eighth Grade: Greensboro Montessori School’s eighth graders enjoy an authentic immersion experience in Costa Rica. Our students stay with the Costa Rican families of students from The Summit School, our sister school in Coronado, Costa Rica which is very close to the capital city of San José. Together, our students and the Ticos (a colloquial term for natives of Costa Rica) go everywhere together. They visit volcanoes, complete high ropes courses, and sail through the rainforest canopy on zip lines. They travel to the Caribbean Coast where they walk the beach at night looking for turtle eggs to bury in a nearby protected hatchery. Then, they travel to the Pacific side to snorkel and explore rain forests and animal sanctuaries. They also spend a day in downtown San José learning about Costa Rican history, art, and government. With every visit to Costa Rica, our students return with their eyes a little wider and their lives a little richer as they have their first experience actually living in another culture.

Ninth Grade: An important element of our ninth-grade curriculum is the completion of a year-long capstone project that challenges each student to apply their skills to an area of personal interest that will improve and enhance their world. Similar to a thesis or senior project, the capstone project provides a framework for demonstrating leadership and advanced application of critical thinking skills. To further extend their learning, the students are challenged to design a custom end-of-year outing to include research opportunities for each of their individual capstone projects. In collaboration with a faculty advisor, a past ninth grade class settled on an itinerary traveling throughout the Pacific Northwest. Their route took them to explore tidal pools, tour museums in Seattle, visit a military base in Tacoma, and interview refugees in Vancouver.

Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High student council members usually plan three dance parties a year, one each in the fall, winter, and spring.  Whether an upcoming dance is your child's first or they have attended these kinds of functions before, we have some details to help you plan ahead.

When: Greensboro Montessori School dances are on a Friday night from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Where: Dances are hosted in Greensboro Montessori School's Gymnasium

Who: Attendance is limited to currently enrolled students in grades six through nine. In general, students may not bring guests from other schools. In some instances, Greensboro Montessori School has invited other independent schools in the Independent School League to attend dances, but this is the exception to the rule.

Attire: Students may choose to dress up or wear regular clothing. Attire must follow Greensboro Montessori School's dress code. We ask all attendees to wear soft-soled shoes that will not scuff or leave marks on the gym floor.

Chaperones: All dances are chaperoned by faculty and staff from Greensboro Montessori School. On the night of the dance, parents may drop-off their child at the Gymnasium entrance at 7 p.m. and return at 9:30 p.m. when the dance is over.  The School always provides the name and cell phone number of at least one chaperone in a personal email to parents.

Cell phones: Students are permitted to bring cell phones to dances.

Entrance Fee: Students pay $5 cash at the door to attend dances.

Music: All Greensboro Montessori School dances have a DJ who is a current student. They develop a playlist based on student requests and submit this playlist for review by their faculty advisor. The faculty advisor reviews the list for content and language and approves only those songs which are age appropriate.

visual art elementary schoolWhat do you love in the world and think is worth preserving?

Upper Elementary students wrestled with this important question during their class project for the Green and White Bash silent auction. My daughter, Stella, is a student in the Upper Elementary classroom, and I was privileged to assist the children in transforming two blank puzzles into a lively mixed media college. Since the Bash’s theme was “sustaining our future” through the funding of student scholarships and staff professional development, I thought it would be fitting for the class project to address this idea of sustainability. So, I asked each student to design a single puzzle piece that identified their own personal junction of love and preservation. All the pieces joined together to form a single, unified collage.

