Montessori Secondary Level (ages 12-14)

Montessori Secondary Level
Ages: 12 - 14 years
Hours: 8:30 am - 3:30 pm

From the age of twelve, adolescents work to find their own places in the world and to discover and refine their core beliefs about themselves, and their morality, spiritual values, and philosophy. Their new desire for privacy means that individual work and a smaller class community once again suit them best, especially at the beginning of this plane. The environment we provide at the Montessori secondary level for our students from ages twelve to fourteen suits these needs and honors the dignity of these exceptional young people as they enter early adulthood.

Secondary Level Montessori students sit in a discussion circle
Students in a Montessori Secondary classroom present their research on the U.S. Civil War

Students at the Montessori secondary level complete Algebra I but do so at their own pace; those who need to work more slowly do so without stigma, and those who are able to advance more rapidly often continue on to Geometry, Algebra II and even Pre-Calculus. Much classwork is now done as a group, as it is in high school—literature discussions, for instance, are conducted in seminar style—and occasional quizzes and deadlines help prepare students for a highly successful transition to the most rigorous high schools.

Our Montessori Secondary Level, housed in its own building on our campus, prepares our students to enter high school as 9th graders following their graduation from Forest Bluff School. A smaller group of no more than twelve to eighteen students and the guidance of two trained teachers create a safe and supportive environment for young adults who are just starting to find their place in the world and their identity outside of the family. Although the coursework is now similar to that of other excellent and rigorous middle schools - or even high schools - its foundation is grounded in the Montessori spirit of discovery and exploration, both individually and collaboratively. During their two years at the Montessori secondary level, students complete three independent study projects of their own choosing, conducting in-depth and often original research, and presenting their finished projects to the group. 

Secondary Level Montessori students prepare lunch for their classmates
Secondary Level Montessori students work together on an outdoor service trip

A striking difference from the traditional curriculum is the fact that our students are not confined to the classroom. For three two-week sessions each year, the students embark on chaperoned work trips around the country, putting their academic knowledge into practice and learning the hard-earned values of work and endurance that will see them through life. Recent trips have included canoeing the boundary waters of Wisconsin, building an outdoor amphitheater for a YMCA camp, visiting Virginia and Washington, D.C. to continue a study of American government, and dog sledding in northern Minnesota. For an in depth look at a dog sledding adventure in Minnesota see the North Shore Weekend East article: “Trip Into the Wild Engages Students.” 

The students plan every detail of these trips themselves, from budgets and routes to equipment and transportation, to food preparation and safety. The associated interactions with adults, whether over the phone or walking beside a dog sled, give our students the confidence and experience to conduct themselves with grace in an adult world. To learn more about these unique experiences, read our blog Adolescents Find Strength in Nature and Community.

This idea of the open classroom permeates the entire school year. Montessori secondary level students work with local college professors each year as part of the science curriculum (studying chemistry and the brain in alternating years), volunteer in the community, do research at local and Chicago libraries, interview adults for their research projects, and shop for the weekly meals they prepare for the group in the classroom kitchen.

Our students invariably enter high school not only poised for great academic success and prepared for any amount of hard work, but also displaying the confidence, individuality, empowerment, and comfort with adults that will see them through the rest of their self formation into their adult years.

Secondary Level Montessori students examine a human brain at a local college's neuro lab

There is no better preparation for the vocabulary, spelling, comprehension and expression necessary for high school and the SATs, than reading well-chosen literature. We encourage students at this stage to repeat the classics which inspire deep thinking and strengthen their appreciation for language. We encourage parents to continue to read to the children aloud as well, so they can hear the cadence and proper pronunciation, as well as explore new vocabulary and discuss themes with loved ones. Our Montessori secondary level students read two hours every evening as part of their Forest Bluff education.

I love having students with a Montessori background in my high school English classes. They exhibit a joy for learning that is unparalleled. I appreciate their outside-of-the-box thinking, independence, and most of all, their willingness to take risks so that they grow and learn in their thinking and writing. Best of all, they model this for their peers.

Forest Bluff is an internationally recognized AMI-certified Montessori school. Our three children have attended other AMI-accredited schools, and Forest Bluff is, by far, the best that we have seen. 

The Forest Bluff Secondary program is the jewel in the crown and the culmination of all that the school’s emphasis on self-control and self-motivation is striving to achieve. The Secondary classroom experience is purposefully designed to mimic the high ambition and strong support of a caring but demanding family environment. The safety and structure of this approach is particularly effective during this critical period of brain reorganization, social/hormonal commotion and growing awareness of and transition towards the demands and rigors of the adult world.

In addition to the academic curriculum, the Secondary students carefully plan, organize, and share responsibilities for fall and spring class trips (touring Washington D.C. and hiking the Centennial Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota were recent adventures that our oldest son really enjoyed!). These trips supplement the classroom experience by strengthening relationships and providing real world challenges for the students to tackle together.

Friends and acquaintances say that there is something positively unique about Forest Bluff students. We thank Forest Bluff for providing us with a framework for raising our children in such a fast paced, demanding environment where parents and children can easily be caught up in technology, video games and other distractions.