The idea for Desert Sky was championed by a small group of Bend parents who were impressed with the benefits they saw from their children’s experiences in Montessori preschools. It took four years and a lot of work to bring their vision of a tuition-free Montessori school, open to all families, to reality. According to their mission, “Desert Sky Montessori will foster a prepared environment of freedom and discovery in which all children, regardless of socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or ability, will reach their full academic, social, and personal potentials. Graduates of Desert Sky Montessori will demonstrate creative thinking, self-discipline, respect, cooperation, and will build a solid foundation for future success.”
Housed in a renovated building in the Shopko Plaza on NE 3rd Street, Desert Sky will begin its first year with students in grades K-3, and then add a grade each year to serve K-4 in their second year, K-5 in year three, and K-8 beyond that.
Jodie Borgia, Desert Sky Montessori’s Head of School (and a Montessori educator for over 24 years), explained some of the key components of Montessori education:
Independence Montessori focuses on students developing independent skills. Teachers demonstrate use of the learning materials, but students spend much of their time in multi-hour blocks of independent work time. During this time, students can move around the classroom to use learning materials on their own or in small groups. According to Borgia, this work time allows students to follow their interests and explore subjects in depth.
Multi-age classrooms A Montessori class is composed of students whose ages typically span three years (the “Lower Elementary” class is made up of students in grades 1-3). Ideally, members stay with the class, and teacher, for the entire three-year cycle to create meaningful bonds. The grouping allows the younger students to learn from older students, and older students to gain confidence by acting as mentors to younger students.
Montessori learning materials In Desert Sky’s classrooms, students will have access to traditional Montessori learning materials. These real objects, and the ways in which they are manipulated, are the tools that teach students to translate abstract ideas into concrete form.
An example is a learning tool called the Golden Beads, which teaches mathematical concepts with pearl-sized golden beads. Loose golden beads represent ones. Little wire rods hold sets of 10 golden beads—the 10-bar. Sets of 10 rods are wired together to make flats of 100 golden beads—and so on. Children have many activities that help them explore the workings of these quantities. Later, because Montessori materials contain multiple levels of challenge, children use the beads to introduce geometric concepts. As Borgia explained, this multi-sensory approach helps even younger students understand academic concepts as they feel what a “one” is like, and compare that to the look, feel and weight of 100 or 1000 beads.
Teachers as guides
Trained Montessori teachers (all of Desert Sky’s lead teachers are Montessori trained) consider themselves guides and observers, preparing the learning environment and guiding their students towards new lessons and challenges rather than lecturing the class. As students gain mastery over concepts, teachers help them continue to explore and move forward at their own pace.
Charter School Guidelines
While educational methods may look different at Desert Sky, as a charter school they are required to meet Oregon Core Standards. Ms. Borgia is confident that using the Montessori method will allow students to gain a deeper grasp of core concepts, and grow to become independent learners. Being a charter school also gives Desert Sky students access to services provided through the school district, including special services for students with medical or therapeutic needs.
Desert Sky Montessori will begin its first year with 108 students divided into four classrooms. There will be a Kindergarten class, a blended Kindergarten & First Grade class, and two “Lower Elementary classes” with students in grades 1-3 blended together. While their charter with Bend-La Pine schools currently has them growing to include an “upper elementary” class (grades 4-6) and a middle school, the board of directors has a vision for a Montessori high school in the future. A typical day at Desert Sky will include a three-hour work block, lunch, group time and outdoor time. Before and after school care will be available.
Ms. Borgia is very excited for the new school year. In her words, “It’s all about independent learning. It’s all about your child being able to follow their passion and really engage in the work, and really enjoy school. It’s also about being part of a really close community”.
There are still openings for the 2017-18 school year at Desert Sky Montessori. More information and applications are available at dsmontessori.org
Central Oregon Montessori options
Bend Montessori School
Ages 3-9 / Downtown Bend / 541-678-3248
Deschutes River Montessori School
Ages 18 months-6 years / Old Mill / 541-633-7299
Montessori in the Pines
Ages 3-6 years / Northeast Bend / 541-905-2949
River Song School
Ages 2-6 / Old Mill / 541-647-2739 (Summer program for students 6-9)
The Montessori Center
Ages 3-6 / Two Locations: Awbrey Butte & NW Crossing / 541-383-5163
Songbird Montessori Preschool Ages 2-6 / Southeast Bend / 541-382-1626
High Desert Montessori
Ages 2 months – 12 years
12th & Evergreen / 541-516-6512
Ages 2- 6 / E. Adams Avenue / 541-549-0000