On Chicago’s West Side, Making Montessori More Accessible

Humboldt Park of west side Chicago is often portrayed in the news media as a neighborhood with persistent poverty or gang violence, but it is a neighborhood filled with diversity, culture and rich community. In this context lies a gem of a school committed to sustaining and developing that diversity and inclusion among students. Humboldt Park Montessori presents a unique tuition model that exists to tear down financial barriers to Montessori education, which historically has not been as accessible to families with lower incomes.

Humboldt Park Montessori, an independent school serving 54 students ages three to 12, designed a sliding-scale tuition model that allows all children access, regardless of family income. 

Here’s how it works: when families pay tuition, their funds are pooled with what each family can afford in order to pay for teacher salaries, rent, and supplies. Humboldt Park Montessori offers a certain number of spots available at each tuition level so that families at lower income levels can’t be “bought out” by families who can afford higher tuition. 

“We believe this tuition model could be replicated to support many other nontraditional learning environments, making a high-quality education more equitable,” said founder Kristen Ediger, who started the school seven years ago.

Humboldt Park Montessori will use the microgrant funding it received from VELA to increase its enrollment and its scholarship support. 

Italian educator Maria Montessori developed her namesake educational philosophy in the early 1900s. The approach provides a hands-on, personalized learning environment where students receive individual or small-group lessons. 

“The teachers who lead each classroom offer respect, compassion, and independence to each child,” explained Ediger. “The Montessori philosophy encourages educators to carefully observe each child and then guide them toward engaging work. They create challenging hands-on lessons and work alongside each child individually or in small groups to make sure the child has a firm grasp of the content before moving on.”

The school’s emphasis on individual needs extends to social-emotional learning. 

“Our trauma-informed practices support children and families by seeking out the root causes of behavior rather than responding punitively,” said Ediger. “We emphasize emotional intelligence and encourage regulation through body awareness practices like mindfulness, rock climbing, and outdoor play.”

Humboldt Park Montessori is adjacent to a public garden, and the school offers outdoor learning opportunities everyday. The school partners with the city to maintain the learning and gardening space. 

“Our community is our greatest strength. The strength of a solid school community, especially one that honors the culture and individuality of each child, is essential for creating a safe and flourishing space where children and their caregivers can learn and grow together” said Ediger.

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