EA Staffers recently toured Little Italy’s educational gem, Cleveland Montessori, to learn more about the school itself and its collaboration with the Alta House, Northeast Ohio’s Italian cultural center. The school’s director, Tina Schneider, provided EA with a unique look at the school and its role in the neighborhood.
For 40 years, the Little Italy community was serviced by a neighborhood Catholic school. Those doors closed in 1993, creating a great educational void. Originally called the Montessori School at Holy Rosary, this grassroots school was created by energetic community members looking to fill the educational needs of the parish and Little Italy. The school opened its doors in 1995 to 14 preschoolers and was organized to offer a Montessori curriculum.
In 2013, the school changed its name to Cleveland Montessori to reflect its diversity. Even though it is an urban, neighborhood school, the students hail from all over Northeast Ohio and the world. The school prides itself on the diverse economic, religious and cultural backgrounds of its students. Some students even learn the English language through immersion at the school! Half of the students have at least one parent employed in one of the institutions in nearby University Circle, mostly Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals or the Cleveland Clinic.
As the school continued to grow, a new space became necessary, and remaining in Little Italy was a priority. In 2016, Cleveland Montessori moved to a newly renovated, historic facility shared with the Alta House in the heart of Little Italy. Named for Alta Rockefeller, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, who donated the money to create this original settlement house building to assist immigrants with their acclimation to the United States, Alta House had been underused and in disrepair in the past few decades. The community center was facing the shuttering of essential neighborhood services. A collaboration was the perfect solution for both institutions.
Preserving and repairing the architecture and the history of the Alta House building was at the forefront of renovation and design decisions. The first round of renovations is nearing completion. The building will eventually expand through a planned addition dependent upon an ongoing capital campaign.
Today, the school is the educational home of 142 students, preschool through eighth grade. It is an Association Montessori Internationale recognized school. Students have the option to further their religious education through the inclusion of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, or if the parents are not Catholic and prefer to have alternate subject matter at that time, that is welcome as well as there are many different religions reflected in the school.
Preschool through sixth grade students attend school at the Alta House. The school uses Tony Brush Park as its playground, and the children love to wave to the all the neighbors on their walk to the playground. Seventh and eighth graders attend school on the campus of the Montessori High School at University Circle. The 15-minute walk between the two campuses encourages independence, and interactive opportunities between the older and younger children are incorporated. All the students benefit from attending school in University Circle – one of the most culturally dense locations in the country. After eighth grade, the students often continue at the Montessori High School at University Circle.
This collaboration and creative repurposing is a prime example of the imaginative way that Cleveland continues to preserve while developing important, authentic neighborhoods. Cleveland Montessori has a beautiful new home; and, due to the school’s solid budget, the Alta House can continue to offer important services to the community (senior women from the neighborhood come to the school every Wednesday to socialize and play cards and the students prepare lunch for them – great intergenerational activity!). It’s a win-win for both the institutions and the neighborhood.
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