Interview. Side. Two teachers move heaven and earth to open a Montessori school between Figeac and Gramat

Isabelle Martin and Lea Estrade (©JC B)

A private school without “Montessori” contract expected to open soon at Théminettes, between Figeac and Gramat. Meeting with Lea Estrade and Isabelle Martinthe two teachers at the head of this project…

Also read: A new Montessori school opens in Nantes

Trained as an agronomist and forest engineer, Léa Estrade worked in this professional sector for five years before coming to the Lot 4 years ago. She then worked in the field of education at the CFAA/CFPPA in Lacapelle-Marival. In a professional retraining project, she has just completed a year of Montessori teacher training for 6-12 year olds. Isabelle Martin has already worked as a teacher and director of a Montessori school in Corrèze.

News: What brought you to this professional retraining?

Leah Estrade: It all came together when my first daughter was born three years ago. When I wanted to enroll my child in a Montessori school, I realized that there was no offer around. In the village of Fons, the school registered in this educational movement had a waiting list of several years. In addition, this project of working with children is close to my heart. While searching for information on the subject, I met Isabelle through social networks, who herself had a project to create a Montessori school. That’s how we met.

Why this orientation towards Montessori pedagogy?

Isabelle Maarten: When my first children were born, I became interested in pedagogy, especially because one of my daughters was having a hard time. I hold an AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) diploma whose training is registered in the National Directory of Professional Certification (RNCP). My initial training is in applied foreign languages. First I worked at a Montessori school in Burgundy, then I moved on to Chamonix thanks to a move. Finally, six years ago, I was hired by the creators of the Alternative Chrysalis school in Bilhac in Corrèze (bilingual alternative school that applies a pedagogy based on respect for self, others and the environment), as a teacher and director. Now living in Saint-Céré and convinced that a diversified educational offer is essential, especially in very rural areas, I promised to set up a new Montessori branch and of course my meeting with Léa Estrade was decisive.

What motivates your interest in Montessori pedagogy?

Isabelle and Lea: Montessori pedagogy is a scientific approach to children. It responds to his needs, both from an intellectual and psychological point of view. She lets him develop at his own pace and makes him an actor in his learning process. It has been proven in thousands of schools around the world and is now being validated by neuroscience. Maria Montessori developed her pedagogy to ensure, she assured, “that there is no more war”. She, who has lived through the two great world wars, wanted there to be no competition, no assessment, which does not mean a school without a framework! Children evolve in an environment where they can develop patience, concentration, respect for themselves and others.

Doesn’t this pose a problem of knowledge levels, compared to so-called ‘classical’ education?

Isabelle and Lea: First of all, it should be remembered that, as is the case for all schools in France, schools are inspected outside the contract. We are therefore responsible for children’s progress in terms of expectations regarding the common core of skills. Speaking of the Montessori program itself, it is true that it is quite ambitious compared to what is commonly practiced; namely, for example, that children before the age of 6 can read, write for the most part, and have already seen the four operations of the decimal system. So there is no problem in terms of knowledge level.

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What about cultural and artistic awakening?

Isabelle and Lea: The same type of commentary as before, we will adapt to the skills around the school; it can be parents, people from the village and we will be open to outside donors. Children also receive project pedagogy for 6-12 year olds. For example, to approach chemical reactions, children can draw a parallel with yeast fermentation and understand its practical applications thanks to a visit to a bakery. We’re in a multidisciplinary logic… and this can be found at all levels and in all subjects… We don’t want children to stay in the classroom all year round; on the contrary, we want to make the most of our environment with this school in the middle of nature, a stone’s throw from the forest. We schedule times for exploring the outside world. For the little ones, this will help develop motor skills, while for the older ones, the immediate vicinity of the forest will pave the way to get acquainted with botany and fauna. In project the enlargement of a chicken coop, with the aim that the children can take care of the animals themselves. Each child will have a piece of land to follow his small vegetable garden, for which he will be responsible. This approach is one of the strengths of Montessori pedagogy.

Why did you choose to settle in Théminettes?

