Nightingale Montessori continues move into new location

Children and seeds are a lot alike.

Seeds mature at different times – just like people, says Nancy Schwab, a founder of Nightingale Montessori. And just like people, seeds thrive under different conditions.

“It’s really the symbol of everything we’re doing at the school,” Schwab says.

Horticulture and the outdoors play a large role at the non-profit Nightingale Montessori school, which is in the process of moving to a new site at 2525 N. Limestone St., from its current building at 1106 E. High St.

At around 26,000 square feet, the new location is twice as large and is surrounded by woods, Schwab says. It also has room for fruit trees and gardens to grow herbs, raspberries, vegetables and more. The school has two horticulturists on staff, and the gardens are important to the students.

One child has even said that searching for cherry tomatoes is better than an Easter egg hunt, Schwab says.

The school purchased the Limestone Street building in 2017. The prairie-style structure was originally constructed in 1973 as the headquarters for Bonded Oil and later subdivided into office suites for multiple tenants, Schwab says. It needed more refurbishing than expected.

“It’s hard for us to raise enough money to do justice to the building,” she says.

The school has so far self-financed $2.5 million and is hoping to raise another $500,000 to complete the renovations and move all the students to the new location by this summer, she says. Donations can be made on the school’s website.

High school students have been at the building since 2018 – long enough to grow a pear tree, she says – and some of its younger students have moved to the new school more recently. Some high schoolers have even helped with the renovation, tearing down dividing walls and learning to mount LED lighting.

The wooded area next to the new building was a big attraction, and the pod classrooms jut into the garden areas, Schwab says. Floor-to-ceiling windows in all the classrooms let in the sunlight.

Other refurbishments have included a new insulated roof, an electrical upgrade and a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Suspended ceilings have been exposed to show the beams.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the school a $130,000 grant to put toward the kitchen and gardens.

Schwab and Sheila Brown founded Nightingale Montessori in 1978, when Brown was looking for a Montessori school for her children and Schwab was looking for a position to teach using Montessori principles.

It started as a half-day preschool and kindergarten, then gradually added more ages and grades. Today, the about 170 students range from toddlers to high school students, and Schwab says it is one of only a few Montessori programs in the country that encompasses all grades in a single school.

“The most basic piece that we’re trying to promote is self-motivated learning,” Schwab says of the Montessori experience.

Students in traditional schools are generally told what to learn and what to memorize. In Montessori schools, curiosity goes unchecked, Schwab says. Instead of being measured and compared to other students they are encouraged in their willingness to learn more and more.

“Happy children are learning children and are competent children,” she says.

Students are finding new ways to learn and new things to learn about throughout the new location’s renovation. When painters arrived, the high school students were disappointed that some cobwebs had been taken down. They had been closely watching the spiders and their eggs, Schwab says. Other cobwebs would be carefully taken down and then replaced for future observations, the students were told.

The school also is special because its self-paced learning means it can cater to a diverse population of students at different places on both the social and academic spectrum.

Schwab says that what she and Brown had hoped would happen 50 years ago is “unfolding more and more.” At Nightingale Montessori, each child is an individual, she says.

“The idea is that they see others as individuals too,” she says.

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.