Living Well in Litchfield County, Connecticut

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Washington Montessori: Small School, Big Impact

By Launa Schweizer 

As incoming Head of School, I was drawn to Washington Montessori because of its storied reputation as a learning powerhouse for children 18-months through 8th grade. Our Montessori middle school is a unique learning environment, in which adolescents are inspired by a culture of kindness to engage fully in challenging academics. They then go on to thrive at schools like Frederick Gunn, Shepaug and Litchfield High Schools, Taft, Exeter, Westover, and Hotchkiss.

Many alumni become trailblazers in their fields: designers, physicians, chefs, mathematicians, educators, and artists. As journalist Ryan Sager ‘93 put it, “Knowing how to move forward, when there’s not an off-the-shelf solution or a roadmap, is what Montessori teaches.” 

As Peter Becker, Head of School at Frederick Gunn notes, “WMS students are self-driven. They navigate high school successfully and joyfully; are positive, active community members and curious, courageous learners.” Jeremy LaCasse, Assistant Head of School at Taft, described the recipe for the school’s success: “WMS is truly inclusive. The school provides time and space for students to understand themselves within a rich and nurturing community.“

Lela Ilyinsky ‘00, Head of Accounts at twenty2 wallpaper + textiles, an eco-friendly design firm in Bantam, joined WMS from public school as a 6th grader. She recalls, “At a time of transition and upheaval, I entered a grounded and loving environment where it was easy to integrate into the group.” As her classmate, actor Betty Gilpin ‘00 noted, “I found a comfort in being myself that allowed me to trust my own creativity and intelligence.”

Julia Kivitz ‘97 worked at MoMA for more than 15 years. She draws a through-line from WMS to her success in high school, college, and beyond. “What made WMS graduates such successful adults in the broadest sense, not just in our jobs? Our ability to learn. We worked hard, but the work didn’t feel hard because we were so well prepared.”

WMS students master complex mathematics and produce Shakespeare plays in elementary school. Children study geography, and by the end of 8th grade, can freehand draw a map of the world. Each 8th grader writes an extended scientific research paper and completes an internship; this year, students worked at Meraki and Little-ish in Litchfield and at the Pentagon.

Trails, athletic fields, forests, and wetlands on the 50-acre campus overlooking Route 202, serve as a laboratory where students collaborate, solve problems, and develop connections. Sustainability Coordinator Nora Hulton describes: “As part of our commitment to community service and citizen science, 8th-graders become mini-experts in stoneflies, caddis, and other macroinvertebrates. They engage in field study to collect and identify them, and send results to Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which publishes our results each spring.”

WMS traditions speak our values. On field day, adolescents cheer on elementary kids. On graduation day, each 8th grader delivers a speech, standing confident and proud. At WMS, students know they are valued individuals supported by a deeply rooted community, ready for whatever the future will hold. —

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