The names Larry Page and Sergey Brin may or may not mean anything to you. Odds are, though, you’ve heard of the company they started. The two were Ph.D students at Stanford University 22 years ago when they figured out a new and improved way to produce search results on the internet. They called it Backrub, and two years later renamed it Google. They are each worth $35 billion.
The name Jeff Bezos may be a tad more familiar to you. His back story probably is not. He was born Jeffrey Jorgensen to a 16-year-old mom, who divorced her high-school sweetheart husband before Jeffrey had turned 2 years old. Jeff was adopted by his mom’s second husband, Miguel Bezos.
Jeff was valedictorian of his high school class and attended Princeton University. In 1994, he left a lucrative VP position at a Wall Street firm to sell books online through a company he called Cadabra. Jeff briefly considered naming the online store Relentless.com before paging through the dictionary and stopping at… Amazon. Today, Jeff Bezos, worth $100 billion, is the world’s richest person.
Apart from creating the world’s two largest internet companies, and attending two of the world’s most competitive and prestigious colleges, the above three people have something else in common: they all attended as youngsters a Montessori School.
In that respect, the three internet entrepreneurs share an early childhood education experience with other bold-face names. Among them are actor George Clooney, British Princes William and Harry, legendary TV chef Julia Child, former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and World War II heroine Anne Frank.
The list goes on and on. Lightbulb inventor Thomas Edison helped open a Montessori school, as did father of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Fred Rogers, of legendary children’s TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” was a staunch Montessori advocate.
Walking around one of the schools, as I did recently with Elizabeth Silverman, executive director of Our Montessori School (OMS) in northern Westchester, it’s easy to see what attracts great minds to this place, and why this place helps produce great minds that can achieve extraordinary success. (I also have become a Montessori advocate, as the school’s marketing agent, and am proud to disclose that business connection here).
What founder Maria Montessori brilliantly created is not a revolutionary system of teaching. It is a revolutionary system of learning. Montessori is not, as some years ago tried to contend, a radical method of learning. It is, rather, a logical method of learning. Since not all children develop their intellectual, emotional and neuromuscular skills exactly the same way, they should not be expected to learn the same way. For that reason, individualized instruction is at the heart of the Montessori system.
A venerable disciple of Maria Montessori’s method, Our Montessori School was founded more than 45 years ago by Werner and Betty Hengst, who were motivated in large part by wanting to find the best education for their daughter, Christy. The school continues to be operated by Betty Hengst, who describes the school’s approach as “intuitive learning.”
To teach children beyond the level for which they are ready, she explains, is a recipe for failure. Conversely, teaching a child beneath his or her ability also is counter-productive. “We teach to ability, not to age,” says Betty Hengst.
Perhaps the most dramatic departure from public schooling is the Montessori grade structure. At OMS, the Stepping Stones class of toddlers includes ages 18 months to three; Nursery/Kindergarten ages run 3-6; Juniors in grades 1-3 are 6-8-years-old; and Seniors in grades 4-6 are 9-11 year-olds. That overlap allows young children to learn from older ones, and for older ones to learn how to mentor younger children. Moreover, students spend three years with the same teachers before moving on to the next level.
Under the Montessori method, the teacher tries to let the children discover an error on his or her own because that fills them with joy.
Not so coincidentally, that same trial-and-error discipline was favored by immortals like Edison and Bell to invent ingenious tools that redefined human behavior—as have Google and Amazon.
This fall, OMS is reviving its Infant program at its location in Carmel, after several years on hiatus. The age range is 6 weeks to 18 months. “A young baby is more like an observer or scientist who is eager to learn, explore, try new things, and master new skills,” says Ms. Hengst. The program affords them an “opportunity to grow with nurturing, attentive and caring teachers.”
As I made the rounds of the various school locations with Ms. Silverman, who is a 35-plus-year veteran of Our Montessori School, I was struck in particular by the universality of the children’s experience, as well as of the children themselves.
Across the various class levels, from ages 18 months to 11 years, the students at Our Montessori School are a diverse cross-section of nationalities and ethnicities.
They partake of international lunches by bringing in native dishes, which exposes them to foods of all nations and breeds the kind of healthy tolerance for other cultures that this world, and certainly this country, desperately needs more of right now.
The students also participate in international performances. Tune in to one of the videos on Our Montessori School’s Facebook page (facebook.com/OurMontessoriSchoolYorktown), and you’ll marvel at a 4-year-old playing a French composition on piano, 6-8-year-olds demonstrating a Latin dance routine, and 9-11-year-olds singing in French. All elementary students study Latin and Spanish as well.
A humanistic learning environment like Our Montessori School is just what the doctor ordered to fend off future xenophobia—and to bring on future Sergey Brins, Larry Pages and Jeff Bezoses.
For more information, visit ourmontessorischool.com.
Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events, and people through marketing agency APAR PR. Among his clients are Krav Maga New York, Our Montessori School, Yorktown Grange Fair, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, GoJo Clan Productions, Quantum Dynamix, Peekskill’s Art Industry Media initiative, the forthcoming book “Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer,” and interdisciplinary artist Elizabeth Phelps Meyer. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-275-6887.