It was a typical Thursday at Montessori Schools of Snohomish County.
Infants, high-schoolers and children all ages in between share the small campus near Everett Mall. They are the latest generation at a school that started more than 50 years ago in the basement of a Lynnwood home.
Today, the founders' daughter is co-director of the school launched in 1962. "It was only a preschool. I was about 3," said Kathy Gunnell, 55, whose parents, Wayne and Barbara Templin, began what would become Montessori Schools of Snohomish County. "Mom did the preschool, and Dad went to London for elementary Montessori training," she said.
She and her husband, Kory Gunnell, who live in Lake Stevens, now run the school, where one of their six children is still a student. Their daughter, Tawnya Valentine, 29, is a teacher at the school, and the Gunnells have several grandchildren there.
The name Montessori Schools of Snohomish County reflects the past, when there were several smaller sites, from north Seattle to Marysville. By the mid-1980s, the schools had become a nonprofit corporation and were consolidated at the present campus. Kathy Gunnell said many of the school's parents work at the Boeing Co. in Everett.
Alumni, current parents and others with connections to Montessori Schools of Snohomish County or the former Little Way Montessori are invited to celebrate Saturday at a 50th anniversary reunion dinner and auction. Proceeds from the event at Lynnwood's Embassy Suites will benefit the school, which now has about 150 students.
The Montessori approach to education takes its name from Dr. Maria Montessori. The Italian doctor, who died in 1952, opened the first Montessori school -- the Casa dei Bambini or "Children's House" -- in 1907 in Rome. The philosophy emphasizes hands-on learning, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. There are a number of other schools in the region that use the Montessori method of teaching.
On Thursday, it wasn't hard to see it in practice. The youngest preschoolers, on the floor with educational toys, were helped to keep playthings contained on individual mats. "Their space lets them see 'It's my work,'" Kathy Gunnell said.
Kory Gunnell's job is normally administrative, but he was substitute teaching Thursday in the classroom for 5- to 10-year-olds. One of approximately 20 teachers was out of the day.
Other staff in the room helped oversee small groups. Some children worked on math facts by counting and sorting objects. Others were reading or talking with teachers. A little boy in an art area finished painting petals on a wooden flower cut-out -- a Mother's Day gift.
More than a school, the campus offers infant day care beginning at 6 weeks old. Before- and after-school extended activity is available. And one marked difference from other schools, the program operates all summer. There are spring and winter vacations, but families take vacations year-round and children catch up at their own pace.
Tuition is roughly $800 to $925 per month, depending on age. Infant care is more expensive.
For Teresa Padilla, of Bothell, the cost is well worth it. Her 5-year-old son, Tony, attends the Montessori school. Her two older sons, now 19 and 23, went there before going to public schools.
"I fell in love with the teachers," said Padilla, whose children learned sign language by age 2. "It's all kind of self-motivating. Kids work at their own pace, but the teachers push them along. They become very independent. Teachers have a level of respect for their students -- little people all the way up to high schoolers. There's no harshness, no bullying there," she said.
"I'm just learning more," said Robert Degrat, 14, who switched to the Montessori school from Everett's Eisenhower Middle School. He said he has more time for assignments and a better connection with teachers at his new school.
Kathy Gunnell said Montessori appeals to parents of both fast learners and children who need more time. "We don't lose kids trying to teach to the norm. It's individualized," she said.
There were just eight students when her parents started their basement preschool. Wayne and Barbara Templin are deceased, but their legacy continues.
"I've been at this school my whole life," said 14-year-old Zak Templin, who has a sister and twin younger brothers at the school.
"He's my nephew," Kathy Gunnell said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Montessori Schools of Snohomish County will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a "50 Golden Years" reunion dinner and auction at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood. Registration starts at 5 p.m. Cost is $50 per person or $100 per couple. To RSVP, call 425-355-1311. The school is at 1804 Puget Drive, Everett. www.mymssc.com.
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