In the spring of 1966, a Morningside Heights mother tacked a poster to a pole on Upper Broadway inviting other parents to help her start the kind of nursery school that she had sought in vain, for her child: A diverse, non-sectarian, Montessori program serving the Columbia-Morningside community. Eighty families attended the founding meeting; seventy of them would drop out as it became clear what an enormous task it would be to start a brand new school. Thanks to the remaining hardy souls, Morningside Montessori opened in September of ’66 with 19 students and one teacher.
Our first home was the basement of a church at Amsterdam and 100th street. The school was a good ten blocks south of Morningside Heights, but the school had already been named and the name remained, despite the fact that we never left our “temporary” neighborhood to go back uptown.
Whenever the congregation needed the classroom for a weeknight meeting (as well as every weekend), Morningside was required to clear the area completely, lock, stock, and pencils. Huge, eight-foot-high foldaway cabinets were built to make the weekly disappearing act somewhat less tough. One founding parent said that the classroom was a sort of “Educational Murphy Bed”. The following May, the school moved to 327 West 101st Street, in the ground floor of a brownstone owned by a Morningside parent.
In 1971 we moved again to our current quarters on 100th Street in Temple Ansche Chesed.
But the history of Morningside is more than a series of address changes. In 1967 we joined the American Montessori Society. As a young school, and as one committed to the principle of parent participation, we have re-defined ourselves in various ways over the years. The school was originally conceived as a classic Montessori school, using only Montessori materials. We later became a modified Montessori school which meant that we reflected upon our practices, studied current research about Early Child Development, and recognized that If Dr. Montessori were alive today, she would have most likely incorporated that knowledge into her work. We now include curriculum and materials that support and enhance not only the Montessori materials, but further expand upon the children’s experiences as learners.
We began as a parent co-operative, which meant that the members directly owned and operated the school; then in 1970 - after it became apparent that the co-op structure was resulting in constant, long, unwieldy meetings at which members practically voted on which brand of cleanser to buy- Morningside was legally incorporated. Parents now elect a board of trustees to take responsibility for the schools business decisions, and the board in turn hires a director who is in charge of day-to-day educational matters.
Morningside Montessori is still a neighborhood school, but it isn’t as small anymore. In 46 years of operation, our registration has more than quadrupled, and we have extended-day, summer and before and after school programs.
As a community we continue to ask ourselves “What are the needs of the children and of our community? How can we best serve them?” Through our reply, the history of Morningside Montessori will continue to be written.