The project turned out to be both intellectually and artistically challenging for the class. Some of the students needed clarification on the question and took extra care to reflect on the conceptual differences among sustainability, preservation, and conservation. Others thought of multiple ideas and found it hard to choose a single focus for their piece. They would sit in thoughtful silence, rifle through magazines for inspiration, or simply run off to do something else, planning to return later. For other children, the process was easier and they settled into their work instantly. Regardless of how quickly their work progressed, it was humbling to witness the moment when each child’s idea clicked into place. You could sense the wave of clarity and purpose wash over them as they set themselves to task. They would sift through the huge pile of assorted collage papers and magazines and dig through buttons, cork, sequins, pom pom balls, threads, beads, and other odds and ends to find the perfect color, texture, or imagery to convey their idea.

elementary school visual artThe students’ approaches to composition varied as dramatically as their themes. Some enjoyed working very flat, while others preferred a more 3D composition. Some students chose clipped images and text, while others wanted to incorporate their own drawings. Some designed beautiful miniature scenes of forests and picnics, while others worked more conceptually and built up layers of interest. Each piece was transformed into a unique and carefully crafted work of art.

After the last student finished, I packed up all of the supplies and took everything home to (literally) put the pieces together. As I assembled the individual pieces into a finished collage, I was amazed by how well the variety of themes and designs worked together. Thirty-seven distinct responses to a single question had morphed into a microcosm of our beautiful, crazy modern world. Elements of nature (birds, oceans, trees) wove through interpretations of social life (family, friends, holidays) and modern living (technology, medicine, Disney). The Upper Elementary class project about sustainability had become an ecosystem of gratitude and hope for the future, where nature merges seamlessly with people, technology, and traditions: very much like a day at Greensboro Montessori School!

Elementary school visual art sustainability


Gina Pruette Elementary School Montessori ParentAbout the Author

Gina Pruette is a parent and regular substitute teacher at Greensboro Montessori School. In addition to her commitment to the School, Gina is an active volunteer within the greater Piedmont Triad community where she leverages her expertise in marketing and events planning, fundraising, and tech solutions to further the missions of various nonprofit organizations. Gina recently completed Racial Equity Training through the Racial Equity Institute to strengthen work with diverse populations, and she holds a bachelor of arts from the University of Pennsylvania.

Greensboro Montessori School's mission is to nurture children to be creative, eager learners as they discover their full potential and become responsible, global citizens.

We recently sat down with Upper School Faculty member, Jonathan McLean, to learn more about Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High Music Ensemble. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: What exactly is Music Ensemble?

A: We have a lot of students who want to play a lot of different things or perform a lot of different [types] of music ... anyone from somebody taking violin, to taking piano, to taking singing lessons, to just hanging out at home banging around on the piano. To follow the child - and the best thing for each child - I've found is the Music Ensemble, which is just a big band.

Q: Is Music Ensemble part of students' regular coursework, or is it an elective?

A: The closest thing it's to is an elective. Certain people are required to be in it. If [a student is in] my Creative Labs class and they are always [applying] for positions for composers or being in the band, then yes, it's a requirement they have to be in Music Ensemble. They give up one of their independent studies, which makes it like an elective, and come in [the studio] and rehearse.

Q: How often do you rehearse?

A: One class block every week, which is an hour and fifteen minutes, which is barely enough. But it is Wednesdays. We loose [lots of Fridays and Mondays] every year for [teacher workdays] and national holidays. That's why I put it on Wednesday, so we lose fewer of them. We also have dress rehearsals and sound check rehearsals before any show, [which would] be on a Saturday or Sunday usually, or right after school.

Q: Who can participate in Music Ensemble?

A: Anybody that's already had at least a year’s worth of lessons on a instrument, because Music Ensemble is not for me to teach you how to play an instrument. Creative Labs, actually, is [when] I can spend some time showing a student some stuff about how to play an instrument and then get a student hooked up with an after-school or out-of-school teacher. [Music Ensemble] is an advanced music experience, and the student needs to have already made a commitment to learning an instrument. Vocalists are taking voice lessons, and some have also taken lessons on piano.

Q: Are your vocalists also taking voice lessons?

A: One, two, three. Three of them are. One of them is not. Two of them have taken lessons on piano and have switched to vocals. Once you learn an instrument, particularly piano (because if you go off to music school everybody has to take Piano 101, it's like English Composition 101 to be a writer), you can play pretty much anything.

Q: What is the age range of your current Music Ensemble?

