Forest Bluff Alumni Reflections
No one talks about the impact of a Montessori education on the success of Montessori alumni as well as graduates of good Montessori schools such as Forest Bluff School. Read the comments from our alumni to understand why Montessori schools, and Forest Bluff School in particular, are known for their deep understanding of the needs of children and young adolescents.
It is difficult for me to separate much in my professional life from my background in Montessori. Having spent over a decade at Forest Bluff School from the age of sixteen months through the Secondary Level, my mind constantly references the lessons and experiences of those years. After finishing my undergraduate degree at Georgetown in 2007, I came back to Chicago and the Northern Trust Company where I work as a Foreign Exchange salesman on the bank’s trading desk. When contemplating a mathematical relationship or analyzing a new business idea, Montessori serves me today. Math has always been so much more than abstract concepts and worksheets because of the way I learned it at Forest Bluff. This has helped my mind link mathematical concepts with practical applications. The independent thinking skills I learned at Forest Bluff are invaluable in my work. With markets often dominated by consensus and group-think, forming an opinion based on personal conviction and analysis is essential.
If I was going to sum up my memories of Forest Bluff, the single word I might use is independence. I remember always being able to walk around the classroom and find what I wanted to work on or study, a trait I still have today in my work and at home. I am an Air Force officer, and I'm currently teaching other pilots how to fly the MQ-9, a remotely piloted plane. This is a very new plane, and we are constantly learning new ways of flying it and using it; creativity is an skill in this job, and I think at least part of my method of attacking problems and solving them can be attributed to my experience there.
My memories of growing up at FBS are vivid. So much so that every time someone says the word “verb”, the image of a red circle flashes into my head! My memories, however, are not just limited to the materials. I was allowed to follow my interests, prioritize my own work, partner with my classmates on some projects yet chose to do others on my own – I was allowed the freedom to learn as best suited me.
I am certain that my years at FBS play a role in who I am today. The lessons we learned taught us how to do long division, name all the countries in Africa, identify parts of speech and all the other things essential to a child’s education. It is the life lessons, the foundations for how to approach situations, problems and relationships that I learned at FBS that have become a part of me. Our teachers at FBS made those life lessons as much a part of our education as our curriculum.
Life often leaves you on your own. This notion becomes more readily apparent as I grow older, and find myself confronting the real world. In these times, now as a junior at Princeton, when I must rely on myself and on my instincts alone, I trust that my actions reflect my best interests. Looking back, I cannot help but feel that the many years I spent choosing my own path to success at Forest Bluff Montessori prepared me for such moments. At Forest Bluff the choice was always mine: from an early age I learned the value of success one can achieve from hard work, self-determination, and self-discipline. When I could read over my journal and catalogue the trail of work I left in the classroom that day I felt proud. So in a sense, I took away from Montessori an understanding of self-fulfillment. And for that I am truly grateful.
Right now I am a first year law student at the University of Michigan Law School, and I attended USC for undergrad. I feel that the values and lessons that I learned from Forest Bluff are still ingrained into my character and how I approach both work and interactions with others. I feel that I have been better able to handle the many demanding requirements that are a part of law school because of my Montessori education. Performing the various tasks and responsibilities in the Montessori classroom in a methodical fashion has translated wonderfully to law school in grasping the formulaic style that is vital to being successful. Interacting and working with others in class and on the work trips at Forest Bluff has also benefited my teamwork skills that I used regularly in high school and college football. Overall, the experiences I went through at Forest Bluff from learning the practical Montessori material in the classroom to engaging in the many challenging tasks on the farm and winter trips instilled in me a determination and self-reliance that I still draw from in my life today.
Looking back on my experience at Forest Bluff School, I realize what a major role that my Montessori education continues to play in almost all aspects of my life today and I now have a great appreciation for the benefits of this unique style of learning. The most important skill I acquired at Forest Bluff is wise time management. Unlike in traditional schools, Forest Bluff students choose their own work and structure their class days as they see fit. As a result, Forest Bluff students learn how to best manage their personal work schedules from an early age, instead of expecting others to set the schedule and pace of learning like in traditional schools.
This strong sense of time management is proving invaluable in all aspects of my life. Upon entering high school at Lake Forest Academy, I remember worrying about my ability to handle the workload of the “real” daily homework so familiar to my friends from other schools, in addition to juggling after school activities like playing tennis and participating in school functions. After all, thanks to conscientious Montessori parents, I was not “over-scheduled” as a child. However, I soon discovered that, with good time management skills, high school homework was no big deal. Today, as a junior at Claremont McKenna College, I am even more thankful for the emphasis Forest Bluff placed on the value of time management. If it were not for my Forest Bluff School education, I would be far less prepared to handle the load of college level classes and playing varsity tennis, with time left over to spend with good friends.
I am also grateful for two other qualities that Forest Bluff School engendered in me: a passion for learning and the ability to think independently. Without the pressure of formal tests, grades, or even scheduled classes, Forest Bluff students are taught from an early age to learn for the sake of knowledge itself rather than simply for a good grade. On occasion, I now can find myself slipping into the trap of focusing only on my grade in a class, rather than on absorbing as much knowledge as possible and actually learning the material. However, I have come to understand that, by stepping back and concentrating simply on learning the material to the best of my abilities like I did at Forest Bluff, the grades eventually take care of themselves.
With each level of higher education, I am increasingly responsible for defining my own academic experience. Compared with high school, college requires a far greater investment of time on independent study outside of the classroom. It is no longer sufficient to simply show up to class, pay attention and study the night before a test. I am particularly grateful for Forest Bluff’s emphasis on independent learning. Whether students are building the pink tower in the Young Children’s Community or working independently through the algebra textbook in the Secondary Level, the experience at Forest Bluff centers on teaching them how to think and act independently. These life skills, learned from an early age at Forest Bluff, have been central to my academic success ever since.
Overall, I think Montessori instilled in us a strong sense of curiosity. There were always many topics and subjects we could pick up, explore, and put down. If something was especially interesting, we could dive as deeply into the topic as we wanted. Our learning experience was flexible enough to accommodate current events and happenings. I think FBS was also well ahead of the curve in infusing respect for ecology and the environment – we looked after unique animals, had a composting area, created the eco-prairie on the lawn, etc.
Montessori allowed us a tremendous amount of freedom by not imposing artificial “pacing” on us: no one-hour periods or jarring bells. I loved the fact that we were able to “sign out” for an hour to go to the store, the library, the park or the ravine…also teaching us a sense of responsibility and time management. Montessori helped me to develop a deep love of reading by allowing me to choose books on my own and read them for as long as I wanted in the reading area. (Of course, Mrs. Linari did call my mother once to let her know I had picked a “Baby-Sitters Club” book – not studious enough!)
Most importantly, Montessori instilled in me a lifelong love of learning, and sense of confidence in my abilities. During my time at FBS I never received a semester grade or was “ranked’ on how well I knew a subject. I didn’t have to stress over receiving a low score, because we were “guided”, not graded. Because I had never been told otherwise, upon graduation I simply expected I could successfully learn anything I wanted to learn. I’ve tried to carry that confidence and sense of belief in myself with me as I’ve faced normal ‘real world’ and higher learning challenges.