The Beginning: 1963
Our school first opened in the fall of 1963 through the efforts of a group of parents who had read about Montessori and wanted it for their children. They had brought Nancy Rambusch, president of the American Montessori Society to Racine to speak at Dominican College, and subsequently, study groups were formed. Nancy Rambusch had inspired the founding of several Montessori schools, including one in Milwaukee, WI.
The first Racine Montessori School teacher was Miss Ena Lynch from England. Miss Lynch had been trained under Dr. Maria Montessori and had 20 years of experience in Montessori education. Thirty-two pupils, aged 3-4 1/2 were enrolled, and there were two assistants (Rose Hartman and Vivian Ellingham). The class was held in the East Building of the DeKoven Foundation complex.
Parents of the students helped get the classrooms ready by painting, doing carpentry work, and making Montessori materials that were not available locally. Through the generosity of the S.C. Johnson family, other Montessori materials were purchased. The school was supported mainly by the tuition paid by the parents, which was $350 per year!
The students enrolled at RMS wore uniforms, made by some of the parents. The girls wore a blue jumper with a white long-sleeved turtleneck shirt. The boys wore similar shirts and blue corduroy pants. Both boys and girls wore red sweaters in cold weather. The uniforms were designed to comply with the Montessori idea of unrestricted clothing for children.
Continued Growth: 1964-1967
The second year for RMS began on September 9, 1964, with more than double the enrollment from the previous year: 60 students enrolled in morning and afternoon classes.
In 1965, the third year, RMS faced several changes, including a teacher leaving to open her own school. RMS began its third year with two fully certified directresses, Mrs. Lou Hills and Sister Cynthia. In 1966, RMS added another classroom and brought in another teacher, Gladys Strauss. The staff now included three fully-certified Montessori directresses, three assistants, an intern, and an administrator, serving 120 students in six class sessions. Tuition costs remained the same, however, reductions were now made for families with more than one child enrolled. Families from Kenosha had begun to enroll, and the adult study groups were open to any interested adults. In the summer of 1966, the first summer school session was held.
In the fall of 1967, RMS added an elementary for 1st through 3rd grades, with a Montessori teacher and a full time co-teacher, who also taught French. Although a new Montessori school was just starting in Kenosha in the fall of 1967, ten families from Kenosha continued to bring their children to RMS.
Child Care Program and Extended Day: The 1980′s
In 1982, the Child Care Program was added. The program was begun as an extension of the Montessori day for many of the children whose parents were both working. Admission was limited to children who were students at RMS in order to maintain an environment that was similar to the Montessori classrooms.
A kindergarten enrichment program was added in 1983, which extended the day for kindergarteners, using the mid-day portion as a cross-over time for a.m. and p.m. kindergarteners in each classroom. At that time, the primary program was shortened to two and a half hours to allow for a longer kindergarten program, which was four and a half hours long.
In the fall of 1998, the primary/extended day program was revised, creating a longer extended day for kindergarteners and deleting the afternoon primary program. Again, the primary classes ran for three hours (8:30-11:30) while extended day was six hours long, until 2:30pm.
A Major Gift and Turning Point: 1996
In the fall of 1996, Racine Montessori School made the move from the DeKoven Center, where we rented space, into the former Lakeside School Building at 2317 Howe Street. After operating as a public school for many years, Lakeside School closed in the 1950′s and the building was purchased by J.I.Case Corporation (now CNH), who used it as office space. Through months of negotiations with the Case Corporation, the RMS Board of Directors worked out an agreement in which the building would be donated to the Racine Montessori Society in exchange for the costs involved in moving the Case operation from the site in the spring of 1996.
Staff and parents worked all summer and into the fall to prepare the school for the start of the fall term. On Friday, September 13, 1996, final inspections were passed and the school opened on the following Monday. There were five operational classrooms, one small room on the top floor for our child care program, office space and a music room. Bit by bit, changes and additions were made until all available space was occupied.
Today, RMS has about 200 students from age three through grade eight, in our three primary, three lower elementary, upper elementary and adolescent programs. We have 9 Montessori-trained teachers, as well as specialists in reading, art, music, Spanish, computers, library and physical education. We also have a before- and after-school child care program available for our students.
Through a grant from the SC Johnson Wax Fund, we have made several improvements around campus, most notably the renovation of the “pole barn” building. We also have a fully functioning greenhouse as well as a community garden at the southwest corner of 24th and Center.
Through the dedication of the students, staff, and parents since 1963 to now, RMS has continued to grow and remains an excellent and dearly beloved school.