Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in Edison is launching a Jewish Montessori teacher training center this summer, bringing in educators from as far away as Houston to become skilled in practices developed at the school.
Launched 11 years ago, Netivot is North America’s first school based on Montessori teaching methods to have both a full middle school and full Orthodox yeshiva curriculum.
The training center will allow other educators to learn from their experience and methods.
“We are very excited to have started coaching other schools and selling our curricular study materials,” said head of school Rivky Ross. “Schools from across North America have been contacting us for assistance in developing their own curriculum based on the methods and materials we have developed here at Netivot. We give them the raw material so they can adapt it locally.”
Ross said she knows of only one other Jewish Montessori middle school, located in Toronto, but it is not Orthodox.
“Netivot is considered a flagship school of the Jewish Montessori movement, which now boasts upwards of 30 [pre- or elementary] schools that already exist or are in the works over the next couple of years,” said Ross.
Netivot has been housed in rented space at Conservative Congregation Beth-El for the last eight years. The Montessori method aims to address the total development of the child through individualized activities and allowing children to learn at their own pace.
The centrist Orthodox school currently has approximately 110 students and has seen slow but steady growth over the years with little attrition despite a bad economy, according to Ross.
Tuition ranges from $3,000 annually for a part-time toddler to $15,000 for a full-time upper grade student. The school now runs through seventh grade and plans to add an eighth grade next year.
The school was started by ChanaSzenes Mischel, who held classes in her Highland Park basement before moving the school a year later to Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth and then to Beth-El.
‘Makes learning easier’
“The Montessori middle school is a very experiential program,” Ross said. “Philosophically, it is very different from a traditional school in that there is a lot of independence and freedom of choice allowing students to work on many subject areas. We also do a lot of group project learning.”
A Judaic and secular teacher and often two aides are assigned to each group of students. After morning prayers, students break into work circles, where two to four children receive individualized instruction while the rest concentrate on mastering their lessons independently under the guidance of professional staff.
Every week lower and upper elementary students sit with their teachers to develop a signed “works contract,” indicating the lessons they will tackle. The school also employs immersion sessions, and youngsters are tested to ensure they have mastered the subject matter.
Ross said internship programs, common at many Montessori middle schools, will be part of Netivot.
“We will have them prepare a resume and then spend a morning or afternoon for a week in a business of interest to the student,” she said. “For example, one may get a job in a music store, one may go to an art academy, and another to a veterinary clinic.”
Two 11-year-old sixth-graders entering the middle school next year said their experience at Netivot has sold them on its teaching methods.
“I think one of the biggest things for me is that everyone can learn at their own pace and you get as much one-on-one time with a teacher as you want,” said Avi Bodzin of Highland Park. “They become more than just teachers because you have them in such small groups. They eventually become not just your teachers, but your friends.”
Yossi Dietz, also of Highland Park, said he found the school’s teachers unusually friendly and that that relationship “makes learning easier and more fun.”
“You are allowed to grow more academically than you would be at another school,” said Yossi, who transferred from another Jewish day school to Netivot. “This school is more hands-on — and I like more hands-on. You’re not sitting at a desk and you have the freedom to move around and not just be quiet all day while a teacher talks.”
Ross said the school has no plans to move beyond eighth grade, but added, “We feel extremely blessed to have succeeded growing the school through eighth grade. We are very proud of our students who, God willing, will graduate and succeed in all their academic endeavors for years to come.