Happy 149th Birthday to Dr. Maria Montessori!

To honor Dr. Maria Montessori on her birthday, The Montessori School of Raleigh thought we’d share a brief insight into her extraordinary life.


Maria Montessori was born in Chiaravalle, Italy on August 31, 1870. As a young woman, Maria began her education at Via di San Nicolo da Tolentino and then proceeded to conquer the barriers for the restricted careers of women. She later enrolled in Regio Instituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci in pursuit of an engineering degree, which was extremely unusual for women of her era. Subsequently, after being denied entry to several medical schools, Pope Leo XIII assisted Maria in 1890 in enrolling in the University of Rome and to later become the first woman to enter medical school in Italy. Although she faced many prejudices from her male colleagues in medical school, she was a dedicated student and went on to become one of the first female doctors in Italy on July 10, 1896. When Dr. Montessori was asked to speak at the International Congress for Women’s Rights in Berlin, she argued her thesis, that men and women should be provided equal wages.


For many years, Maria assisted in clinics and asylums for children by frequently reading to the patients. Over time she concluded that the vacant, unfurnished rooms lacked sensorial stimulation for children and deprived them of working with their hands. She observed that these conditions were negatively impacting their condition. Dr. Montessori began to study the works of early 19th century Jean-Marc Itard and his student Edouard Séguin. Séguin focused on the importance of attending to each individual child as well as the overall concept of respect. After spending a significant period working in an Orthopedic school, Montessori opened her first Casa dei Bambini or “Children’s House” on January 6, 1907. 

She referred to her style of teaching as “auto-education” when she discovered that children were inclined to teach themselves with the activities provided to them.


“I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”
- Maria Montessori


Montessori’s teachings began to expand with her lectures in America, the UK and throughout Europe. In 1939, Maria and her son Mario began their journey to India for a three month training course to be followed by a lecture tour. However, the outbreak of the revolution in India caused Maria to be placed under house arrest and separated from her son. She was treated well by the government and throughout her seven years in India she acquainted herself with Gandhi, Nehru and Tagore. On her 70th birthday, she was released and reunited with her son. Together they trained over 1,000 Indian teachers. After her death on May 6, 1952, her son expanded her legacy and teachings leading to the Montessori community we have today.

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Opening Convocation 2019-20

As the sun peeped out from under the clouds, the Academic Festival Overture of Johannes Brahms resounded throughout the Gym, and hundreds of students Grades 1 through 12, faculty, and staff processed in to take their seats for the school’s first-ever Opening Convocation. Welcoming peers and teachers from the podium were the following student leaders:

• Evie Brunelle—LE
• Marco Gullotto—UE
• Cade Wiggins—MS
• Lexie Johnson ’20—Student Body President

Interim Head of School Jeannie Norris added her welcome and told the students that the school was not only beginning a new tradition with an opening convocation but also was marking the 45th anniversary of the first planning meeting of the founders of the school. “They had a dream, a vision of what could be,” explained Ms. Norris. “Now,” she continued, “45 years later, on this Friday morning in August, sitting here together, hundreds of students, faculty, and staff—we are that school they envisioned. We are their dream come true."

Following Ms. Norris’s remarks, Lexi Johnson returned to the podium to talk about the work Student Council did last spring to name values that would guide them in their leadership this year. Using the IB Learner profile, which describes a broad range of human capacities and responsibilities that go beyond academic success, the Council chose four of the 10 guiding principles as follows: principled, empathy, open mindedness, and reflection. She then introduced members of Student Council, who individually described each value in more detail. The following students spoke: Quin Brunelle ’23, Diana Luther ’22, Elli Wiggins ’22, Gracie Felts ’20.

Yet another new tradition began at today’s historic Convocation when all Upper School students came forward to sign their names in the Book of the School. The idea is that as one signs, the person is given “the signer’s power”, the power to author a community through one’s agreement with the principles it holds dear. As Ms. Norris said to the students, “By signing your name you register your membership in a community that spans oceans and continents and that has been in existence for almost half a century.” She also asked the students to remember as they signed that not only have they chosen this School, but it has chosen them. As she said, “Thus, not only are you writing your name in the Book of the School, in a very important way that you will understand more fully as time goes on, the School is writing its name in the Book of Your Life. Fifty years from now, this School will be one of the significant memories that make up the record of your days.”

Following the signing, Ms. Norris invited students, faculty, and staff to recess to Ben’s Field, where, in celebration of Maria Montessori’s 149th birthday, ice cream was being served.

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Donna Boyd is Here For All the Right Reasons

“I see the future every day—they’re walking all around me,” says veteran LE Directress Donna Boyd. Momentarily overcome with excitement, she adds, “And now look what we have—a high school!” We agree—more time for students to absorb the life-changing education at MSR. Deeply insightful, remarkably skilled, Donna believes in the power of this school because she is a veteran architect of this transformative learning environment.

We want to know when Donna first realized she wanted to teach. “When I was a senior in high school,” she responds. She was bored in Civics class as a teen in a new school and told the principal she wanted to teach herself. The administrator saw Donna’s precociousness and not only allowed her to become her own instructor, reporting to him once a week, but also asked if she would like to teach music to five-year-old children at the school. “I previously had been in a very good high school with a good music program” she explains. She had even been a student choral director, so with confidence Donna embarked on her teaching career.

We often say teachers are called to this most noble profession, and one would not question that calling with this seasoned educator. Pure joy in children and their learning bursts forth when Donna describes that one moment “when a child grabs the idea…or grasps the skill…it is exhilarating!” And in that moment, she says, “I look at the child and say, ‘You’ve got it! This is yours forever—I didn’t do this—you did!’”

Donna’s purpose in her classroom is to “facilitate group energy.” The gist is that she has a room full of unique children, each learning individually (“self constructing” in Montessori language), but, as she points out, “they don’t do this work in a vacuum.” In other words, children learn in relationship to others, and Donna is there to guide the collaborative process. She explains, “Collaboration is hard because each child is unique…I’m not called a directress for no reason.”

It is actually the Golden Rule that guides learning behaviors in Donna’s class. “It’s a maxim found in many cultures around the world,” she explains, “and we use it to develop an awareness of others.” When there is a misunderstanding, “we move to the peace table—to give our brains a break and to practice “I” messages.” The result? A classroom where Donna says she is “stunned at what children are processing.” There are moments, she says, “when their engagement with each other is so rich in meaning, I will not interrupt them.”

What children are learning now in Donna’s class will serve them well throughout their lives because as she points out, “As adults, we are all living in prepared environments.” We all must figure out along the way how to learn and grow wherever we are. How would the world be different if adult interaction—in families, the workplace, anywhere people gather in community—were “so rich” no one would want to interrupt or stop the flow of our work together? What a thought! What if we all had acquired the skills Donna is guiding her young charges to learn? Could we all be more optimistic? Could the world be a more hopeful place?

We are reminded of what Donna said when we began our conversation: “The future is these children.” Now she adds, “It is exciting to be part of something that will go on and on…this school is the living hope.”

And this is why Donna gives to the Annual Fund at a leadership level. Thank you, Donna, for supporting MSR for All the Right Reasons.

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How Montessori prepares kids for the ivy league and beyond

College should be the time in life when a young person accelerates and experiences the excitement of learning, deciding how they want to have an impact on the world outside of the classroom.

Unfortunately, many teens arrive at college to take their first steps into adulthood exhausted and burned out, weary from years spent trying to achieve what many schools define as success.

School success has become so tied to students' test scores that many schools focus simply on achieving the highest scores possible. This focus often drives lecture-style courses that force students to memorize as much as they can.

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