The history of Countryside Montessori School is closely linked to the growth of Montessori education in the United States. Countryside is one of the oldest Montessori schools in St. Louis and among the earliest that have operated continuously in the United States. The school’s roots stretch back to the early 1960s, when there was a sudden resurgence of interest in Montessori education across the country.
Interest in Montessori education has grown steadily in the United States. From one school in 1958, to 24 in 1962, to 100 in 1964 (when Countryside opened), to over 4,000 today, the movement that some said would not last has clearly taken firm hold in the United States. Countryside Montessori School is proud to have layed a significant part in the growth of Montessori education in this country. Through the years, over 2,000 children have experienced the joy of Montessori learning at Countryside. One student, Susan Burns, attended Countryside from 1968 to 1972 and returned there after graduating from college to complete her Montessori internship. She became an AMS-certified teacher and went to teach in Arizona.
Several other Countryside alumni have returned to the school to do their senior high school projects and to be junior counselors for Countryside’s summer program. We have also had quite a few “second generation” students attend Countryside — they are children of former students.
Over the years, Countryside Montessori School’s commitment to quality has continued unabated. Today, the school’s well-equipped and cheerful classrooms and extensive playground continue to provide an excellent environment for children to grow physically, socially, and intellectually.
The school’s faculty was recently described as “extremely impressive” by Alice Renton, an AMS consultant from Colorado. “What I saw invariably was adults who are very aware, very conscious, very loving to your children,” said Mrs. Renton. “Everyone who is working with your children is very committed to the Montessori view of the child, which is that each child is unique.”
But the success of Countryside Montessori School is not due solely to its staff and facilities. Special mention must also be made of the parents of Countryside children. Without their many years of interest and support, Countryside Montessori School could not have been possible.
In January 2000, Rita Zimny decided it was time to retire and pursue other interests. The parents were notified of her decision and the school was for sale. Several parents of the Countryside family sparked an interest in buying the school. As well as the parents of twin girls from the two year old class, Adolph and Jenifer Hanser. In June 2000, the Hanser’s became the new owners and operators of Countryside Montessori School. Mrs. Hanser became the administrator and Dolph began updating the school grounds and buildings.
Dolph and Jenifer are the parents of six children, twin girls, Hunter and Morgan, and triplets, Parker, Courtney and Lauren and a singleton, Peyton. Dolph also has two older children who attended Countryside from 1965-68 and 1971-74. The Hanser’s interest in purchasing Countryside came from watching their girls develop their foundation for learning at Countryside. The Hanser’s were amazed at how much the girls had achieved under the guidance of Mrs. Ellen Carmody and Mrs. Nancy Krause. They wanted to make sure Countryside was there for their children as well as other children in the St. Louis area.
The Hanser’s arranged to attend the Montessori training program in Grand Rapids, Michigan in July 2000 in order to become more familiar with the Montessori philosophy and method.
The Hanser’s decided to add a Mom’s Day Out program in September 2000. And, in June 2001 began the Junior Camp program for the two year olds.
In 2011, Countryside began accepting children as young as eight weeks old. A new infant only room was opened in the main Montessori building and the Mom’s Day Out building, also known as the annex, is where all of the twelve-twenty four month old children learn and grow.
One of the biggest moves for Countryside happened in February 2012 when they earned NAEYC accreditation. It is rare to find a Montessori school that is NAEYC accredited. Countryside felt it was important to let the parents know that through NAEYC accreditation they will go above and beyond for your child. You can find out more about NAEYC accreditation at www.naeyc.org.
Finally, in February of 1964, Countryside Montessori School opened its doors. Its first directress was Pearl Vanderwall, a native of Ceylon who had studied under Dr. Maria Montessori. When the school opened, she taught half-day classes to 16 students.
The school operated in one building, now known as the Montessori building. The second building, now called the Annex, was used as rental property. The renter’s backyard, however, was the school’s playground, as it is today. A menagerie of animals, including ponies, goats, turkeys, chickens, rabbits, sheep, pigs, and donkeys shared the backyard at different times.
By Countryside’s second year, enrollment had grown to 46 children. During 1965, a special 10-week training course for Montessori teachers was held at Countryside. It was conducted by Lena Wikramaratne, another native of Ceylon who had also trained under Dr. Maria Montessori. Twenty women, some from as far away as Canada, Mexico, New York and California, attended the training course at Countryside.
Rita Zimny was recruited in the fall of 1967 by Mrs. Felling to become a teacher at Countryside. That same year, the school became a full affiliate of the American Montessori Society, and Mrs. Vanderwall left Countryside to open her own school.
In 1973, Raymond and Mary Felling approached Rita Zimny and her husband, George, and asked them to consider taking over the school. Although they planned to continue their operation of Countryside Day School, the Fellings wanted to retire from the Montessori school and to leave it in good hands.
In May of that year, the Zimnys became the owners and operators of Countryside Montessori School. At this time, the teachers included Rita Zimny and Ellen Grindon Carmody. Ms. Ellen was a teacher at Countryside until May 2003.
The Zimnys made some sweeping changes when they took their place at the school’s helm. They assembled the Parent Handbook, typed up the school brochure, and began regular written communication with parents via letters sent home. Mrs. Zimny began holding weekly staff meetings and monthly meetings with individual teachers. The improved communication between staff members created a more organized and cohesive school environment. The ponies stayed on, but the other farm animals did not.
The Zimnys started the school’s summer program in 1974. The Fellings had held a small summer program some years earlier. The full day program was discontinued in 1995 when the Zimnys decided to devote their efforts and the school’s facilities to the half-day program and to the summer program.
Montessori methods were first brought to the U.S. in 1912 by Dr. Maria Montessori. A fledgling American Montessori Society was created with Alexander Graham Bell as its president and Margaret Wilson, daughter of President Woodrow Wilson, as its secretary. Nearly 100 Montessori schools were established but, after an initial wave of enthusiasm, interest waned and the schools and the society soon disappeared.
In 1953, a young American woman named Nancy McCormick Rambusch attended an international Montessori congress in Paris. Impressed by the congress, she wondered why Montessori education had vanished from the United States. Mrs. Rambusch took her Montessori training in London and visited Montessori schools in France. She returned to the U.S. and opened a Montessori day school in New York. Then, in 1958 she started the Whitby School in Greenwich, CT.
Two years later, Mrs. Rambusch founded the American Montessori Society (AMS). In 1961, an article about her Whitby school appeared in Time magazine. After its publication, she was swamped with 100,000 letters from people who wanted to start a school like Whitby or enroll their children in one. This marked the beginning of a country-wide groundswell of interest in Montessori education.
Mrs. Rambusch authored a best-selling book about Montessori methods, LEARNING HOW TO LEARN, in 1962. By this time, about two dozen Montessori schools had opened in the United States, including one in St. Louis. All across America, more Montessori schools opened as quickly as foreign-trained teachers could be acquired. This same year, the first Montessori teacher training programs were started in the U.S.
In the fall of 1963, three more Montessori schools opened in St. Louis. Raymond and Mary Felling, the owners and operators of Countryside Day School at 12452 Olive Street Road, were two among many educators interested in starting a Montessori school. The Fellings found property on Ladue Road for a new school, but at first they had difficulty locating a teacher with Montessori certification.