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October 28, 2009 > Montessori school celebrates 35 years

Montessori school celebrates 35 years

By Ritu Jha
Photos By courtesy of Cathy Layden

Thirty-five years ago Cynthia Leahy started her career as a Montessori teacher and today she operates five Montessori schools in the Tri-City area.

One of the Montessori pioneers in 1974, Cynthia later expanded from pre-school to elementary, middle and high school. Leahy says, "I feel like a life well invested."

Her achievements did not come easy as her biggest challenge was to secure a permanent location. She started the first Montessori School of Fremont as a one-woman operation in a rented Sunday school room at Our Savior Lutheran Church on Washington Boulevard. At the time, Montessori School of Fremont was the only Montessori between Berkeley and San Jose.

Leahy says she wanted a school built with perfection and one that showed respect for children. "Our goal has always been to honor our students and to offer the best Montessori education. Parents recognize quality," states Leahy.

Leahy believes in the Montessori philosophy which teaches a respect for every child while recognizing and developing a child's self.

The most important thing she teaches her students is concentration. She said initially that teachers try to find children's interests, secondly to capture their attention and then to help them concentrate. "It is probably one of the greatest goals that we have for a child," said Leahy. "If you can concentrate, you can learn anything."

Education at Montessori school of Fremont is based on observing each child. Leahy explains that a four-year-old loves to read, write and work with numbers. When they are five they are ready for any environment. She said children learn mathematics if they can count to ten.

Leahy said by the time a child turns five, they can read and write; they know continents, mathematics, geography, biology and science.

Affiliated with the Association of Montessori International in Amsterdam, Holland, the Montessori school of Fremont's first elementary classroom was opened in 1994 at Washington Boulevard. At present there are five schools that have a preschool, an elementary, a middle school and one high school. The students come from as far away as San Jose and Oakland to attend the Montessori middle and high school in the Mission San Jose district.

"We started with 37 students and today there are more than 400," said Leahy. Some of the preschools' centers provide lunch and three are open until 6:30 p.m.

Leahy said, "We are not the most expensive but we are the best. We are not only for a wealthy family, but for a working family."

In 2008, the middle and the high school relocated to a new campus adjacent to Ohlone College known as Alsion Montessori Middle/High. The center is managed by Leahy's husband Michael Leahy which last year celebrated their first graduation ceremony. He says the biggest day of his life was graduation day, where kids were so confident.

While Alsion covers grades 7, 8 and 9, the school has the teaching expertise and resources to advance motivated students well beyond State of California standards for these grade levels.

"After ninth grade we have an option for students to continue full-time at Ohlone College," says Michael Leahy. He explained that at present there are 20 students enrolled in the early college program. They get a high school diploma from Montessori and about 60 to 80 units of college in Ohlone to enter the University of California system. "That is remarkable. They are going to college while they are in high school," says Michael Leahy.

Michael Leahy says the program for grades 7 to 9 is accelerated. The children come out academically very strong, so they are capable of doing college level work by the time they finish ninth grade.

"What is remarkable is that a student can join Montessori at the age of three or four and we can take them all the way through the second year of college," said Michael Leahy.

The school runs for eight hours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday are considered strong academic days. On Friday, the students have more fun activities. They can play chess, do radio remote control, group presentations and research on science or history.

This happens for 36 weeks and at the end of the year they become very comfortable in getting in front of the class and making presentations. Middle and high school students also have field trips to the park, to study the biological environment and learn about species, plants and the climate zone.

Montessori School of Fremont is a non-sectarian school and its teaching philosophy at the middle and high school is based on Socratic theory.

Michael says his wife Cynthia has the savvy to make it all work. "I watch the horizon and she watches the bottom line."

Montessori Schools of Fremont: (510) 490-1343 or www.montessori-fremont.com
Alsion Middle/High School: (510) 445-1127 or www.alsion.org

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