Kameeka Shirley and LaTania Scott were chatting over lunch one day when the teachers came to a realization that changed their lives.
“We were just talking about what we wanted for our children and what we wanted for ourselves,” Scott said.
Scott told Shirley: “I want to start a school.”
Shirley responded: “Me, too.”
“That’s literally how it started,” Scott said.
At the time, they were teachers at a public Montessori charter school.
Now, they are running Blazing Stars Montessori School, at 12212 Fort King Road, in Dade City.
The school, which opened on Jan. 9, operates out of a 2,400-square-foot building that was previously occupied by a daycare.
It now serves 10 children, including two in after-care. The school continues to enroll students for this year and has begun accepting applications for the coming school year.
The school is affiliated with Wildflower Schools, a network established in Massachusetts, which helps teachers found and run micro-schools.
Blazing Stars is one of two Wildflower Schools in Florida, but there are hubs in other parts of the country, as well, Shirley said.
At the moment they are part of a hub made up of schools which don’t have any other Wildflower Schools nearby. But once more spring up in the area, they’ll form their own hub.
Scott noted: “Wildflower Schools are schools started by teachers, ran by teachers. So we are the admin, sometimes the cleaning crew. We are also the teachers, and our children attend.”
Blazing Stars’ enrollment includes Shirley’s 4-year-old son Kaden, and Scott’s 6-year-old son Maxwell and 4-year-old son Clayton.
The teachers wanted to launch the school for their personal happiness and for the happiness of their children, they said.
Both teachers are totally sold on the value of the Montessori approach to learning.
“I am just a pure Montessorian. I have never taught anything but Montessori,” said Scott, who has taught using that approach for 18 years. She also trains other teachers in the Montessori method.
She’s excited about teaching in a small setting.
“I’m looking forward to being able to do Montessori, without any of the red-tape,” Scott said.
Shirley noted: “We will only ever be a two-classroom school.”
The school’s capacity if 47, and if it ever adds a higher level, it would branch off to another location.
The idea is to keep the numbers low enough to provide a highly personalized education.
Blazing Stars begins working with children at age 3, but Shirley emphasized it is a school, not a daycare.
Its primary level serves children ages 3 through 6 and its lower elementary level serves children in ages 6 through 9.
Montessori instruction is not like a traditional school.
In a traditional setting, children sit at desks. At Blazing Stars, they move around, from room to room, picking up physical objects to help them understand abstract concepts.
The same materials can be used at various stages of learning, to build on understanding and help convey different lessons.
The hands-on approach provides a sensorial-based experience.
For instance, when a child is learning the difference between short and long, he can see and touch materials of different lengths.
Strings of beads, which can be easily counted, are used to teach mathematics.
The level of sophistication changes, as children progress through the system.
It’s a system of education that allows children who learn quickly to advance, while granting more time for students who need it.
“Montessori is the place where no child is left behind because every child works at their (own) pace,” Scott said.
Besides doing work indoors, the teachers think the children benefit from being out in nature and plan to use a sensory garden to help them learn.
Shirley said the lessons go beyond mere academics.
“We want to build an intentionally diverse community. We want students to know how to interact with many different kinds of people, with different ideas.
“How do you respectfully disagree? How do you advocate for your needs, in a way that others can understand?”
“We want children to learn how to graciously be a part of our community,” Shirley said.
Scott emphasized the importance of being connected to the community.
“We want everybody to understand that we are part of the community and we want the community to be part of what we are doing here to help grow our children,” she said.
Montessori typically has been associated with high-income families, but both Shirley and Scott said Blazing Stars intends to help families who are interested in having their children enroll in the school, to explore all of their options.
They don’t want families to foreclose on the possibility of this type of education.
“Our equity principle is very important to us, that we make Montessori accessible to all families,” Shirley said.
Scott put it this way: “Montessori is not for the elite. It’s for everyone. It’s not just for those that can afford it.”
Learn more about Blazing Stars Montessori School
Open House: March 25, 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Information Session: 11 a.m. to noon
Where: 12212 Fort King Road, in Dade City
Published March 22, 2023