A: 12 through 15, [but we currently have a guest drummer] who is in fifth grade. The [typical] grades are seventh to ninth ... I invited him [to join] for two reasons. One, he's a student of mine, and he's highly advanced for his age. He could play in any band and make money right now if he wanted to. He practices with me once per week and also at home. [Two,] all my drummers graduated. It was an advantageous moment.

Q: What is the single greatest lesson your students take away from working in Music Ensemble?

A: That’s easy. Working in a band is working in a group. When you do group projects in the classroom, how do you assess how much each person is carrying their weight if it's an outside project? We don't know how to do that right now. In class though, it's a little easier ... but in a band, if you are not carrying your weight, everybody knows it. There is no calling somebody out and being unfair and them saying, "No, I know my part." No, you don't, because we have to stop because [someone's] part is wrong, and I don't mean that in a harsh way, it's just one for one, like math. It's either right or wrong. It's either in tune, on rhythm and in the right spot, or it's not. That's the single most important lesson: you cannot hide in a group.

Q: How long have you been teaching Music Ensemble?

A: Music was one of the first things I did when I got to Greensboro Montessori School [in 2002]. The middle schoolers were revolting against the traditional class where students are learning music on recorders playing from the same book I used when I was in Junior High. You have to do something current for adolescents to get engaged. So when you immediately say the word “band,” they want to play.

Q: What have you learned teaching Music Ensemble?

A: The first lesson I learned was the drawback to individual lessons. I think that all people who [teach] individual lessons should have some sort of network where they get their students together to play in an ensemble or a band. I would get a full band together [at Greensboro Montessori School] and each student may have had 2 to 3 years of lessons on their given instrument, and we'd start the song, and we'd play through it, and it would just be cacophonous and terrible. If you just pulled [each musician] out magically and just listened to them, they would nail the song, but they had been taught in a vacuum. As long [as a student thinks they're] playing the song correctly, they're not even tuning in to the other members of the group. So that goes back to the step above learning to work in a group. One, you can tell who is not carrying their weight, but two, its awful, its not pleasant. To teach you to tune into that goes into all the other stuff about brain development and mathematics and what music does to your brain.

Q: What do students new to Music Ensemble need to learn?

A: They need to start listening to each other. It is self awareness and it's being aware of other people, and doing that thing Miles Davis said where everybody pushes and pulls each other. If somebody's lagging behind, it may be because they are having a hard time with a song, so the band has to tune into it, be a team, and slow down a little bit. You can get on them afterwards, like "why were you playing that so slow," but [during] a performance you support your team. But also, it may be, as they get the hang of it, somebody wants to pull the song back, and that sets the mood. Maybe someone wants to push it a little bit, but that's how musicians interact with each other.

Q: What is the most important thing you see your students do in Music Ensemble?

A: All the brain development that goes on after they learn the basics of working in a group, then to listen to each other, and then to get into it [with each other]. What I know as a performer and an entertainer is if you only have one person or 10000 people watching you, if the audience sees that [members of the band are] just up there doing [their] individual jobs, it's going to be apparent to the audience. And even if [the music] is in tune and played well, it doesn’t come together. There is a gestalt that happens when you are into your music, and I think thats the hardest thing to teach the kids to do, because at this age, kids get freaked out when they think people are watching them, and you know what I've learned from sports, it's not their parents watching them. It's their peers. That’s one of their biggest challenges they have - to perform. They don’t want to be awkward, they don’t want to play badly, they don’t want to seem stiff in front of their friends ... which actually, usually causes them to stiffen up.

Q: And where they are as adolescents, that’s an important factor to them, is what their peers think of them?

A: It is at the top of the list according to the best brain research and social and emotional research we have. They literally feel like they're going to die when they're not around their friends. So when their friends are in front of them, they cannot “mess up” in front of them. It's enormous pressure. That's a whole thing that doesn't even affect me. You know, I get nervous before I play, but once I start playing, I settle in. But these guys, that’s a real developmental thing for them to settle into that [and to learn to work through that pressure]. It will hopefully pay off when they get in front of people to present as an individual. Even if [these students] don't go on to be musicians, they will continue to feel comfortable ... presenting themselves, whether its for a college application, a job application, or giving a speech.

