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Emerson Elementary School in transition to Montessori

Tulsa, Okla. — For African-American students in the state of Oklahoma, the quest for a quality education continues. Residents from north Tulsa are still harboring feelings of mistrust after a purposed closing of the 7-grade Mclain building and plans for Emerson Elementary school to transform into a Montessori were discussed at a recent Town Hall meeting.

By Founder & Executive Editor | Nehemiah D. Frank 

Last week at Rudisill Regional Library, Dist. 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper held her monthly town hall meeting for her constituents. Education took center stage.

Diane Beckham, the principal for the new Montessori School, spoke about Emerson Elementary’s transition to a Montessori Method of education. A program developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, and educator, whose instructional method is now used in many public and private schools throughout the world. Beckham explained Emerson would be switching to Montessori starting next year. The first grades to make the switch will be pre-K through 2nd, and then the school plans to add a year until 6-grade.

Montessori’s pedagogic style was introduced to the U.S. in the early twenty century.

Currently, there are three Montessori schools in Tulsa, Okla: Undercroft Montessori, Christian Montessori Academy, and Lake Hills Montessori. Although, these schools are private schools. TPS is partnering with Montessori to make the school tuition-free. TPS has also helped in selecting the teachers for the new school. 

The Emerson Montessori will be a community school, meaning it will be open to the public, but the school will only be open to students who live in that neighborhood.

“Unlike traditional schools, the Montessori philosophy holds that children should not receive extrinsic forms of reward or punishment which include, letter grades or praise from the teacher, (Lillard, 2005). Instead, the Montessori method focuses on intrinsic motivation, where children should be driven by a natural interest in their work.– Ashlee Young

Black Wall St. Times Staff

Laura Turner-Essel, Ph.D., is an African American who holds a doctorate in counseling psychology serves as Coordinator for Residential Education at the University of California, Santa Cruz had this to say about her family’s Montessori experience.

“The key feature of Montessori schooling is that children decide (for the most part) what they want to do each day. Led by their own interests and skill levels, children in a Montessori classroom move around freely and work independently or with others on tasks of their own choosing. The classroom is intentionally stocked with materials tailored to the developmental needs of children, including the need to learn through different senses (sight, touch/texture, movement, etc.). The teacher in a Montessori classroom is less like a boss and more like a caring guide who works with each child individually, demonstrating various activities and then giving them space to try it on their own. The idea is that over time, students learn to master even the toughest tasks and concepts, and they feel an intense sense of pride and accomplishment because they did it by themselves, without pressure or pushing.” – Lauren Turner-Essel Ph.D.

The Montessori method has been proven to turn low-income, urban schools into high-quality centers of learning. The Montessori of Englewood, located on Chicago’s south side is the first public school in the city to offer a free Montessori program. The majority of the students at the school are African American. 

Rita Nolan, the executive director of the school says,

The Montessori of Englewood

“Nearly 100 percent of our School’s students are considered “at risk”— due to poverty, exposure to familial or neighborhood trauma, and/or beginning school with inadequate school readiness — the program infuses an holistic intervention philosophy into daily classroom and school practice—one that attends to the social emotional needs of its children, their families, and communities.” 

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However, Ms. Boratte, a black Montessori teacher stated that her white students still outperformed her African-American students despite the expectations for better learning outcomes.

“White parents take their children everywhere, while black and Hispanics parents cannot necessarily afford to do that. I notice that my white students tend to have a higher vocabulary, while my black and Hispanic students are limited.”Ms. Boratte Montessori 

Ms. Boratte implied parents of white students have more resources and those privileges contribute to better success for white, student performance.

In Tulsa, white households still make 25-percent more than black households. 

Home in Brady Heights Neighborhood

There is still lots of mistrust between Tulsa Public Schools and Tulsa’s African-American community. Black Tulsans believe the new Montessori school isn’t for their kids but rather for the gentrifying white-collar professionals —“white” collar — who are buying up the property in the Brady Heights and Cheyenne Park neighborhood.

The majority of the teachers hired, for the new program, are white, which leaves the community speculating that gentrification is taking place. Out of the eight hires for next fall, only one is an African American. Moreover, Emerson Elementary school is currently 70-percent African American, and students will remain with the same teacher for three years. And black parents aren’t feeling it.

After the town hall live Facebook ended on the BWST, TPS responded to us with this message: 

“We know how critically important it is for students to be able to see themselves in their teachers. We know that lack of educator diversity is a continued challenge in our district and, unfortunately, throughout the country. We absolutely share the community’s concern and urgency around bringing teachers of color into our schools and classrooms – you are right, we must do more.

We are working proactively to ensure that we’re reaching diverse candidate pools, and we welcome feedback and input from the communities we serve to help us reach candidates of color who might want to join our teacher workforce. We need your continued support and your partnership in reaching men and women who are willing to step into the classroom and help our kids be successful.” – Tulsa Public Schools

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Nehemiah D. Frank is the Founder of the Black Wall St. Times. Frank is also the Co-Executive Producer of the “Dominic Durant Sports Show.” Frank graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL in General Studies, and earned his second degree in Political Science from Oklahoma State University. He is highly involved in community activism, a middle school teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts, a blogger for Education Post, and dedicates most of his time to protecting, empowering, and uplifting his community. Frank is a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation Honoree and has been featured on NBC, Blavity, and Tulsa People.

Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a descendant of two families that survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Although his publication’s store and newsroom...