A school building was completely destroyed by fire at Cedars Montessori School on Circle Drive. Another building nearby was also damaged.
by Lucia Benavides
Sitting on 17 acres of beautiful hill country landscape, Cedars Montessori School is hoping to turn an unexpected fire disaster into a constructive, learning opportunity.
Spring Break came early for the school’s students on Friday March 8th when a fire totally destroyed one of the lower elementary school buildings and burned a hole in the roof of its adjacent office. Fortunately, no one was inside the school at the time of the blaze.
Although the library inside the office was saved, many books and school supplies in the classroom were not. The cause of the fire was deemed “indeterminable” by the Oak Hill Fire Department, but an investigation by the school’s insurance company is still underway. Classes started back up on March 18th, giving the young students a chance to get involved in what teachers hope will be the exciting process of reconstructing.
Cedars Montessori School was founded in 1974 by Jill Young for what she says was a very simple reason: to change the world. Having been heavily involved in college with the self-actualization movement, Young was convinced that there had to be a better way to educate people. Inspired by the ideas of Dr. Maria Montessori, Young created an atmosphere emphasizing a determination to aid and accelerate the process of self-education and encourage kids’ independent efforts.
“When you give a child a learning environment that is in harmony with their developmental stages, the learning process is effortless,” Young said. “Kids are highly motivated towards their own development and are born with the psychology of world conquest, as Montessori put it.”
The goal of a Montessori school, Young said, is to build self-confidence and independence, develop concentration, and nourish the love of learning. Cedars has an enrollment of 170 students. There is a primary school for ages three to five; and first grade through six grade classes in two separate buildings.
Anne Mason, mother to one of the students at Cedars, took noticed of the school’s educational approach right away.
“I hadn’t heard much about Montessori schools, but as soon as we took the first tour, we were impressed by the organization of the classrooms and the way the children were disciplined,” Mason said.
Cedars is not just another Montessori school, it was specially designed by Young. The location was carefully chosen because of its beautiful gardens and outdoor space. Before her husband built the other nine buildings on the property, there stood just one stone house built in 1947 with a hand-made shuffleboard and fountains that really made the place whimsical and colorful, Young said. Not surprisingly, the rural school on Circle Drive has always been in very close contact with nature. In fact, an important part of its mission is to develop respect and responsibility to the natural world. It is because of this awareness, Young says, the fire has served as a dramatic demonstration of how to deal with an unexpected situation: instead of viewing it as a huge setback, the students are encouraged to see it as an opportunity to build something better. According to Young, “kids are getting this.”
As soon as she heard the news, Mason’s five year-old daughter Melody said that she wanted to be a firefighter so she could help the school. Young also said she heard many of her students asking for advice on how to help. Since Cedars is their school, the children want to feel that they are part of the community and are hungry to develop a connection with it, Young said.
“This whole venture is about creating meaning,” Young said about the kids’ enthusiastic responsiveness.
Overall, parents seem pleased with the school’s preparedness and reaction to the fire. Mason reported that the “school has been great dealing with the fire.” Even before the incident, Cedars Montessori performed regular fire drills with its students. The school’s administrators have been in constant contact with the parents, filling them in on important updates and “even inundating us with e-mails,” Mason joked. Teachers have also been checking in on the students and parents.
“I’m really happy with the way they’ve kept everyone informed,” Mason said. “They really have the children’s interest in mind.”
Young had only praise for the parents. She said many of them offered to load the furniture that had to be taken out of the office, due to the hole in the roof, into their storage units. Others donated books and school supplies.
The community is rallying to help the Montessori school in its time of need. People from all around town, including those not affiliated with the school, have donated plenty of items. There is a fundraising event being planned by Cedars and a group of parents, and a fund that the school put together to raise money for immediate needs of the classroom (you can find it here: http://www.gofundme.com/29w2fc). Although much help has been received, the school has much more to work on, and it couldn’t be done without the support of its community, Young said.
As Anne Mason and Melody drove away from the school the morning of the fire, it began to rain. Firemen later said the lucky timing of the rain, coupled with low winds, helped prevent the fire from spreading. “It’s as if the world were fixing things on its own,” Mason told her 5-year-old daughter that morning. She said that’s when they realized, with a little help from their friends, everything really was going to be okay.
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