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A Montessori Approach to Student Success

How East Dallas Community Schools is closing the achievement gap and equipping students with the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century.

By Laura White

In May 2012, Laura graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in Political Economy. While at Tulane, Laura brought her Youth Venture project, Swim 4 Success, to New Orleans, LA, and was a founding member of Tulane’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus team. As a member of the Empathy Initiative, Laura manages the Changemaker Schools network, a group of schools that have given empathy as much priority as math and literacy. Laura is passionate about changemaker education, empathy, and transforming early childhood education.

January 7, 2013

Thirty-five years ago, a group of parents and teachers in East Dallas came together to make a change in their community. The neighborhood apartments were infested with rats and roaches, the neighborhood park was full of glass, and there was nowhere safe for children to play. After finding success in dealing with these problems, the group identified access to high quality education as a root problem to the challenges their community faced. Together, they dreamed up a program that started much younger than first grade, involved parents actively, and was founded in the whole-child Montessori approach; the team created East Dallas Community Schools.

Fast forward to 2012: East Dallas Community Schools has just opened its third campus. The evidence of parent support is everywhere: they run the carpools, greet the children in the morning, and help escort them to class. They also work with Executive Director Terry Ford, School Director Tom Loew, and other administrators and teachers about the big issues they want to tackle together in the community, including immigration and job training. According to Ford, this deep respect for all human beings, especially parents and children, is a key part of the network's success.

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Another component of the network’s success is the outstanding leadership of Ford, who was there from the beginning as part of the school’s founding team. After teaching first grade and watching her students fall through the cracks when they reached later grades, Ford facilitated the parent and teacher discussions that led to the vision for East Dallas Community Schools. Over the network's 35 year history, Ford has orchestrated a Montessori curriculum and school culture that is closing the achievement gap for students.

The Montessori approach is clearly working for East Dallas Community Schools students. According to the network:

“In a neighborhood where less than half of entering freshmen graduate from high school, 95% of East Dallas Community School third graders go on to earn their high school diploma, with 89% of those graduates attending college.”

This is not the only designation of which the network is proud. In 2011, East Dallas Community Schools received a nationally prestegious award from the American Psychoanalytic Association for support of children's emotional well-being. By meeting student emotional and academic needs, as well as involving parents as changemakers, East Dallas Community Schools is closing the achievement gap and revolutionizing education.