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Follow the Child: Seeding Equity for “Pioneering Wildflower Schools”

Pioneering Schools aspire to give all children and families the chance to choose high quality, nurturing, Montessori learning environments.

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Name or Organization

Pioneering Wildflower Schools: Alyssum and Magnolia Montessori Schools are “Pioneering" Wildflower Schools, both fully affiliated with the Wildflower Network of Montessori Schools. We are the first two schools, located in our respective cities. We support each other via ‘virtual meetings’, as we gain momentum in Louisville and Fort Wayne. We have confidence that our communities will both one day be considered independent hubs by Wildflower Schools, and we are working towards that goal.

Geography

The “Pioneering Wildflower Schools” are located in Louisville, KY and Fort Wayne, IN.

What is your stage of development?

  • Early Stage Innovator, with at least one-year experience in ECD

Type

  • Non-profit

What is the stage of your proposal?

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Describe how your solution could be a game-changer for your selected Opportunity Area (600 characters)

Leveraging the Wildflower Network's resources will enable us to start our own schools in our own communities. We draw from Wildflower to make sure our ventures have a strong foundation, then carry the principle of community networking forward to make an impact locally. To develop our local networks, we rely on community partnerships such as public park spaces, libraries, universities, and whatever other community relationships we can create to harvest mutual aid. Our intention to center equity will create a community that amplifies the voices and participation of underrepresented backgrounds.

Select an Innovation Target

  • Network: Connecting people with each other to enhance the reach or effectiveness of new or existing resources.

Tell us more about your innovation (1500 characters)

The two innovation targets that are influential to Alyssum and Magnolia are Network and Business Model. Wildflower is a network of one-room, shop-front Montessori schools. They actively involve parents, creating a tight-knit community among parents, teachers and students. We aim to serve a diverse population of students, and are publicly funded through child care subsidy programs, fundraising, and a culture of giving. Our “pioneering school” connection to the Wildflower Network could be described as a non-profit franchise relationship, with the teachers really in control of their own school and operating as social entrepreneurs. In the field of Early Childhood Education the Wildflower business model is revolutionary. Teacher Leaders are also the Head of School, making driving decisions with the families and communities they serve at the heart. The concept of “Network” extends beyond the business relationship between Wildflower and individual schools- into the communities we serve. Parents and children are expected to be key players in the school’s life. This involvement blurs the lines between home and school, bringing each family’s unique strengths to the school community, and extending Wildflower principles into family homes. Our focus on creating equitable school communities, centering access to families of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and of underserved racial and ethnic populations, brings the voices of those less heard to these powerful communities.

What problem are you aiming to solve? (3 sentences)

Beginning in early childhood, we must create equitable communities that will enrich the developmental experiences of the children served, and the families who participate in the school’s life. Focusing on equity, will help dissolve the fragmentation in communities between economic, racial, and ethnic groups. Montessorians believe children’s unique capacity to adapt to their environment makes childhood key to the long-term improvement of society and our greatest hope for a more peaceful world.

Explain your idea (5000 characters)

