My first day at Greensboro Montessori School was Tuesday, May 31, which was also the day of our Council of Elders interviews with our graduating middle school students. The week that followed was a crash course in the rich experiences exclusive to our students contrasted with the universality of adolescence…and most notably, the extraordinary academic and social accomplishments of students who have learned under the Montessori method of child-led education.

As I walked to Susana D’Ruiz’s Spanish classroom for my Council of Elders interviews, I quickly noticed how comfortable I felt in our middle school hallways. Down the main corridor, one side was lined with lockers, a familiar scene from any middle school in the country. And as I met with the interviewing graduates, I was immediately transported to middle school years when each moment swung along a pendulum between my own teenage angst and hubris.

But this group displayed a wealth of life experiences I never knew at 14:

  • They had run their own businesses during Greensboro Montessori School’s holiday marketplace, not once, but three separate times in each of their years in middle school. This repetitive format allowed them to learn and improve their business acumen from one year to the next.
  • They had traveled extensively studying U.S. government in Washington D.C.; visiting Biosphere 2 in Oracle Arizona; participating in the United Nation’s Global Citizen Action Project in New York City; and living with host families from The Summit School in Costa Rica.
  • They had cared for a baby (albeit, a mechanical one) for a weekend, with dashed hopes of sleep as they tried to determine whether their baby needed to be changed, burped, fed or rocked. Any many had to pay their parents to babysit in order to maintain extracurricular commitments in sports and music.
  • They had completed an introspective “Who Am I” project which had unlocked a fresh sense of confidence and creativity as they prepared for the leap to high school.
  • They lived Survivor-style at Greensboro Montessori School’s 40+ acre Land Lab where they cooked their own food, slept in shelters built by students and hauled their own fresh water. Divided into tribes, they experienced life without electricity and gained a deep appreciation for social and environmental responsibility.

But the graduates’ accomplishments extended well beyond these experiences, a point that came full circle for me when I attended their graduation ceremony.

The three-and-a-half-hour celebration featured heartfelt, personal introductions of each student from a faculty member of the graduate’s choosing. After each introduction, the respective graduate gave a speech. This combination – faculty introduction and graduate speech – repeated itself sixteen times yet was never boring or monotonous. It was deeply revealing about the extraordinary bond that results when faculty invest just as much heart and soul into their students as their students put into their work. The result of faculty who understand their students’ so well that they enable each one to reach his or her full potential.

And the academic results are astounding:

  • Two of our graduates will attend the Early College at Guilford, which U.S. News and World Report just ranked the top high school in North Carolina, and they only accept 50 new students a year. When you look at the numbers, Guilford County Schools has 23 middle schools and a host of other private schools. With 16 eighth graders, Greensboro Montessori Schools represents a fraction of a percent of eighth grade enrollment in this county, but we represent 4% of the Freshman class at the best high school in the state.
  • Five of the graduates will attend the Weaver Academy for Performing and Visual Arts where they will follow a “rigorous curriculum comprised of Honors and Advanced Placement courses” while also following a “specified course of study in their performing and visual arts area of concentration.” One of our graduates will concentrate in dance. Another in music – the drums specifically, and yet another in visual arts. The other two were accepted into the music production concentration, open to only nine new students a year.
  • One of the graduates will attend Rabun Gap-Nachoochee School, a college preparatory day and boarding school with a “100% college acceptance rate and placement includes the nation's most selective institutions including Harvard, Princeton, Duke, Brown, and Emory as well as highly regarded colleges and universities both domestic and abroad.”
  • Four of four graduates who will attend Grimsley High School were accepted into the International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme, a course study known for academic excellence, rigor and achievement. Students who graduate with an IB diploma often enter college with advanced standing from course credits earned in high school.

This list highlights just over half Greensboro Montessori School's Class of 2016. In all, our graduates will attend eight distinguished secondary institutions including those listed above and the American Hebrew Academy, Bishop McGuinness, Northern Guilford High School and Salem Academy.

As I begin to settle into my new role, I’m humbled by the success of these young adults 20 years my junior and feel a deep responsibility to shine a light on this magical place. A place where academic brilliance lives concurrently with Montessori methodology, two concepts that many mistakenly, and for us Montessori educators, might I add painfully, assume are mutually exclusive.