Source: Sherman Publications

Ortonville Montessori 30th anniversary

by Susan Bromley

October 02, 2013

Even after three decades, Mary Wilcox still loves going to work every day.

The founder of the Ortonville Montessori Center recently celebrated 30 years of educating students in this community.

“It doesn’t feel like it has been 30 years,” she said. “Kids stopped and talked to me at Septemberfest and they grew up, but their faces look the same.”

Some of those “kids” now have their own children attending the Montessori school located at 258 S. Ortonville Road, where education is based on principles developed by Maria Montessori in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Under those principles, Montessori students participate in mixed age classrooms, with freedom of movement, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and ability to choose their activity from several options.

Wilcox first learned about Montessori when she took a job as a teacher one summer while on break from Central Michigan University. She did training in 1981, did a year of internships and opened the Ortonville Montessori Center in 1983 in the strip mall at the corner of M-15 and Glass Road.

“When we first moved in the area, people thought it was a Catholic school, or for gifted children and it’s just a method of helping children learn,” said Wilcox. “Maria Montessori believed children learn at different stages. We work with students one-on-one and they learn at their own rate. It’s very individualized. We don’t separate according to age. As they are ready to move on, they move on.”

When Wilcox opened the school, there were 12 students and just one other teacher. At the end of the first year, 20 students were enrolled. Wilcox continued to rent the building for two more years before renting space in the Harvey Swanson Elementary for a few more years.

The school moved to its current location in 1990. Over the years, student enrollment grew, as did the staff. Ortonville Montessori now has six staff members and more than 100 children, including latchkey. Students range in age from 2-and-a-half to 6-years-old.

Through the years, Wilcox has been happy to see an increase in parent involvement and children who leave the Ortonville Montessori are self-confident and very self-motivated.

“They do well because they’ve learned to love learning,” said Wilcox. “That’s our goal.”

She plans to continue to encourage that love of learning and while she says she won’t be running the Ortonville Montessori Center for another 30 years, she has no plans to retire.

“I love it still and I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I love this community, my staff is wonderful and I couldn’t have done it all these years without them and the help of my husband Jim.”