How Virtual Montessori School Changed the Lives of a Montessori Guide and her Twins
Jessie Beerman, a Montessori-certified Guide and mother of three, shares thoughts on her transformative experience leading virtual classrooms, and the reasons her twin daughters chose to re-enroll in virtual school for the upcoming academic year
Montessori Educator Jessie Beerman has taught in classrooms for 18 years, and like many, didn’t turn to virtual school until the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an increased need. After a year adapting to virtual school as both a Montessori guide and mother of three, she found this space to be more than a temporary bridge; It had the capacity to transform learning –– especially for those who previously struggled in a traditional setting.
Beerman joined Guidepost in September 2020 as a Montessori-certified Virtual School Lead Guide for students ages 3-6, and in doing so, discovered a passion for supporting other educators through her current role as Montessori Mentor.
Around the same time she began teaching remotely, her 13-year-old twin daughters, Iris and Sarah, enrolled in virtual middle school with The Academy of Thought and Industry (ATI). ATI is Guidepost’s sister network that continues the Montessori education experience throughout middle and high school.
We sat down with Beerman to understand her family’s experience with virtual learning, how it influenced their decisions for the next academic year, and how Montessori is compatible in a post-pandemic evolution of virtual learning. The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Did you always know you wanted to be a Montessori educator?
I went to a holistic preschool that utilized the Reggio Emilia approach, and so I always knew growing up that there were different philosophies within early education. As an undergraduate pursuing education, I was on my way to teaching in the traditional sense until one day, my teacher pulled me aside and said, “You should observe a Montessori school.” I did, and I was blown away. I’ve been teaching in Montessori schools since 2003 for children ages 3-6.
What is it that connects you to Montessori education?
Montessori encourages lifelong learning, or, the idea that an individual’s education is not finished after they earn a degree, accreditation or certification. I’m always reading, learning, and looking for new courses. The Montessori philosophy leads right into who I am as a person, and I think there’s value in this for our children when we show them our own journeys. By letting them see us grow through new experiences, make mistakes, and continue to lead with grace, they’ll be more likely to do the same.
What made you and your daughters consider Montessori virtual school last Fall?
Due to school closures in 2020, I was expecting to be teaching from home and so started exploring options for virtual learning. I’d been tutoring during the pandemic, which gave me the tech skills needed to lead virtual classrooms. When I saw that Guidepost needed Virtual Guides, I applied, joined the team, and immediately took on two full Children’s House classrooms.
At the same time, I was looking for a virtual option for my twins, because their middle school had closed. Our local community did offer a remote option, but the missing piece was community. The tech platform was Google Classroom, which is wonderful in many ways, but it did not build the socialization and class participation we found through Guidepost Montessori’s sister network, ATI Virtual.
You have this unique perspective of seeing how virtual works with preschoolers and kindergartners as an early childhood teacher, and in the adolescent years with your daughters. Were you skeptical of how it could work with either age group, especially given the Montessori Method’s emphasis on hands-on learning?
I had a bias against virtual or distance learning. I always felt that, especially Montessori, needed to be done in person.
Through this experience, I’ve realized that view is ableist. Not everyone can be in a building — some students have no choice but to learn from home and that limitation shouldn’t stop them from having access to the Montessori Method.
I also recognize that not every parent who wants to implement Montessori at home can easily access the extensive training and resources to prepare and implement it. Guidepost Virtual and ATI Virtual School have done this miraculous thing where we physically put quality materials in every home and coach parents on how to use them, while giving daily lessons directly to the children. All of these aspects together make it work.
Many people associate virtual school as a temporary measure due to the pandemic-related school closures. Why should families consider it as a standalone option going forward?
First — accessibility. Not everyone has a quality Montessori school nearby, and the tuition for virtual school is more affordable than brick-and-mortar. Second –– flexibility. There is something special about getting a Montessori experience in your home. You can literally be anywhere and come to school. This is important for some families, such as those who need or want to travel regularly. Third, it offers something different with respect to parent partnership. Rather than having separation between a child’s home and school life, learning becomes embedded with daily life. And of course, virtual school is helpful for people who cannot go into a building who are immunocompromised.
