Inly School welcomed a group of city officials and school principals from the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education (G.O.E.) of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) on Friday, May 13, 2011. The purpose of the visit, according to the G.O.E., was to “observe and learn new, different and potentially better educational systems so as to apply educational formats and processes to the children in Korea.”
Inly School was chosen as one of the “top notch schools in the north eastern region of the United States” by the Creative Education Foundation (CEF), an organization working with the G.O.E., because Inly is an “innovative Montessori school that is learner centered and incorporates, among other skills, creativity, problem solving, collaboration, oral and written communication and global awareness in the classroom.”
“We were really in good company!” commented Donna when she heard the G.O.E.’s schedule for the days preceding and following their visit to Inly. They had visited York Prep in Manhattan on Thursday and were headed to meet with school officials at Harvard and MIT on Saturday. They even managed to squeeze in a visit with officials at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education after their visit to Inly on Friday. Afterward, they headed to Toronto to see a few Canadian schools.
Getting Ready for Our Visitors: Behind the Scenes
Three generations of the Inly community helped in preparing for the visit. Two Upper Elementary students in fifth grade (Abby Park and Bella Cammarata), one parent (Paul Park), and one grandparent (Maria Chung) volunteered their services to enhance the G.O.E.’s experience at Inly.
Abby and Bella approached Donna about helping with the preparations for the visit. Viewing this as a great opportunity for experiential learning, Donna turned the preparations over to the students—in true Montessori style—and asked them how they thought the day should look and what they thought should be done at school both prior to and during the visit.
The girls got right to work making a sign for the front entrance that read “Welcome People” in Korean. They brought in items from home to transform the display case in the front entrance to include traditional South Korean clothing, accessories, and home accents as well as items their families use as a part of their own New Year’s Day traditions. The girls then worked with the teachers to create a schedule that allowed them to go to every class to teach the other Inly students how to say “hello” in Korean.
Abby walked away from this experience recognizing that “teaching is hard work” and that she got “kind of impatient when the students couldn’t get it on the first try.” She has a whole new respect for teaching and hopes to have the opportunity to do something like this again in the future so she can work toward improving her skills.
A Great Day for All Involved
When the big day arrived, Bella and Abby were there to greet the visitors, tour them around the school, and converse with them over lunch. “They were spectacular. They took it very seriously and I couldn’t have been more pleased,” Donna said when asked about the girl’s involvement.
She went on to say that when the visitors asked about discipline and how conflicts were resolved at Inly, which appeared to be a concern of the G.O.E. visitors, “Bella and Abby took the Classroom Constitution off the wall, showed it to them and explained that if there is a problem between students they talk about it and have an exchange.”
Paul and Maria acted as guides and translators during the visit. Paul commented that “the educators were very interested in the one-to-one interactions between the teachers and the students, the independent work starting at a young age, and the methods and frameworks for evaluation.”
Maria added that “the visitors observed and commented on how the children learn peacefully and successfully even when they were not seated in rows in their classroom and even though they were at varied grade levels within their classroom.”
Thanks to the efforts of Chris deMurias (Inly parent) each visitor received an Inly baseball hat. The leader of the group smiled upon receiving his and told Donna Milani Luther that he liked this hat “even better than his New York Yankees hat.”
Reflections on the Visit
When asked what their favorite part of this experience was, Bella and Abby both agreed that it was learning more about the Korean alphabet and language. Bella said “I am eager to learn the whole language now that I started learning it. I want to be able to communicate with my grandparents in Korean.”
One of the more surprising parts of the visit for the girls was learning about the large class sizes that the Korean students have, which are typically 40 or more students with one teacher (down from 60 or more in years past).
Donna said she was “thrilled that the folks from the G.O.E. were able to come to Inly and experience the multi-age classroom first hand where they were able to observe the students’ sense of confidence, independence, and responsibility.” She summed it up by saying, “The program was great, and our visitors were very impressed with Inly.”