May 2007

Happy 100th! Montessori celebratees 100 years...

Author: Jean Wharton

Throughout 2007, the world Montessori community is celebrating the 100th anniversary of a revolutionary philosophy of education. In recognition and support, 13 staff members of Sea Pines Montessori Academy traveled to New York City in March to participate in the Continental celebration of Montessori at the annual conference of the American Montessori Society (AMS).

In addition to countless seminars and presentations, the highlight of the weekend for many of the 5,000 attendees was hearing keynote speaker, Dr. Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou beautifully and eloquently addressed the courage it takes to teach, sharing a bit of her remarkable history through story, song and poem.

“The weekend was inspiring from start to finish,” said Elizabeth Wells, SPMA teacher and parent of a five-year-old. “I found it amazing to be gathered with such intelligent and articulate men and women to discuss teaching and Montessori philosophy.”

What is Montessori?
A century ago, Dr. Maria Montessori, Italy’s first licensed female physician, began to focus her studies on child development and the way children learn. In 1906, she gave up her medical practice to work with a group of 60 young children (ages 3-6) in the San Lorenzo district of Rome, where she founded the first Casa dei Bambini, or “Children’s House.”

Her scientific observations led to the development of curriculum and materials for use in the classroom and a teaching philosophy that has since expanded through elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Dr. Montessori wrote, “Education is a natural process, carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words, but by experiences in the environment.”

Today, Montessori schools are found worldwide. In the United States, there are more than 4,000 private Montessori schools and more than 200 public schools with Montessori-styled programs.

Montessori on Hilton Head Island
Sea Pines Montessori Academy (SPMA), the first Montessori school in South Carolina, was founded on Hilton Head Island in 1968, by Mary Fraser, wife of Sea Pines developer, Charles Fraser. In the nearly 40 years since the school opened, numerous milestones provide testament to the effectiveness of the school and the Montessori method. With more than 250 students enrolled, ranging from 18 months to 12 years of age, SPMA was recently accredited by the International Montessori Council and is the only school in SC to achieve this recognition.

In April, SPMA honored the retirement and celebrated the career of Maxine Swingle for her 25 dedicated years as headmistress. With her departure, the school welcomed new Head of School, Judy Townsend-Stallone, who brings 20 years experience as a teacher, administrator and educational consultant to SPMA. Most recently, Townsend-Stallone served as a teacher and administrator at Princeton Montessori School, in Princeton, NJ.

“We believe Mrs. Townsend-Stallone will provide the vision and leadership needed to take SPMA to the next level, helping to further strengthen the quality of our programs and the overall student experience,” said Bland Kiser, President of the Parents’ Association, alumni of SPMA and parent of three students.

According to SPMA literature, “Academically, the Montessori materials give the child a concrete foundation for the understanding of concepts and abstractions and a refinement of his/her senses. SPMA believes in the dignity and the spiritual quality of all children, and consider it a privilege and responsibility to aid and observe a child’s life as it unfolds.”

For more information on the Montessori method, visit For local enrollment information, contact SPMA at 9 Fox Grape Rd., 843-785-2534.

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