"We uprooted our life of 14 years in Ada, so we could live in the neighborhood and attend North Park."
David Fridsma and Ashima Saigal are proud parents of a bright kindergartner named Zola, who attends North Park Montessori.
Ashima describes the process of selecting North Park, “We lived in the Cascade/Ada area and we were looking at preschools for our daughter. I kind of stumbled along Montessori through a variety of different people that I knew… We compared the school that she would have been assigned to where we were to North Park and it was just a better school. The teachers, the principal, the environment was just a better environment for our daughter and for us.”
In fact, they liked the experience at North Park so much, they decided to uproot their lives. After commuting from their home in Ada to North Park each day, they decided something was missing. “We wanted to be part of the City of Grand Rapids. We wanted to be part of the school we were in. While I could go to PTA meetings and be involved, it was missing something,” explained Ashima.
“We pretty much uprooted our life of 14 years and almost 8 acres to a .72 acre house, which is a big shift for us, but one we’re accepting the challenges of and already seeing the benefits of for our daughter,” said Ashima.
In their new home, their daughter is closer to school and can play with other kids in the neighborhood, many of whom are her classmates at school.
Ashima speaks fondly of the community at North Park. She said, “While academics are an important piece of the school, it’s much more than that. It’s family, it’s friends, you feel like you’re part of a bigger community.”
Both David and Ashima agree that the Montessori education is far from traditional. Montessori classrooms look different than traditional classrooms and students are empowered to make decisions about their class time that they don’t make in other school settings.
“I noticed it was different. The kids don’t sit at desks, they move around, they roll out a mat, they’ll choose their own work, what they call their different learning activities, and they do it at their own pace. They might work on a puzzle for two hours and the teacher will check on them and make sure they are staying on task but it is really self-directed. It’s really different than sitting in a desk and just listening to a teacher all day,” said David.
Ashima believes the opportunity for self-direction is preparing Zola for the real world. During a classroom visit before enrolling Zola, David and Ashima had an opportunity to observe a child working on an intricate puzzle of the United States. They recounted how the student would get frustrated, and take a moment to look at the fish, and then get right back to work. She got frustrated again, let out a sigh, and got back to work. When she completed the puzzle, instead of running to the teacher, she turned to a classmate to share her good news.
“That was probably one of my biggest moments of ‘yeah this is the right decision for us to make for our daughter.’ This is the real world, right? No one’s going to tell you what to do. You’re going to have to figure it out and then you’re going to get frustrated and are you just going to pitch it or are you going to work through it?” said Ashima.
She continued, “What I like about the whole Montessori curriculum…is that intrinsic motivation that’s all internal. That it’s not some external source forcing me to learn something but that I really desire to learn more. As I gain more information and knowledge, I want to continue to learn more.”
David and Ashima also recognize the importance of the teacher in the Montessori classroom, although they teach in a different way than a traditional classroom teacher. They liken the role of the teacher to that of a project manager. While they offer opportunities for direct instruction to all students during “circle time”, they focus more of their efforts on watching what work students are doing and pushing them further on an individual basis.
Ashima shared an example of how Zola’s teacher, Ms. Kathy, recognized that Zola gravitated towards reading and writing activities, but was shying away from math. After observing and working with Zola, Ms. Kathy talked to David and Ashima.
“She said, ‘well I recognize that Zola was not doing her math and I was trying to figure out what was it that she wasn’t doing. So I asked her are you feeling bored with this particular work that I’ve given you?’ And she realized that Zola didn’t need, one of the things they do is count beads. Zola could do it in her head. She didn’t need the beads anymore. So Kathy said, ‘well why don’t you just add these two numbers for me without the beads.’ And Zola did it. ‘And so why don’t you add these two numbers?’ And Zola did it. So she said, ‘okay don’t use the beads anymore, just do it in your head.’ So she recognized that the reason she wasn’t doing it was not because she couldn’t do it, but that the beads were boring now,” said Ashima.
That type of individualized attention is important to David and Ashima, who want their daughter to be challenged. They value the way that Montessori trained teachers create a unique curriculum for each child that’s designed to meet the child where they are at and help them grow.
Ultimately, for David and Ashima, the choice to send their daughter to North Park Montessori was all about setting her up for a successful future. Ashima said, “I think that the reason we picked Montessori and what we like about it the most is that it aligns most with what happens in the real world. So when you leave the school environment, a very protected, sheltered environment, it can be an overwhelming task to have to make decisions on your own and have to really educate yourself and Montessori is based on that.”
Act now! Apply today! Seats for theme schools and Centers of Innovation are limited and an application is required. Apply online at apply.grps.org, or visit any GRPS school or the Administration Building at 1331 Franklin St SE for a paper application.