We recently lost a good friend to cancer, Tuppen Hauschild. Her family had suggested that in lieu of flowers they hoped people would donate to 3 Mariposas Montessori School (3MM) in Cabarete, one of the poorest communities in the Dominican Republic. Tuppen had visited the school on several occasions and it held a very special place in her heart! As we investigated the school we realized it was only a few miles from where we were headed for January and much of February.
Most people who know me know my two primary passions are kids and reading. I love kids. I absolutely love to read; I love to teach reading. Decades ago, my first master’s degree was in reading, in large part, because I wanted to be able to teach part-time when my children were young and I thought a reading master’s would allow me to do that. Since that time I’ve had fabulous opportunities to teach literacy skills to kids kindergarten through college as well as teaching teachers best practices in reading and writing instruction. I’ve been so fortunate. So when the chance came to visit another school; well, I was on it!
3 Mariposas Montessori School was closed for the holidays when we first arrived. But the director, Sarah Ludwig Ross encouraged us to visit the day the school reopened. Great! Patrick and Cary still had another day here and they really wanted to see the school as well. Sarah and Cary immediately connected as fellow Michigan State grads. While Sarah guided our tour she also gave us a bit of the history of the school. She told us she had originally been involved in a non-profit here in the Dominican when she decided to start her own school.That was 2009 and they had an initial enrollment of 11 students and 2 volunteers.
Because of the tropical climate, the school has a lot of outdoor space and most of the area has multiple purposes throughout the day. The primary classroom is also the lunch room. Wow! What a lunch room. Small tables are set in an open air classroom. And the smells wafting from the kitchen are enticing! And the behaviors! Children wait patiently with their hands in their laps until everyone is served before starting to eat. They quietly remind each other of simple meal etiquette rules: chew with your mouths closed; don’t put your elbows on the table; ask to be excused! This was unlike any school lunchroom I’ve ever been in. And trust me! I’ve been in many!
The school currently enrolls 46 students ages one through nine. The diversity of the group is amazing: there are 12 Dominican students, as well as 3 Haitian students with the remaining kids coming from a variety of backgrounds. Sarah blew us out of the water when she told us there are seven languages spoken at the school including: Spanish, Haitian Kreyol, English, French, German, Russian and Italian.
Bob and I knew after our initial visit this was definitely a place we had to return to. And what fun we’ve had reading with the kids. We’ve read with kids, to kids, and listened to them read to us. And while there are a variety of skill levels, we’ve been amazed by how much English the kids can speak. We’ve also been amazed by the self-directedness they’ve displayed and the way they can share what they’re learning as well as the why!
The school isn’t grand by American standards. The library is also the activity room. But I’ve never visited any school that was more inviting or where kids are more enthusiastic.
Students quickly and eagerly made book selections when they came to see me and then curled up next to me eager to share in the story. For many they know what they like and they eagerly grab a book.
It was suggested that I set a timer so that kids would spend a realistic amount of time with me and so that I could read with several students during my visit. Generally, it was about 20 minutes. I was reading Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Tejima with two girls, D’Jhounise and Zoe. It’s a beautiful story about a lonely fox recalling his own childhood while imagining pictures in the icy trees. The word choice is amazing. And here I was with two girls, probably about 8, explaining words like glisten, and vixen in their second language or perhaps their third! Suddenly the alarm on my phone went off indicating our time together was over. When I picked it up, a picture of one of my granddaughters with Santa Claus popped up. Zoe’s eyes about popped out of her head, “YOU KNOW SANTA CLAUS?” I explained that well, I had met him. Immediately she began how much she wanted a bicycle. “Will you please tell him that I want a bicycle?” And D’Jhounise echoed the request. As they returned to their class they still couldn’t quite believe they had just read with someone who had met Santa.
Like in any other classroom each child has his or her own strengths. I was particularly impressed when one of the teachers, Patty, was talking with a group of students about how to seek help when the teacher was busy. She was explaining they could ask another student who might be an expert in a subject. For instance, she said, if she needed help with math, she’d seek out Harrison. If she needed help with compound words, she’d seek out so and so. She went on and elaborated a strength of each student in the group. Talk about a great way to develop self-confidence.
Until Sarah mentioned it I hadn’t thought about the benefits for the parents and other adults in the community. For some staff, this is the first job they’ve ever held, the first salary they’ve ever earned. When they had an opportunity to observe a Montessori school in Santo Domingo it was the first time some staff had seen escalators, or gone to a restaurant and had someone wait on them.
The care of animals is part of the Montessori curriculum so there are chickens and cats and dogs wandering throughout the grounds. Sarah explained that the local kids do a great job of helping adults and kids understand chickens as that’s a new thing for many. She also said that for many local kids who only know dogs and cats as strays, having them as pets is not something they’ve experienced. She said that their presence has helped many kids overcome their fear of the animals to the point that some have even begun to help bathe them.
We have been fortunate to join their sing alongs that occur just before lunch with the children singing in Spanish and in English. Given the world we live in today, I found their song about peace extraordinarily moving.
The school is doing amazing things. But oh do they need help. Most of their financing comes from individual donors in the United States as well as some grants. And while I know that many will ask, what do they need? They generally need everything! Those of you who are in, or were in, education know that while it’s great to have people provide gifts to your classrooms, it’s far more helpful to have people donate so you can buy what it is you need most. The same is true of 3 Mariposas. Plus, the lack of mail service in this part of the Dominican Republic compounds the problem.
In April, Amy Dood, a teacher at Beach Elementary in Cedar Springs, Michigan, is visiting Cabarete and she has agreed to collect money to deliver to the school. Cedar folks could give a donation to Amy or mail it to her at:
Amy Dood, 8720 Pleasant Meadows Dr NE, Rockford, MI 49341
Or if you prefer you can mail a check to: 3 Mariposas Montessori Foundation, 133 N Villamere Drive, Dowagiac MI 49047.
Any donation you can make, regardless of the amount, will definitely make a difference in the lives of these kids! Tuppen, Bob and I will always be grateful to you for the the special gift you gave us: enriching our lives by introducing us to such wonderful people!