Magnolia Montessori in Louisville, KY and Alyssum Montessori in Fort Wayne, IN are two of the first schools outside of an established hub, that are affiliated with the Wildflower Network of Montessori Schools. We are part of the “Pioneering Schools” of Wildflower. While both schools are working hard to support families in our respective communities, we also share ideas and advice with each other via email, Google Hangouts, and Facebook. These virtual tools allow us to feel connected to one another, despite our 5 hour drive. Established "hubs", or collections of schools in a region, in Wildflower have designated entrepreneurs raising money to support start up costs of new schools within them. Magnolia and Alyssum rely on the sole determination of our Teacher Leaders to raise funds for our own schools from our local communities or national funding sources. Our idea is to provide support for the “Pioneering Schools” outside of established hubs in the Wildflower Network now and in the future. Some of our biggest hopes are to have the seed money needed to open doors to any family who might like to attend one of our schools, regardless of the tuition cost. Likewise, if we can use seed money to create our classroom environments and purchase materials, more money can be diverted from those purchases to helping all families attend, which provides an opportunity for equity. Equity is one of the 9 Principles of a Wildflower School. The other 9 Principles we aspire to include: Home, Teacher Led, Innovation, Montessori, Nature, Beauty, Network, and Shopfront. By affiliating with Wildflower, we are committing to the idea of providing time-tested, research-supported Montessori methods in one-room, community connected shopfronts with promising new ideas in parent engagement, intentional student diversity, and teacher empowerment. Magnolia and Alyssum aspire to give all children and families the opportunity to choose high quality, nurturing learning environments for their children. Our “Pioneering Schools” have very similar hopes and plans for our schools. Magnolia Montessori in Louisville, Kentucky, opened its doors in September of this year. They are one of two Montessori programs open to children under 3 years in the city, and the only one that enrolls children as young as 12 months of age. They are located in the center of the city, in the historic neighborhood of Old Louisville, which effectively acts as a dividing point between a longtime racially and economically segregated city. Their location is intentional, as it is one of the most economically diverse neighborhoods, and is geographically accessible to all families in the city. Alyssum is also seeking a location in the center of Ft. Wayne to increase accessibility for interested families. Magnolia is currently fully enrolled, and watching their wait list grow. They have two spots being filled by families who receive Child Care Assistance Program, which covers only a small portion of the tuition charged- already one of the lowest child care costs in the city. They are actively fund-raising the tuition difference so they can meet other budget areas of the school (such as teacher salaries). They intentionally set tuition low to make their program accessible, as well as offering a few different schedule options at different costs. They are currently researching tuition models that operate in a more equitable way, making tuition affordable for those who want to attend, and possibly asking higher income families to subsidize the cost of low income families. Both Magnolia and Alyssum are working to have ⅓ of enrollment be below the poverty line, ⅓ middle income, and ⅓ upper income. Currently, our Montessori Teacher Leaders are all making considerable personal financial sacrifices and taking wages that keep us below the poverty line. Finding a way to fund our schools without subtracting from equitable wages is also a goal.

Who benefits? (1500 characters)

The main beneficiaries of our idea to support “Pioneering Schools” in the Wildflower Network are children, parents, teachers, and their communities. The larger community benefits because children are no longer isolated from the rest of the community. Children working and playing in the public parks, museums, and libraries near the school help us all work towards providing the healthiest environments for children and families alike. Our Wildflower schools, like Magnolia and Alyssum, exist within the context of segregation and inequity of our communities. We cultivate the capacity in our schools for children to exist within an equitable reality, one that includes people of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds. We seek out ways to make our schools more accessible to all families; we celebrate diversity and foster inclusivity; and, we consider the unique opportunities and challenges facing every child and commit to giving each student what they need to find their purpose and fulfill their potential. We recognize the significance of this undertaking, and we work to transform ourselves, our school communities and our broader society to bring about our vision for justice and peace. All of the Teacher Leaders have experience working as Montessorians, and on various social justice, nonprofit projects that work toward equity in other areas of their communities.

What kind of impact will your idea have? (1500 characters)

Possible impacts that could occur for Magnolia and Alyssum include: a focus on diversity, community and equity, schools as a research setting for child-centered learning, and the opportunity to replicate the model. Magnolia and Alyssum are choosing to locate in communities in our cities that can support a diverse population. Likewise, we are seeking partnerships with community programs that provide financial aid for low-income families to attend high-quality childcare programs and schools. We are also introducing the idea of “equity” to the families we serve, many of which have never heard of the term. Families working together to support a learning community will develop working relationships with families from different backgrounds than their own. Children who spend time in an inclusive environment in such a foundational period of their human development will internalize its importance and carry it into the future. This single focus can have lasting, ripple like effects on our communities as the children carry it forward into their lives. Finally, the Wildflower model, that supports a franchise-style system for supporting new schools, a self-governing system for mutual accountability among schools to ensure quality, a shorter timeline for preparing leaders than is necessary to replicate larger schools and child-care centers, and the use of shop front space are all components of positive outcomes and a high chance of replication of this model in our cities.

