Teachers opening Montessori, language-immersion school at Sabathani

Li Sun, Veronica Vital and Kristi Papenfuss (left to right) are opening a Montessori trilingual-immersion school this fall. Photo by Nate Gotlieb
Li Sun, Veronica Vital and Kristi Papenfuss (left to right) are opening a Montessori trilingual-immersion school this fall. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

A trio of Twin Cities teachers is preparing to open a one-room Montessori language-immersion school in the Sabathani Community Center this fall.

Kristi Papenfuss, Veronica Vital and Li Sun plan on offering instruction in English, Spanish and Chinese at their new school, called Acorn Montessori. The school will serve students ages 3-6 and will have 30 slots.

“It’s a pretty exciting opportunity for folks in the neighborhood,” said Papenfuss, a Spanish teacher and licensed social worker by trade.

Papenfuss and Vital started Acorn Montessori this past year after meeting at a seminar put on by the Minneapolis-based Wildflower Foundation, which helps teachers set up their own one-room Montessori schools. Matt Kramer, former co-CEO of Teach For America, is CEO of the organization.

The foundation started through the efforts of MIT Media Lab professor Sep Kamvar, who created the first Wildflower school in January 2014 with two veteran Montessori teachers. A growing network of teacher-leaders helped start seven additional Wildflower schools over the next two years, developing a set of principals for what it meant to be a Wildflower school.

After attending the Wildflower seminar, Papenfuss and Vital decided to offer trilingual instruction and sought out a Mandarin Chinese teacher. That led them to connect with Sun, the Chinese teacher at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

Papenfuss said her interest in immersion and Montessori education grew after enrolling her daughter in such a school last summer in Guatemala. She said she likes that students in Montessori schools have opportunities to follow their own interests and curiosities, noting how they’re free to work on projects at their own levels and speeds.

Vital, a native Spanish speaker and Montessori teacher for about 20 years, said she had always wanted to open her own school. She noted how students in Montessori schools learn by interacting with hands-on materials and how the older children help young children master the material.

“It’s amazing and beautiful how the whole dynamic works,” she said.

Students at Marigold Montessori School in Haverhill, Massachusetts, work in uninterrupted work blocks guided by their teachers. Photo courtesy the Wildflower Foundation
Students at Marigold Montessori School in Haverhill, Massachusetts, work in uninterrupted work blocks guided by their teachers. Photo courtesy the Wildflower Foundation

Vital, Papenfuss and Sun will only speak to the students in their native languages during the school day. The students’ daily routine will consist of a morning welcome, work time and presentations, lunch, outside time and afternoon activities. The school will provide no-cost busing for kindergarten students in Minneapolis.

Preschool tuition at Acorn Montessori is $300 a week, though families who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch will not pay tuition. There is no cost for kindergarteners, as the school is a public charter school authorized by the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The school will provide lunch and snacks to all students.

The school day will run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with the school year beginning Sept. 4 and ending June 7, 2019. There is no half-day or part-time option. Sabathani is also home to the fee-based child care provider Kids Care Zone for parents who are interested in child care outside of school hours.

Acorn Montessori will enroll preschool students on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will hold a lottery for kindergarten students if it receives more applications during its open-enrollment period than it has spots available. Its enrollment period started June 6 and runs through July 13.

Acorn Montessori will hold an open house on June 20 from 6 p.m.–8 p.m. at the Seward Community Co-op Friendship Store, located at 317 E. 38th St.

Visit the school’s Facebook page at facebook.com/acornmontessorimpls, email info@acornmontessori.org or call 444-2236 to learn more about the school.

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