Sharing a beautiful blog posted by the documentary filmmakers of “Building the Pink Tower”
It was May and snowing in Wisconsin. Jan and I were driving across the state, from home in the Twin Cities and heading for Milwaukee. We were well-stocked with snacks and coffee, but still … it was snowing in Wisconsin. A lot! We saw numerous cars in ditches, one even upside-down, and took to concentrating on getting to our destination safely.
We had been looking forward to our trip to Milwaukee for several months. It was a chance to learn about the largest public Montessori system in the country, and driving distance, so within our budget. A while back, parent and public education advocate Jenni Hofschulte had reached out to me, inquiring about our project and wanting to share the experience in Milwaukee. Not only was Jenni a tireless advocate for Montessori education and public schools, but she turned out to be extremely organized and well-connected in the Milwaukee school system. Leading up to our trip, she arranged for multiple meetings with school leaders, dinner with founders of the Montessori movement in Milwaukee, a visit to the training center, and even a fundraiser at a local brewpub.
The fundraiser was right away when we arrived. We were a bit behind schedule because of the snow, but were enthusiastically greeted by the crowd at the Stonefly Brewing Company. We shared the story of our project, showed the trailer, and enjoyed music by a local samba group as well as a guitar-vocals duo. We chatted with teachers, administrators, and parents. We heard about the schools we would visit the next day. And we began to learn how committed this community is to bringing Montessori education to all students. What a wonderful introduction to the people and passion of Milwaukee!
The next morning we were up early to meet Jenni and our able driver, Montessori teacher, and parent Lisa Reinhardt. Together we visited multiple schools, all with different and inspiring stories to share. We learned about the newly converted Lloyd Barbee Montessori with its trial at introducing all of its students to the Montessori approach, even if they had never been exposed to the method before. There we heard about the importance of teacher mentoring to support transition and commitment to working with diverse students.
At Highland Community School, a Montessori charter school situated in a 1970s era building in a segregated, low-income part of the city, we heard about the transformation the building and community experienced from racial isolation to a thriving, diverse, and inclusive environment. After a long history in a nearby old house, the teachers and students were settling into their building and redefining its meaning to the neighborhood.
The school that once occupied the Highland building was now in another part of town, and merged with the Montessori High School. Together they became MacDowell Montessori School, with a 37 year public school history and now ranging in ages from Children’s House through high school all under one roof. We heard about the impressive showing of MacDowell high school students in IB scores, and we witnessed the connection students at all levels had with their principal as we walked through the building’s long halls.
Next, lunch, then a stop at Maryland Avenue Montessori. By then, the school day was over so Jenni took us through the quiet hallways, sharing with us stories of the school community that her family was part of at Maryland.
A theme was emerging as we visited the schools and talked with school leaders. Community is a huge part of what drives the Montessori movement in Milwaukee. That night we enjoyed dinner at the home of Montessori teacher Micki Sausen and her husband Gil. Over delicious food, we heard more about this incredible community and its vision for making Montessori education available for more and more students in Milwaukee.
The next morning, we shared breakfast and conversation with school leaders and trainers at the local training center the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee. This training center, with the leadership of Allyn Travis, has over many years provided the essential training and support to teachers throughout Milwaukee’s system. What struck both Jan and me was the intentionality, the drive, and the collaboration this community of leaders and visionaries brought to the Montessori model of education. Parents, teachers, administrators, school board members – all had to come together to support the idea that Montessori education could work in a public setting.
After breakfast, we hugged Jenni good-bye, thanking her for an incredible few days in Milwaukee. We had a lot to think about and all the way home we talked and took notes about the story we want to tell in our documentary film. The drive home went pretty fast – somehow all the snow in Wisconsin had melted while we were in Milwaukee.
— Vina Kay