Saturday, February 9, 2019

Meet Dr. Timothy Purnell: AMS Executive Director

Meet Dr. Timothy Purnell: AMS Executive Director

Dr. Timothy Purnell wants to make the world a better place, and the evidence so far shows that he’s making pretty good progress. Purnell’s roots are in public education, and he has spent many years in the field, serving as a teacher, superintendent, and adjunct professor, among other roles. Prior to becoming Execu
tive Director of AMS in August 2017, Purnell won honors including the National Superintendent of the Year Award, the You Make a Difference Award, the Governor’s Teaching Recognition Award, the Weston Teaching in Excellence Award, and a Geraldine Dodge Fellowship School Leadership Award.

Purnell’s enthusiasm lies in finding ways to help every child become a “captain of his or her ow
n learning.” As superintendent of Somerville Public Schools in Somerville, New Jersey, Purnell helped develop a high school for at-risk youth, where students have agency in guiding their education and pacing themselves. He also met regularly with a student cabinet, composed of children from grades 2-12 with a wide variety of backgrounds and academic abilities. That group of students set standards and agendas for each meeting, coordinated refreshments, invited guests, and orchestrated outcomes and follow-up.

“The most difficult transition to my role at AMS was the loss of my direct connection with children, particularly those who are at-risk,” says Purnell. “I have a passion to mentor children who are disadvantaged. On the other hand, not only does AMS share my commitment to make the world a better place, I am now able to work with educators and policymakers on a global scale – and this is thrilling to me.” 

As part of his first year with AMS, Purnell spent time conducting a “listening and learning tour” of some of AMS’s member schools and affiliated teacher education programs, both in the U.S. and overseas. In addition to helping him become familiar with the nation’s larger Montessori network, the tour gave Purnell an opportunity to talk directly with teachers and administrators and find out how AMS could better serve them. Purnell notes that members stated desires for more guest speakers, assistance with leadership searches and identifying guest speakers for local events, more online learning and other professional development opportunities, and language translations of Montessori information. 

Partly as a result of that tour, Purnell spoke about a few exciting shifts that we can look forward to at AMS. “We are exploring ways to provide more services and better support to our individual members, schools, and teacher education programs, and to ensure consistency of learner outcomes among our TEPs,” he says. “We will also be separating the concept of school quality from school membership. I’m sure we’ve all seen subpar Montessori schools with AMS membership certificates hanging on their walls, which might indirectly connote quality; this is something we will be addressing. Along with this, we will be bringing heightened awareness to member schools meeting specific indicators of best practices.”

Purnell describes joining AMS as “being part of the largest Montessori movement and networking opportunity in the world.” Members have the power to “foster a strong movement of change that will impact public policy, legislative decisions, and parental choice in Montessori opportunities,” he says. “There is power in voice, and we plan to amplify that voice in all aspects of mainstream media and research institutions.” 

Purnell enjoys talking with anyone who has a passion for Montessori education. He urges those with comments or questions to contact him directly, either through LinkedIn (Timothy Purnell, EdD), Twitter (@drpurnell), or his TimeTrade account.

“We are listening to your concerns and are making adjustments to better support the great work that you are doing,” says Purnell. “Become involved as we evoke the realm of possibilities, dream without limitations, and make the world a better place for our future!”

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Archgate Montessori Academy

School Profile: Archgate Montessori Academy

A beautiful mix of the old and the new, Archgate Montessori Academy in Plano opened more than 30 years ago but just recently rebranded with a new name and a new logo. Called Montessori New Beginnings Academy until just over a year ago, Archgate has expanded its elementary program and now welcomes students through sixth grade, which is part of what prompted the name change. The campus will add middle school grades soon as well.

“It felt like ‘New Beginnings’ was not representative of our older studArchgate’s Head of School. “To include the whole community, we looked at a rebranding scheme. The name ‘Archgate’ pulls from the community – there’s a street and a park called Archgate behind the property.”
ents,” says Rebecca Bernard,

The property Bernard refers to is 7 1/2 acres of land with a large green space and creatively designed environmental features, including a pollinator garden, a natural playscape, a “treehouse-on-the-ground,” nature trails, a creek, wooden obstacle courses, and music gardens. Bernard calls it “our own little piece of paradise.”

“We have a master gardener on staff, and the amount of wildlife that comes through here is just not seen anywhere else,” she says. “We are so fortunate; we’re able to be outdoors year-round.”

