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Tremont Montessori earns partnership award (video)


Tremont Montessori is known locally for its strong ties with families and community, and now those partnerships are being recognized nationally.

The school received a 2016 Partnership School Award from the National Network of Partnership Schools at Johns Hopkins University.The award honors the school’s alliances with the Cleveland Public Library, the Cleveland Art Museum and Cleveland State University.

Tremont Montessori was one of 10 schools to win an award from NNPS, a membership-based organization that uses research-based approaches to organize programs of family and community involvement to increase student success, according to NNPS director Joyce L. Epstein. 

“We want our community to invest in us because our children are going to be part of their community,” said Susan Conrad, a Tremont Montessori prekindergarten teacher who helped write the award application. “If our community is investing in us, then they’re going to take pride in our school and help it to be the best it can be.”


Conrad and her colleagues chose two programs -- the school’s Family Literacy initiative and a local arts and culture parade -- to highlight the school’s unique immersion in the community.

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual Parade the Circle and Circle Village draws thousands to University Circle each year for a parade and festival. Last spring, dozens of Tremont Montessori students, parents and teachers pitched in to design and assemble a colorful fish-themed float. The museum’s community arts department worked with the school over several months and sent two professional artists to lead students in workshops related to float and costume design. 

In the June parade, students proudly debuted their creation, sitting atop the float or dancing and tumbling around it in costumes they made themselves. Children had the opportunity to meet local artists and discuss the inspiration for their work. The middle school band also partook in the festivities, which was, for many students, their largest public performance yet.

Robin VanLear, the museum’s director of community arts, said she was impressed with the level of participation from Tremont Montessori staff and families.

“They‘ve really been one of our model groups to work with because they’ve been able to involve so many parts of the school“ she said. “I’ve never seen a public elementary school that has such a strong commitment to the arts, including visual arts and music, as they do."

The partnership is continuing to flourish, as VanLear is currently working with the school for the museum’s Chalk Festival on Sept. 17-18.

The second initiative the award recognized was Tremont Montessori’s Family Literacy project in partnership with Cleveland State University and the Cleveland Public Library. This project aimed to help parents take an active role in preparing their children for kindergarten by encouraging an interest in reading. While it was originally meant for preschoolers, the idea ended up spreading to middle school classes.

The literacy initiative began when a parent who works at the public library had the idea to send the library Youth Services department’s early literacy calendar home with preschoolers each month. Each day of the calendar listed a writing or reading activity for children (for example, “Write the word 'bicycle' five times today”) and offered at-home education tips for parents. Parents were encouraged to send in the completed calendar for a coupon for a free pizza from Pizza Hut’s national Book It program.

When the teachers noticed high participation among parents, they expanded their efforts with resources from Cleveland State University’s Cleveland Schools Book Fund, which helps provide books and author visits to CMSD schools.

The website includes video “read-alongs” that children can watch. The preschoolers are encouraged to draw a picture about their favorite part of the book. Teachers collect the drawings, submit them to the book fund, and in return, the children receive a copy of that book. To encourage participation, Tremont Montessori teachers emailed parents links to these videos and instructions.

Pierre Sain has three children at Tremont Montessori, where he also works as a paraprofessional. Sain said the Family Literacy activities gave his now-first grade son a much-needed boost in reading when he was entering kindergarten.

“We have a library full of books now,” Sain said. “He actually enjoys pulling out books and reading them and sometimes re-enacting in pictures what he saw.”

Sain said having access to more books made his son comfortable with reading. He recalled a memory of his son excitedly telling him he read three books and that he was going to write down the titles for his father to read.

“He’s not as shy or frustrated coming in as when he originally started,” Sain said. “He’s really doing so much better having the early literacy at home.”

Data collected by the school also showed promising results for the Family Literacy project. An assessment at the end of last school year showed 80 percent of 4-year-old children entering kindergarten knew all their letters and sounds. The remaining 20 percent knew at least 20 of 26 letters or sounds.

School staff also noticed more students in the school reading area and said they felt like children had a more positive relationship with reading.

The NNPS awards committee was so impressed with the Family Literacy program that it will be featured in the new edition of "Promising Partnership Practices 2016," a resource for educators and reporters who are looking for examples of successful family engagement.

Both the Family Literacy plan and the idea to participate in the parade were developed by an action team made up of 12 teachers, parents and caregiver and community partners. The team was assembled under Cuyahoga County’s Universal Pre-Kindergarten program. The planners started with focus areas -- learning at home -- and developed a framework and a timeline to implement the activities.

These efforts to provide enriching preschool experiences align with the goals of The Cleveland Plan. Along with other districtwide education reforms, The plan calls for increasing the number of high-quality preschool seats in Cleveland. Tremont Montessori’s preschool earned the top rating of five stars in the state’s Step Up to Quality program. 
Prekindergarten teacher Mary McDonnell-Krupa said that while she was proud the school won an award, she is just as excited to see her students benefitting from these initiatives and watching children transform before her eyes.
“The level of interest in books, I think, really increased because of these family-based and community-based [activities],” McDonnell-Krupa said. “The number of children going into kindergarten that knew all their letters and sounds, that could track print from left to right, that had beginning reading skills -- I think that was the biggest gift.”