Forging New Montessori Friendships
By Ned DiGregorio, Inly Upper Elementary Teacher
My family and I were lucky enough to go to St. John in the USVI over spring break. During the planning stages of the trip, I was introduced to a lifelong friend of fellow teacher Pat Thompson who was visiting Inly School. It just so happens that this friend, Debra Polucci, runs a Montessori school on—you guessed it—St. John! A few weeks before leaving, I contacted Debra and scheduled some time to visit her school. I know, going to school during vacation, what was I thinking?
Once we arrived on St. John and adjusted to its pace and beauty, Debra and I exchanged a few more emails to finalize our visit. She invited my whole family to stop in which I thought would be great for my wife and two daughters.
The morning of our visit we set out. If you have ever been to St. John, then you know the roads are a bit tricky and often don’t have names. “At the ball field take a left and pass the Aqua Bistro restaurant, then go for about ten minutes until you see a blue dumpster,” were the directions given to the St. John Montessori School. It took a while (and a few stops for goats and chickens crossing the road) but we found the school. It was a small building at the top of a hill looking over the ocean. There was a very cute puppy walking around outside. My daughters, Abby and Tess, were very excited to meet a four-legged friend. A few of the students saw us and were excited to tell the others. They obviously had been advised of our visit.
We were greeted by Debra and her assistant, Tricia. The children were just heading out to recess. We took this time to tour the school and meet Debra’s dog Riley, a lovable Rottweiler, who gets to hang out at school too. There was one large Montessori classroom with all of our familiar materials. There were a few smaller offices and storage areas. The students here ranged from age 3 to 8 years old. Debra told us she would love to have a deck so the children can do some work outside. She also mentioned that, as the school expands, she needs to expand the materials for lower elementary students.
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It was amazing to see all the students playing together. The different ages did not prohibit play at all. Abby and Tess were immediately welcomed into the group. I think they were happy to be with friends their own age even if it was for a short visit. One boy wanted to know exactly when Abby and Tess would start school with him! All of the students take such pride in their school; many of them were wearing school t-shirts. We saw posters advertising a fish fry fundraiser coming up over the weekend. Debra told us that the parents have been a great help keeping the school going and volunteering to help.
Our morning visit to the St. John Montessori School was a wonderful experience for my family. I was very fortunate to be able to hear about the great experiences Debra has had setting up and running her school after setting up an earlier school on Martha’s Vineyard. Debra and I mused about setting up an exchange program—imagine attending (or teaching) school on a hill overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean! I asked Abby and Tess their impressions of the visit. They were really excited to meet some new friends but both agreed that it was, “really awesome” to have dogs at school.
Thank you for your wonderful article, Ned. Another fabulous thing about Debra Polucci’s St. John Montessori School is that the tuition is very low so that the families permanently living on the island can afford it. There is a subsidized program, as well, so that native island families living in poverty can take advantage of an education that they could have never imagined for their children. Montessori should be for all children and Debra took a chance leaving Massachusetts to help make this dream possible for 20 families at a time. She is barely beginning to come out of the red in three years, but the dream is starting to take off for her and for her lucky families.
St John Montessori