Can you share a little about your own daughters’ experience with virtual?
Virtual school saved my kids. Even though Iris and Sarah are twins, they’re two very different people with their own unique personalities. One is an introvert and the other is an extrovert, and we were honestly not sure how it would work for each of them.
I’m thrilled to say that ATI Virtual School exceeded our expectations. My twins were so happy with the experience that they’ve decided to stay at ATI Virtual and will be entering the 8th grade this Fall.
My oldest, Madeline, will attend our local in-person high school, but she's also enjoyed the additional coursework offered through ATI, including the five-week course Theory of Enchantment.
What was so different about ATI Virtual?
Right from the start, the ATI admissions team wanted to talk to my daughters directly –– it had nothing to do with me. They wanted to hear about my girls’ dreams, fears, strengths, weaknesses. The program is built around children. When you think about middle school in general, it tends to assume so much control over children and be adult-led. When my daughters had their first day of school, Sarah said, “Mom, these guides trust us. None of my teachers have ever talked to me like I am capable before.”
What kind of struggles were your daughters experiencing before starting ATI Virtual?
I think that if any adult were to look back on their life, they’d agree that middle school was socially stressful. My girls were not immune to that. Building community by talking about social issues in a way that reflects the feelings of adolescents provides a safe place for them to learn. Without it, there's bullying, isolation, and competition; they don't miss that!
Academically, a child with a learning difference might not get an opportunity with challenging assignments and above grade level skills. This was part of our past experience, where our daughters weren't presumed capable in public school. The value of having a team of adults who is behind them, believes in their perspective and gains their trust is a priceless piece of their development.
I love that you mentioned your daughters have opposite personalities. I think many parents of multiples can relate to that. How did virtual school appeal to each of them as individuals?
The use of virtual breakout rooms made the group much smaller so that my quiet learner felt comfortable speaking up. One-on-one coaching meetings with the guides helped her connect to teachers in a way that she hadn't experienced; she felt seen and understood for the first time in a long time.
In a virtual space, your friendships are more chosen and deliberate. For my extrovert, this meant she could connect with certain students on personality instead of geography or academic placement. These friendships lifted her up and, as a result, her confidence soared.
The Montessori ATI program also includes individualized coaching. They meet weekly to discuss assignments, accomplishments, and struggles. Sometimes, they just catch up with whatever is going on in their lives. For adolescents, it's important that they can access their education with less parent involvement; These coaches were a tool for them when they needed clarification and support.
For families who have discovered Montessori in the early years, and who may only think it is applicable to preschool, what would you want them to know about the long view of Montessori Education?
Montessori Education is for life. Although it is most popular for the younger learners, quality programs exist for students all the way to age 18. The beauty in this is the content –– yes, they learn the content expected of their ages, but they also learn to exist in society in the older age groupings. The classes are cultivated around Dr. Maria Montessori’s distinct Planes of Development. This period for adolescents (aged 12-18), is known as the “construction of social self,” marked by a heightened period for supporting social independence, self-expressions, analytical thought, commitment and responsibility.
Did the switch to virtual this past year alter your own path as an educator?
It certainly changed my views on technology! Children can gain knowledge and meaningful experiences through technology, but it must be done in a careful way. Online games or apps that don't educate can still hinder development.
In our case, technology was the tool we used for connection. Everything else about what we did in class was with real materials in the hands of the child. The hand is the instrument of the mind, therefore young children should use their hands with real experiences.
In October, I continued my work in this space by becoming an Onward Peer Mentor, where I work with other guides to set classroom goals, strategize, and support one another. I have found mentoring guides to be immeasurably rewarding because an empowered guide can serve a class of many children successfully.
Jenna is a trained journalist and writer whose parenting journey transformed after implementing Montessori at home with her three children. She is a passionate advocate for bridging Montessori to the mainstream as a means to build community, empower parent-child relationships, and honor learning as the lifelong journey that it is.
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