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  • Writer's pictureNavarre Montessori Academy

A Journey of Love, Dedication, and Resilience: The Story of Navarre Montessori Academy

My name is Kiani Richardson, and I am the proud owner of Navarre Montessori Academy. Holding a bachelor's degree in math education from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, 0-3 Montessori certificate (NAMC) and 3 - 6 Montessori certification from a MACTE-accredited institution, and DCF director's credential, I embarked on a journey eight years ago to bring authentic Montessori education to Navarre. But this journey started long before the school opened its doors; it began with my faith in God.

A Journey Rooted in Faith

While I was a high school math teacher at Okaloosa Academy in FWB, I found myself pregnant and filled with a deep desire to open a Montessori school. I gathered materials, but I wasn’t ready yet. Then, I became a Spanish teacher, and I turned to God, asking Him to make it clear if this was His plan for me. As if in answer to my prayers, the school I was teaching at closed its Spanish program. I took this as a sign from God and said, "Ok, God, here I come."

I prayed for at least one student to start with, and God provided. My son, Sofia, Claire, Sophie, Jinora, Caleb, Christian, and Andrew were my first students, and they will always hold a special place in my heart. Since then, most of my decisions have been made in consultation with God, trusting in His guidance.

The Beginning: A Dream Takes Root

The idea of opening a Montessori school came to me while I was still at Okaloosa Academy. The challenges I faced there—students with developed behaviors and limited opportunities to make a significant impact—highlighted the need for an alternative educational approach. Encouraged by the parents and driven by my passion, I decided to take the plunge.

Initially, Navarre Montessori Academy started in my own home. With the support and motivation of parents, we outgrew my home within two years and moved into a dedicated center that could accommodate up to 15 children. Mrs. Samantha, my assistant, and I navigated this transition with hope and determination.

Overcoming Adversity: Navigating COVID-19

With growth came unexpected challenges. When COVID-19 hit, our small school faced the risk of closure. Despite the daunting circumstances, we managed to stay afloat. The resilience of our community was incredible, and their unwavering support kept us going.

The community’s demand for a toddler program was another turning point. Although I initially hesitated due to the unique demands of caring for infants and toddlers, we found the right person after interviewing nearly 20 candidates. This new addition, along with her assistant who embraced Montessori training, allowed us to offer a comprehensive early childhood program.

The Importance of Family Engagement

One of the most crucial lessons we learned was the importance of family engagement. We encountered challenges with students exhibiting difficult behaviors, often compounded by parents who were not willing to collaborate with us. Without a strong partnership between school and home, our efforts were significantly hindered. We worked tirelessly with families willing to engage, but there was little we could do for those who blamed the teachers instead of working with us.

Expansion: A New Beginning

As our needs grew, so did our facilities. We found a generous investor who helped us expand to a building with three classrooms, providing much-needed space for our elementary program. Yet, this transition was not without its difficulties. The three-month closure for renovations felt like another round of COVID-19 stress, keeping me awake at night. Throughout, we dealt with a spectrum of parent reactions—some supportive, others less so.

Communication: Striving for Improvement

Communication was a recurring issue. Despite our best efforts to improve it, including introducing an app for direct teacher-parent communication and payment processing, misunderstandings persisted. Running a program with three classrooms brought immense learning and excitement, but also highlighted the increased scrutiny that comes with growth.

Challenges and Resilience

Each year brought new challenges, often exacerbated by the visibility that comes with running a school. Personal judgments about my accent, communication style, and the inevitable politics of education became part of my daily reality. This year, highly demanding parents tested my patience and resilience. Some even attempted to implement their own rules, disregarding the established guidelines of our Montessori program. Their actions culminated in unfounded complaints and social media slander, casting a shadow over the dedication and hard work of our teachers.

Despite these trials, I remain steadfast in my commitment to the authentic Montessori philosophy and the families we serve. Parents play a crucial role in our growth, but they also have the power to harm the very institution they once supported. This experience has taught me the importance of standing up for our teachers, who are the heart and soul of our school. They deserve respect and appreciation for their tireless efforts and unwavering commitment.

Continuous Improvement: Seeking Guidance and Accreditation

I recognize that I have so much room to improve, and growth requires guidance and mentorship. To ensure our school reaches its highest potential, two years ago we hired Sheila Linville, the co-founder of the Andrews Educational Institute, who has over 30 years of experience in Montessori education. She visits once or twice a year to help us refine our methods and work toward accreditation. Her insights and support have been invaluable in our journey to improve and excel.

Financial Commitment: Investing in Quality Education

As a former math teacher, I am acutely aware of financial pitfalls, which I believe helped us survive both COVID-19 and the three-month closure last year. Ensuring our teachers and assistant teachers are well-compensated is a priority, and it necessitates significant investment in their training. We commit to training them with MACTE-accredited programs, which are not cheap.

In a typical daycare, in a toddler classroom, you might find 20 children with two teachers who have only completed a 40-hour training course. While that might suffice for some families, our school requires more. Our Lead toddler teachers must not only have the basic 40-hour training but also undergo Montessori training, which can take 18-24 months to complete. Our school and teachers commit to ongoing professional development, and attending Montessori conferences to continue flourishing in their roles.

Additionally, our primary and elementary teachers come for interviews with the imperative need for good references and at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify as leads. Besides the 40-hour training, our VPK teachers must complete both VPK and DOE requirements, since we are governed not only by DCF but also by DOE.

A Call to Action: Supporting Your School

As I reflect on this journey, I encourage everyone to consider the immense effort that goes into running a school. Whether public or private, educational institutions thrive because of the love and respect for children. The challenges we face are significant, and disrespect towards great teachers is unacceptable. Administrators often fear the political ramifications of defending their staff, but I believe in standing up for what is right.

I ask you to think critically about what you read on the internet. Visit schools, ask questions, and do your own research. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and criticize, but building something from nothing requires courage and dedication.

Conclusion: Celebrating Our Journey

As I look back on the journey of Navarre Montessori Academy, I am filled with gratitude and pride. What began as a dream, nurtured by faith and determination, has blossomed into a thriving educational haven for our community's children. Every challenge we faced, from humble beginnings in my home to navigating a global pandemic, has only strengthened our resolve and deepened our commitment to excellence.

Our success is not measured solely by academic achievements or physical expansion, but by the bonds we've forged with families and the lasting impact on our students' lives. The dedication of our teachers, whose passion and expertise shine through every lesson and interaction, is at the heart of our school's vibrant spirit.

As we continue to grow and evolve, guided by principles of Montessori education and unwavering support from mentors like Sheila Linville, we remain steadfast in our mission to change the world one child at a time. We are grateful to our community for their unwavering support and to our parents for entrusting us with their children's education.

In the face of adversity, we have learned valuable lessons about resilience, compassion, and the true meaning of community. Together, we celebrate not just our achievements, but the journey that has shaped us into who we are today—a beacon of educational excellence and compassion.

Thank you for being a part of our story, and we look forward to many more years of learning, growing, and making a difference in the lives of our students. Here's to a future filled with promise and endless possibilities for Navarre Montessori Academy.

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