How does or how could your idea impact low-income children? (1500 characters)

Montessori educates the whole child through the meshing of academic and socio-emotional objectives. Research demonstrates long-term positive impacts from even a few years of early exposure to a high-fidelity Montessori environment. For example, “new research from the University of Virginia has found that a Montessori preschool education helps typically under-performing low-income students keep pace with their higher-income peers” (Lillard). Beyond providing access to high quality Montessori experience for low-income children, providing a truly inclusive environment for low-income families to participate in a parenting community will provide family support that may be lacking due to the stressors of poverty. After just a few months, Magnolia Montessori has observed families come together in community in a way that makes our school feel like a “home away from home” for parents. They attend monthly parent education events that include relationship building exercises, and work together on parent committees to support the school. Parents come away knowing they are contributing to a community of children, and their participation is vital in the process- an especially important take-away for undervalued and underrepresented populations in our community. With the support of a grant, we can provide more spaces for lower socioeconomic families, which tend to be racial and ethnic minorities in high quality, early education programs.

Scale: Describe how your idea could reach a significant number of end-users. (1500 characters)

As newly affiliated Wildflower Schools, Magnolia and Alyssum are committed to creating financially stable schools that have the potential to respond to the needs of our communities. Because our schools are small, it is possible that new schools, serving additional ages, will be needed in a short time. This has been the pattern in communities where Wildflower is financially supporting established hubs and opening successive schools. The biggest barrier for our “Pioneering Wildflower Schools” consisting of just Magnolia and Alyssum, is financial. It is difficult to be a start-up. We have found, while there is much positive interest in our school model, local funding sources want to see a few years of success before financial support can be extended. This “fact in the fundraising world” makes supporting families of all income levels very difficult for Magnolia and Alyssum. However, we are so confident in the Wildflower model, we have decided to pursue opening our own schools and are trusting in supportive families, friends and personal sacrifice to make this endeavor a reality. With seed money for this important work of opening a Wildflower School, it makes our hopes for equity a real possibility and financial stability on the horizon.

Feasibility: Where are you with understanding the feasibility of your idea? Describe what you’ve done so far and your plans. (3000 characters)

Magnolia spent a year planning and opened officially in October of 2017. Currently, Magnolia has a full classroom and has completed all the necessary licensing requirements for the State of Kentucky. Magnolia Teacher Leaders are working closely with families to help fundraise for tuition costs and are busy writing grants to support various programming expenses for their Infant-Toddler environment. The response to Magnolia’s opening has been very positive. Magnolia Montessori was praised by the broader Wildflower network for opening on a “shoestring” budget. They opened with $10,000 comprised of personal loans. That money went to secure and re-model a space, buy materials, pay for marketing, licensing, and business expenses. Teacher Leaders have subsisted off of their personal savings and second jobs until the school reached enough enrollment to generate salary. Their budget is attached. There is an overwhelming demand for our program, and in just two months, they have generated a waitlist. However, at current tuition costs, they cannot afford to include low-income families to the extent that they want, and the financial support provided through Child Care Assistance Program is insufficient. Low-income families find themselves in a place where the only “care” they can find at all for their children is low quality day-care with the assistance provided. The feasibility of Magnolia providing an equitable and inclusive program increases as they find new ways to create a sustainable budget that either presents an equitable tuition structure- asking parents with more income to pay more, or to subsidize low-income spots with fundraising efforts such as grant support. Alyssum Montessori School plans to open in just a few months, in September 2018. They are in negotiations for the leasing of a shop front property in a neighborhood that will support a diverse population and can reach various socioeconomic levels as well. Their Teacher Leader team is busy holding parent info sessions for enrollment, and so far have 100% of interested families remaining on our prospective parent list. They are also in the midst of fundraising and networking with potential personal investors, so that they can provide tuition assistance to low-income families the first year. The Wildflower principle of equity is in the forefront of our minds. The long term feasibility of the “Pioneering Wildflower Schools” in our Louisville and Fort Wayne community is heavily dependent upon our ability to secure financial backing for our schools, who are fully immersed in bringing the Wildflower model to fruition in our local communities. With so much interest in early childhood education, personalized learning, respect for Montessori, and the need to build up inclusive communities at all income levels by offering high-quality accessible schools, this model is appealing to educators, parents, and community leaders alike. These factors all contribute to the feasibility of our model.

