WICKLOW Montessori Primary School is preparing to celebrate 40 years of providing a unique educational experience to three to 13 year olds in Wicklow with a special Open Night.
Principal Dara Mulhall says its enduring success over four decades is a testament to the generations of parents who had the foresight to seek out an education system, the Montessori method, that put child centred teaching on the map, long before the term became a buzzword.
Ms Mulhall was a teacher at the school when it first opened its doors. Her three children were all educated at Wicklow Montessori Primary School and one of her grandchildren currently attends.
2017 also marks the 90th anniversary of the first Montessori school in the world, opened by pioneering educator Maria Montessori in Rome in 1907.
Often mistakenly believed to refer only to the teaching of pre-schoolers, in fact Montessori education is designed for children up to age of 18.
'What makes Wicklow Montessori Primary School so compelling is that we have created a teaching programme that is based on the Montessori method of education combined with the State's primary school education curriculum, from age three right through to sixth class,' said Ms Mulhall.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have all been identified as beneficiaries of a Montessori education. Wicklow Montessori's own past pupils have also gone on to success in a wide variety of fields, from business and the arts to academia and entrepreneurship.
'The fact that we now have the children of our past pupils coming back to us is a reflection of how much their parents enjoyed their time here,' added Ms Mulhall.
Past pupil and local businessman Jason Watson sent his three children to Wicklow Montessori.
He said: 'I loved my time at Wicklow Montessori as a child myself so when it came to our own children, it was a no brainer. It was and is a very happy, caring environment that also instils a strong, independent work ethic.'
The number of past pupils who end up sending their own children to Wicklow Montessori is a testament to the high standards set at the school.
'In 1979 a photograph was taken of the class I was teaching at the time. Some of those kids are now parents whose own children are now educated in the school. One of our teachers, Niamh, has a grandchild attending, while two of Melanie's children are also pupils. Hayley has two kids here too. It's wonderful to keep those close connections' said Ms Mulhall.
As well as offering core subjects such as English, Irish, maths, history, science and geography, children at Wicklow Montessori have a wide range of additional subjects including music, drama, French and Spanish. The school also runs personal development programmes in areas such as leadership and philosophy, as well as a range of arts, crafts and even baking.
Wicklow Montessori has its own computer lab, where pupils learn website design and HTML and CSS tagging as well as Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint skills.
The school is particularly strong on robotics, where students learn to program a robot to execute tasks based on input from multiple sensors. This summer its sixth class pupils represented Ireland in the world finals of the First Lego League International Competition in Bath, England. But first, to represent Ireland, the team travelled to Galway and edged out 22 other Irish teams.
In England, the team competed against more than 90 teams from 35 countries in an event that brought together more than 700 children aged 11 to 16 from around the world. While teams from Brazil and Japan won the top awards, Wicklow Montessori was one of only two teams to be given an Overall Judges Award for their project.
A gradual expansion over the years these has led to the creation of bigger, brighter and better equipped classrooms, an Astroturf pitch, playground, multi-purpose hall, computer lab, attractive chill out zone and library with colourful bean bags.
Montessori moves education far beyond learning things by rote.
Hayley Fitzpatrick is a teacher in the school and a parent of two of its pupils.
'What I love about the Montessori environment is that the Montessori materials allow the children move from the concrete to the abstract. The child is able to interact with concepts and ideas rather than simply memorise facts. The materials enable the child to develop their senses by tactile experiences.
'They also get freedom of movement, so that they aren't all working on the same thing at the same time. As teachers we observe each child closely, guiding their development on an individual basis."
Parents Sinead and Mick Nolan, of local business Noltek Office Supplies, agree.
'When our children were starting out in school what appealed to us about Wicklow Montessori were the small classes, the high standard of the teaching and the fact that whenever we'd visit the kids would be working away happily in a lovely calm atmosphere, either in class with their teacher, on their own with some equipment, or in teams doing project work,' said Sinead.
The Nolan children are now in secondary schools locally.
'They both made a great transition to secondary school and I would say both have a quiet confidence, a strength of character, that we attribute to their time at Wicklow Montessori,' added Sinead.
Wicklow Montessori is a member of the Associated Independent Junior Schools of Ireland.
The school will be hosting an Open Night at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17. If you're interested in coming, you may telephone the school at (0404) 67766 weekdays between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.
You can visit the web site www.wicklowmontessorischool.ie or Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wicklowmontessoriprimaryschool.