Guinyard Elementary School teacher Wanda Green sits in a circle surrounded by her class of first- and second-grade students to explain the concept of even and odd numbers.
The students sing a song to help them with that concept, and then three students stand up to illustrate it further.
“Each person must have a partner to be even,” Green says.
The students then break up into two-person groups and help each other out with the day’s lesson. In this class, the students are allowed to lie on the floor, sit at a table or stand up by a bookcase to do their work.
Green, who was acknowledged as South Carolina's No Child Left Behind 2007 American Star of Teaching is using a teaching method called Montessori.
A technique that has been around for centuries in Europe, Montessori has only gained footing in the United States in recent years. Guinyard is the only school in The Times and Democrat Region to use the Montessori method, according to the S.C. Department of Education’s Web site.
“It’s been very beneficial to the students. We don’t have discipline problems,” said Green, who noted that Montessori provides students with a structured freedom.
In a Montessori class, a teacher will present the lesson to the students and then ask them to show the teacher what they just learned.
The Montessori environment allows for students to perform at their own pace and have a high level of self responsibility for their studies.
For example, if a second-grade child excels at reading, they can then go beyond a second-grade reading level. Conversely, if a child struggles at math, the teacher will work with them on an individual basis.
Green says this enables all students to be entertained and challenged in their studies.
“It’s on an individual basis,” Guinyard Principal Dr. Jacqueline Mayo said. Mayo brought the Montessori program to Guinyard five years ago to enhance test scores.
Students in Montessori classes at Guinyard, where they will stay until third grade, are from different grade levels.
“It’s more fun. You’re able to interact on a more personal level and get to know them (students) better,” said Deondra Darby, who teachers a Montessori class for grades 4-K through second grade.
Often the older students will help the younger ones with their lessons.
“It’s like having a few more teachers in the classroom,” teacher Jamarla Lewis said.
Lewis teaches three- and four-year-olds how to read and write. However, she goes beyond that by teaching them self help skills, such as tying their shoes and how to use the bathroom.
“Montessori believes in the education of the entire child,” Mayo said.
Darby favors Montessori over traditional methods because it allows her to follow and personalize instruction for each student. She said in a traditional class setting every student is expected to master their lessons at the same time.
“I’m more able to work with students on a one-on-one basis,” she said.
One day in Darby’s class, students were assigned to write an expository essay when one student saw a snake outside.
“Every kid wanted to write a report on the snake,” said Darby, indicating the Montessori approach made the children enthusiastic about their work.
Students like the method, too.
Second-grader Treasure Thomas said she prefers Montessori over traditional methods because it helps her learn better.
“I think this class is very great. I wish I could stay in this class forever,” Thomas said.
Her classmate, Shalya Rivers, likes when the students learn in groups.
“We have some very fun times together,” she said.
Mayo said feedback from parents on the program has been excellent.
At Guinyard, the implementation of a Montessori program has paid great dividends, Green said. In addition to curbing discipline problems, all of her students have tested into the school’s gifted and talented program and have scored well on PACT and benchmark testing, she said.
This year, Guinyard’s PACT scores exceeded the state average in 10 out of a possible 12 categories.
Starting a Montessori program comes at hefty price, however. Mayo said implementing a Montessori class initially cost $25,000 per class. Teacher training for the program cost $6,000 per teacher, she said.
The costs did not concern Mayo because she said providing remedial classes to struggling students cost money as well.
“Either you pay now or you pay later,” she said. “I choose to pay now.”