Q: As we wrap up our interview, do you have any final thoughts?

A: I am proud of fighting [for music and the arts] as an equal subject to math, science, and language, and I have teammates that have always supported me on that. Now I have a subject called Creative Labs which happens to be music, art, design, and anything like that, but that’s where the 21st century skills are going ... Every day you're getting music and every day you're getting art, which is what the [students] get here. It is equal across the board, but it does take a team that supports that and realizes that. I think that's something vitally different that we do here at Greensboro Montessori School.

Montessori preschool students cooking seed to table buscuits

Primary sweet potato biscuits keep students warm on a cold morning.

At Greensboro Montessori School, Environmental Education Curriculum is based on seasonal cycles, the outdoor environment at the School, and the age of the students. We invite spontaneity and often pause to watch and identify insects, marvel at life in the garden, and discuss questions or insights as a community. In all levels we teach about soil, decomposition and compost, pollination, and biodiversity. But what is it we do in winter when the gardens are resting? The short answer is, we teach seasonality and ecology in organic gardens.

Primary students study birds, concentrating on basic identification by sight and sound. They love making binoculars (out of recycled toilet paper rolls) and using them on our bird walks around campus. Along the way, they learn to empathize with birds and their needs, to stop and slow down as not to miss a moment of wonder, and to make an ecological connection between our gardens and the needs of birds: shelter, food, water, and spaces to nest. As the weather warms up, we explore our winter stores of food from the fall gardens - sweet potatoes, garlic, ginger, and honey - in cooking classes, and venture outdoors to observe and relish in the signs of spring!

Elementary bird watching environmental education

Lower Elementary students' binoculars are treasured tools in class this month.

Lower Elementary students delve even deeper into their bird study, concentrating not only on the basic identification of birds, but also on prolonged observation of bird behavior, habitat, and appreciation for their ecological significance in our organic, permaculture gardens. They love learning how to use and read field guides like ornithologists! I find bird study with this age is a wonderful way to remind children how to sit and soak in the surrounding environment, something we often don’t take time to do when the garden gets growing in spring. Bird watching in winter offers students opportunities to experience peace, critical thought, and insight that they so desperately need after the holiday rush and just before the end of year crunch! As spring break draws near, we share our bird findings with area scientists, cook with our winter food stores, and begin preparing ourselves for spring planting in the garden.

Elementary bee keeping environmental education Montessori

Upper Elementary students save bees wax from a hive that died over the winter. Honey bees and other native bees are a focal point for these students' climate change project.

Upper Elementary winter studies range from native tree and animal projects to redesigning of our Upper School outdoor classroom. This year, we're up to something BIG ... we’re tackling the subject of climate change and how it affects each of us and our experience at Greensboro Montessori School. We're thrilled the culmination of this project will include an art installation we collectively create and participation at the Student Climate Change Summit at UNCG on March 29. The event will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Weatherspoon Art Museum. Open to the public, the Student Climate Change Summit will feature a wide-array of student participants representing several generations. In addition to our Upper Elementary students presenting their artwork, undergraduate students from UNCG will present research posters around a variety of climate change topics. A student from NC State will describe the work of The Climate Reality Project Campus Corps on their campus. Last but not least, students from the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Grimsley High School will present posters highlighting their IB papers on climate change. We hope you will join us at Weatherspoon Art Museum on March 29!


Eliza HudsonAbout the Author

Eliza Hudson is Greensboro Montessori School's lead environmental educator. Eliza holds her bachelor's degree in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. She has built and tended school gardens, taught hands-on cooking lessons and connected local farms to school programs working for FoodCorps. Prior to joining Greensboro Montessori School in 2014, Eliza was a classroom and after-school assistant at the Richmond Friends School, a farm intern at a family-owned farm in Ohio, and served as assistant director at a summer day camp in an urban community garden in Durham.

Greensboro Montessori School has taught environmental education since 1995 and has been permaculture gardening on its campus since 1997.