Montessori coordinator Ginny Riga believes the one-on-one attention from teachers, in addition to students' freedom to choose their lessons and whether to work independently or with other classmates, keeps the kids from becoming bored or frustrated.
"It makes it easier to learn than if I was at school in a desk and the teacher was just writing on the chalkboard," said 10-year-old Elliot Rosenfeld, a fifth-grader at Brockman Elementary.
Ms. Riga, the former principal of Brockman Elementary, the first public Montessori school in the Columbia area, was named coordinator in February, becoming the second leader to join the state's new Office of School Choice. The office was created by Superintendent Jim Rex as he attempts to fulfill his campaign promise to improve education, partly by giving parents more options in public schools.
Mr. Rex said having some of the nation's toughest accountability standards can only do so much, and improvement has become stagnant. Dramatic increases in student progress, and ridding the state of its worst-in-the-nation graduation rate, will also require attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and eliminating funding inequities, he said.
Manners and a respect of all cultures are a major part of Montessori teaching. Three-year-olds learn world geography and can name the continents. Students serve classmates snacks, and disagreements are solved in group discussions.
"Would you like a piece of apple?" 6-year-old Tarrance Bellamy, clad in an apron, asked as he walked to each student in his classroom at Logan Elementary in Columbia. Asked why he gave away every piece he cut and saved nothing for himself, he responded simply, "I'm supposed to share."
BY THE NUMBERS
33 - Public schools with Montessori programs
40 - Approximate number of private Montessori programs
Source: South Carolina Education Department and Jola Publications