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Giving tomorrow's change makers the start they need

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Kirstin Lindstrom reads to Esther. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service2 / 7
Brenna and Hannah watch as Dacian works on a puzzle. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service3 / 7
Koreen Drexler Thompson works with Hannah. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service4 / 7
Koreen Drexler Thompson holds a globe as Dacian locates North America. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service5 / 7
Kirstin Lindstrom works with Dacian. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service6 / 7
Practical living skills are among those taught, in this case practices at the table as Francesca, Esther and Cora (left to right) take a morning snack break. Tom Cherveny / Forum News Service7 / 7

MONTEVIDEO, Minn. — Koreen Drexler Thompson isn't looking to change the world.

She wants only to provide children with an education that can help them become the thoughtful, committed citizens who can.

She opened the Wildwood Montessori School in Montevideo just over two years ago. It serves preschool-age children from four families. She is currently fundraising to expand it to include more and older children.

"It's very purposeful,'' said Drexler Thompson of the Montessori education model. "Every material has a specific purpose.''

Originally developed by Dr. Maria Montessori of Italy a century ago, the Montessori education model is focused on the development of the whole child. It's based on the idea that children are inherently good, and by their nature want to learn, she explained.

She and her husband, Erle, adapted their home and invested in the materials needed for the school. And, they developed a nature park next to their home that provides a wide range of outdoor learning experiences. The nature park has already attracted interest from educators in the country of Jordan.

None of this would have been possible without support from the Montevideo community and the city, said Drexler Thompson. People have stepped forward with volunteer help and labor, and the city helped steer her to an educational grant that helped launch the school. It can cost as much as $50,000 for the materials a Montessori school requires, she said.

She is assisted at the school by two co-educators, Kirsten Lindstrom and Katie Pieh.

Along with educating the children, Drexler Thompson is conducting her research on their development. She is currently a graduate student in the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Montessori education program.

Her graduate research is looking at how children can develop self-regulation and pro-social skills through a Montessori education.

She wants to make the world a better place, but know this. She was not thinking about Margaret Mead's famous quote about how small groups of "thoughtful, committed citizens" are the only way change is made when she launched all of this.

In fact, she had never imagined herself committed to education while she was growing up.

After graduating from the Montevideo High School, she joined the Army. In time she was awarded a scholarship and earned a commission. She served as an officer for 10 years before leaving the service.

She and her husband were living and operating a construction company in Washington state when they learned they were to be parents. It started the quest: How would they educate their children?

Drexler Thompson said she was impressed by what she learned about the Montessori model, and began a serious study of it. "I felt that if this is the way we're going to educate our kids, I have to know what I am doing,'' she said.

The young family returned to Montevideo, and she began to offer a Montessori education to her daughter. Others in the community encouraged her to start a school and open the doors to all.

She believes the Wildwood Montessori is the only Montessori school currently operating in southwestern Minnesota. She is aware of Montessori schools in Hutchinson and St. Cloud and a number in the metro area.

The expense and commitment required make it challenging to operate the schools in rural communities, she said. She also points out that rural communities especially deserve the opportunity that Montessori schools offer. They help bridge the socio-economic gap and rural-urban divide. "Kids comes out of the Montessori school at the same level,'' she said.

She also believes a Montessori education is increasingly important in society today. "We need kids who learn compassion, empathy, and we need kids who can think independently and creatively and who can make decisions and who can communicate assertively and respectfully,'' she said.

With outside support, she is hopeful of offering scholarships to make it possible for more children in the Montevideo area to enroll in the school. In the long term, she'd like to see the school to grow and someday offer instruction through the high school grades.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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