Archgate purchased its current property about a dozen years ago, but the school started in 1986 in a small commercial retail site, when a group of local parents were driven to provide a high-quality education alternative to their children. Back then, there were just two classrooms and about 30 students. Now, Archgate has nine classrooms and about 165 students total – and is preparing to expand even further. By early fall, the school will break ground on 31,000 square feet on their existing property, allowing them the opportunity to add a full gymnasium, dining area, commercial kitchen, library and technology area, and creative makers’ labs for each classroom.

Originally established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Archgate has stayed true to that mission for more than 30 years and remains governed by a Board of Trustees.

“[Nonprofit status] changes the approach and the decision-making,” says Bernard. “Everything we do is about education. Everything is made for the students, for the teachers, and for the school, to make sure we can follow the best practices possible.”
Following a co-teaching model, Archgate employs two certified guides in each classroom who partner with each other in leading their students. Bernard says that most Archgate staff members stay with the school for an average of 10 years, but it’s not unusual for some to stay much longer. The founding teacher is now preparing for retirement after 32 years with Archgate, and another teacher is celebrating a 30-year anniversary soon.

Bernard was working in special education when she discovered the Montessori method, which clicked with her immediately. “It’s perfect for every child,” she says. “I’ve been in the administration portion of Montessori ever since, because that’s where my passion is. The teachers provide the magic and the classrooms are where it happens; I get to share this with the parents and the public. I’ve been here at Archgate for a decade, which seems like a long time, but I’m still new when you look at the commitment of the people who are here. In the pattern of the school, I’m just getting comfortable. It is a privilege to be part of this school community.”

To make sure things stay fresh for the students, Archgate creates opportunities for newly emerging Montessori professionals and interns as well. “We couple all of the experience of our teachers with new and exciting energy, and all of that together allows us to provide a high-quality educational foundation to our many students!” says Bernard.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Let Nature Be Your Guide: The Importance of Outdoor Environmental Education

Let Nature Be Your Guide: The Importance of Outdoor Environmental Education

“Nature frees kids’ minds and allows them just to be themselves,” says Geoffrey Bishop. “It has no demands. It’s like a blank canvas. When kids go out and immerse themselves in it, they can create it as their own.”

Bishop works as Executive Director of Nature’s Classroom Institute (NCI), an innovative environmental education program with five sites in Wisconsin, Texas, and California. NCI hosts students of all ages for three- or five-day immersive visits with custom programming in settings including farms, lakes, mountains, forests, and more.

The program grew out of Bishop’s own passion for the natural world. After growing up in the Australian bush and studying horticulture and landscape agriculture in his home country, Bishop spent five years traveling the world, visiting almost 125 countries and seeing how people interacted with a wide variety of landscapes. 

Bishop feels that when someone goes outside and truly connects with nature, there is a calming effect, as in yoga or meditation. In essence, spending time outside is a way to press the “reset” button on a child’s day and ease the burden of any baggage they may be carrying around – a stomach that hurts, an argument with a parent, an interaction with a bully, or any number of other troubling things. After getting time outdoors to center themselves and be active, Bishop has observed kids go back into the classroom with the kind of focus, attention, and enthusiasm they need to tackle academic work.

Another great asset of nature is how it encourages kids to learn about and take calculated, controlled risks, in situations where they might skin a knee or fall in the lake, and learn about their boundaries and interests. “Overprotection of children robs them of the ability to discover for themselves and to understand their own bodies and own connections to the world,” says Bishop. “Accidents happen sometimes, but they are our way of discovering what our limits are. They are learning tools.”

Even something as simple as taking a hike through the woods forces kids to be aware of their surroundings, to notice where they are stepping and what the weather is like and how the air smells. “Nature will kind of hit you in the face if you’re not paying attention,” says Bishop. 

Obviously, teachers who work in schools with gardens, tree-lined playgrounds and nearby parks have an advantage when it comes to accessing outdoor education, but Bishop is adamant that those in any school can find ways to incorporate nature into their curricula. If parks, creeks, or forests are just a short walk away, Bishop suggests taking weekly field trips to natural sites and getting kids to focus on noticing what they see, hear, smell and feel. 

For teachers in completely urban areas, Bishop recommends bringing nature into classrooms by growing a variety of plants, having class pets, and encouraging kids to bring in items from nature that they’ve found outside of school and share them with the rest of the class. “There is no such thing as a place with no nature. It’s not possible,” says Bishop. “The dandelion in the crack in the sidewalk is nature. Nature is everywhere!”