Isabelle and Lea: The project started more than a year ago and it is an obstacle course that we are facing. First of all, the town hall has to approve the project, otherwise it can prevent the opening of the school by opposing it. So we started with a tour of the town halls that don’t have a school. There we could see and regret that elected officials had to be pressured, faced with staffing problems, to keep the classes at the level of their RPI. Mayors who were kind enough to receive us often told us that they thought the project was “great”, but that was it… The raison d’être of a Montessori school, however, is not not to compete with other schools, it is simply to to offer another offer that allows all children to find their place and develop fully during the schooling phase of their lives. The choice we provide enables parents to access an educational opportunity that can be beneficial to their child. At the same time, the location of this school in Théminettes fully contributes to the attractiveness of the area. Who will complain!

And financially?

Isabelle and Lea: Another difficulty indeed, this time of a financial nature: finding a property that can be arranged to house the school entails considerable costs. Knowing that the functioning of the institution is the responsibility of the parents, we aim to reduce their contribution to the tuition fee* as much as possible. So one thing led to another, we came to tell ourselves that the easiest way would be to dedicate part of one of our houses to the schoolhouse. We chose Léa’s house in Théminettes, brand new and from which an extension is possible with a view to opening a second class. Of course, this house meets the latest applicable safety standards. It is safer for us to start on a small scale, especially financially, before considering a larger school. This solution has the merit of reducing costs.

Doesn’t the fact that you’re settling in a sparsely populated geographic area, in addition to the constraints you face, complicate your approach?

Isabelle Maarten: This is a special educational offer, which has its own right to exist. It is not uncommon for parents to move to be closer to such an institution. I could see it during my previous experiences, also in Bilhac. I can name one who traveled from Brive to Bilhac so that his child could be educated in a Montessori school. After a year, this family bought a house not far from the school. We also heard these kinds of reactions in our approach prior to the start of the project. It is clear that the situation is more complicated for those who cannot move, especially because of the rise in the cost of living and especially fuel. A school that opens is an asset to the attractiveness of the village. We can mention the case of the village of Saint-Pierre-deFrugie in the Dordogne where the public school had to close due to lack of staff. It was then that the mayor took the bet to promote the opening of a Montessori school and it worked! The Montessori teaching is internationally widespread, it is still a promise of recognition. And if the population grows in this village in the Périgord, it’s a good bet that the opening of this school has something to do with it!

Where are you now with your project?

Isabelle and Lea: We currently have a dozen registration requests and we would like to reach 20. Families who want to send their children to school with us mainly come from the Gramat and Livernon regions. The school is open to students from 3 years old, the opening is planned for the end of October. The kindergarten class will be held in the living room of this new house, with an adjoining sleeping nook. The primary school students will take their place in what was originally a garage, now transformed into a classroom. At the request of several parents, a college-level application has also been submitted to the Academy.

* Tuition fees; about 260 € per month

Contact: Isabelle Martin, Tel. 06 43 38 18 53

– e-mail: [email protected]

The specificity of Montessori pedagogy

Developed at the beginning of the 20th century by Maria Montessori, one of the first female doctors in Italy, Montessori pedagogy aims to give the child the means to do his own learning. In France, there are 200 schools that claim to follow this line of education.
“One of the specific features of Montessori pedagogy is to respect the rhythm of the child and to group the ages, between 3 and 6 years and between 6 and 12 years. This means that there is a certain emulation between the different age groups, with spontaneous knowledge transfer. In addition, learning is organized individually with respect for “sensitive periods”. Thus, between the ages of 3 and 6, the child goes through stages that are particularly conducive to learning certain concepts. And it is our role as teachers to identify these sensitive periods and provide the child with the material that will allow them to progress in learning,” emphasizes Ms Martin. “Education is really based on the child; for example, we realize that some children need more observation time than others and we let them have that time. We respect their ability to concentrate, their ability to interact with the material, the environment, the people around them, whether they are peers or adults. They must be able to feel comfortable and safe, in other words, in the best conditions for learning,” adds Ms Estrade.

An online cat

An online kitty for citizen participation has been opened, as well as a Facebook page “Montessori School Project “Les Idées O”” with several calls for donations and materials, furniture… To complete the development of this school, goodwill is welcome.

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