Tell us more about you (3000 characters)

Whitney, the Montessori Trained Teacher Leader at Magnolia, completed her M.Ed. in Montessori Education with another Wildflower Teacher Leader from Cambridge, MA, called Snapdragon. She observed this Teacher Leader prepare her school and was inspired by a business model that centered the Teacher as the Entrepreneur. The guides at Magnolia, had previously worked together in a Montessori school, and while inspired by the potential of the philosophy, felt disempowered by the school culture to affect change for individual students and the community overall. Wildflower’s model offered a venue to place social justice, and responsive curriculum at the forefront. In the Spring of 2017, Sara, Teacher Leader for Alyssum, explored Wildflower when it was presented by a friend and former administrator at a large Montessori School. From that initial exploration, they knew that it was a model that made sense. They read Reinventing Organizations and felt connected to the idea that this new and innovative model for education, supported by some strong roots in Montessori, and pre-factory model education, was Montessori for adults. It was the piece that they were all missing in our Montessori journeys. In August of 2017, Sara and Suzy, became officially affiliated by Wildflower to open Alyssum Montessori School. Nearly 80% of a child’s brain develops before the age of 3, offering the unique opportunity for early educators to literally shape a child’s experience of reality, and the foundation how they learn . It holds the greatest potential for shaping social justice for future generations. Working with very young children also allows for relationships between parents and educators, allowing us to set the tone for what learning should look like going forward. The guides at Magnolia come from low-income and working class backgrounds in one of the poorest states in the nation. They are a part of the Queer and Trans community locally. Collectively they have experience running nonprofit organizations that support LGBT communities, incarcerated folks, and education programs for children from diverse backgrounds. Clare has an educational background in Spanish and Anthropology. Sam has worked in Education and Music Education. Whitney has studied and worked in Early Childhood Education for almost ten years. They are unified in their desire to bring Montessori’s unique perspective to education to serve social justice goals, using its propensity for respect and peace development to bring together fragmented communities around us. For the past 20 years, Sara, Teacher Leader at Alyssum, worked in the classroom or the library. Her personal educational journey includes Montessori elementary credentials, a Bachelor of of Arts in Secondary English Education and a Master of Library Science. Likewise, Suzy acquired a Bachelor of Arts in Biology, a minor in Therapeutic Recreation, and a M. Ed, with experience in preschool and family education for low income families.

Do you have the people and partners you need to do what you’ve described? (600 characters)

While we appreciate all the support Wildflower offers us, we know more Montessori teachers will be needed for our future growth to be supported. Another partner that would be specifically helpful for Magnolia and Alyssum would be our own entrepreneur for our “Pioneering Schools”. This would be someone who is passionate about raising funds for this type of school model and can reach out both in Louisville and Fort Wayne to secure funding for future financial stability for our schools and the schools to come.

As you consider your next steps, what kinds of help could you use? Is there a type of expertise that would be most helpful? (1800 characters)

Mentoring or targeting training in Nonprofit Management and Fundraising would assist us in reaching our goals. We would also like access to communities, professional development, and mentors who practice social justice work in Montessori and racial and economic equity. This could happen through specific mentor support, or through financial aid to attend conferences and acquire more specific training. There are many capable people in our own community- people of color doing social justice and social work, for example, who could advise us on how to best serve marginalized communities. We do not have the funds to hire them to consult with us.

Would you like mentoring support?

  • Yes

If so, what type of mentoring support do you think you need? (1200 characters)

Mentoring or targeting training in Nonprofit Management and Fundraising would assist us in reaching our goals. We would also like access to communities, professional development, and mentors who practice social justice work in Montessori and racial and economic equity. This could happen through specific mentor support, or through financial aid to attend conferences and acquire more specific training. There are many capable people in our own community- people of color doing social justice and social work, for example, who could advise us on how to best serve marginalized communities. We do not have the funds to hire them to consult with us.

Are you willing to share your email contact information submitted on OpenIDEO with Gary Community Investments?

  • Yes, share my contact information

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Hello Sara. Your ideas and practice makes huge impact to ECD in low income children.
I'm also working in "Experimental school" which introduce the inquiry-based learning and personalized adaptive learning, and we are thinking how to scale our framework.
In our case, we've hit the wall "scaling with quality" problem. How do you overcome the problem in creating framework and professional development for teachers?