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A labyrinth grows in Allentown

By Margie Peterson
The Morning Call
May 24, 2013

Reminiscent of the beloved novel "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," a labyrinth of wild grasses has taken root next to the Grace Montessori School in the shadow of a seven-deck concrete parking garage in one of the busiest sections of downtown Allentown.

But the grasses and accompanying herb garden were no accident. They are the product of planning and hard work by a partnership of the school and business groups intent on giving the Montessori students a green space for play, storytelling and meditation on the grounds at 814 W. Linden St.

On Friday morning, the school dedicated the labyrinth with short remarks from local officials, songs by small children and a ribbon-cutting next to the fenced-in little park.

"This area is transforming," said Allentown Mayor Pawlowski, whose children had attended the school, which is owned by Grace Episcopal Church in the city.

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Part of the Grace Montessori mission is to provide quality education for children of all incomes. A third of its students, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, are on scholarship and many live in the downtown, GMS executive director Libby House said.
Uma Rajendran of Breinigsville and Shruti Saraf of Whitehall Township, who attended the dedication, said they weren't put off by the proximity of the parking garage and all the concrete when they chose to send their children to Grace Montessori for pre-school. Saraf said her son is in his second year and loves it. "The school was so good, no matter where it was I would have sent him," Saraf said.

[snip, snip]

Full story, with brief video narrated by GMS program director and elementary school teacher Radhika Hoshing.

Six photos.


The news release by Elizabeth House
In its 20th year in Allentown
Grace Montessori School celebrates the Earth and dedicates new Labyrinth


Grace Montessori School, located at 814 West Linden Street in Allentown on the edge of the city’s redevelopment area, is pleased to announce the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth, constructed in the school’s outdoor green space, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, May 24, 2013, at 10:30 a.m.  As the school has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this academic year, the exciting new project, built over many weeks during the spring, has just been completed. The dedication and ribbon cutting will be an important part of the school’s annual Celebration of the Earth. Honored guests will be PPL Community Relations Director Don Bernhard, State Senator Pat Browne, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, State Representative Mike Schlossberg, Allentown City Council Member Peter Schweyer, and representatives of CREW LV, which sponsored the labyrinth. The Reverend Beth Reed, priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church (located at 5th and Linden Streets in Allentown), which owns the school, will offer a blessing, and the children of Grace Montessori School will perform a concert of songs honoring the Earth and the environment that sustains all life. Parents, church vestry, board of directors, and members will attend.

The labyrinth, which has been generously donated to the school by the members and friends of CREW LV (Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley Chapter) plus Spillman Farmer Architects along with Joanne Kostecky Garden Designs, will be featured at Greenbuild, the largest sustainability conference and expo in the U.S. presented by the U.S. Green Build Council in Philadelphia in the fall of this year.

More than 30,000 professionals of the green building industry, including environmentally conscious engineers, realtors, architects, and manufacturers will come from across the nation to take part in the conference. The local chapter of the USGBC, the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, asked all organizations and companies within the region to make a pledge in preparation for the conference. The Grace Montessori labyrinth is CREW LV’s contribution to the conference. Material and time to build the project was donated by the members and friends of CREW LV. Volunteers from PPL assisted members of CREW in performing the back-breaking work of digging up sod, laying Belgian block, shoveling mulch and planting wild grasses and herbs. It is a particularly appropriate project for a school such as Grace Montessori, in light of the Montessori philosophy’s emphasis of reverence for the Earth and the environment.

A labyrinth is generally synonymous with a maze, but there is an important difference between the two: a maze refers to a complex branching puzzle with choices in paths and direction; but a labyrinth has usually only a single, non-branching path, and its route is not difficult to navigate. Labyrinths have historically been used for both group and private meditation. The Grace Montessori labyrinth will feature a pathway surrounded by raised boxes containing wild grasses chosen for hardiness and bordered by benches and areas for plantings. According to CREW founding member Rosalin Petrucci, “the labyrinth is composed of sustainable materials. Youngsters will connect with nature through the plantings and grasses, which will change over the seasons.”

The labyrinth will become an integral part of the school, its curriculum and mission. Children will enjoy the benefits of the herbs and vegetables planted in the garden and learn about social interaction through activities within. Their teachers have made presentations to the children about the proper uses of labyrinths. They will appreciate spending quiet time there, walking, imagining, gathering in small groups for storytelling, and tending to the grasses and herbs contained in the space. Children who participate in the primary school’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd will walk the labyrinth in mediation and prayer, and it will also be used by the elementary students as part of their inter-faith chapel class.

Grace Montessori School, located in the heart of the downtown HUD focus and Historic areas, began with the purpose of providing high quality education and child care to children of Allentown’s economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. At the heart of the school’s mission is the goal to maintain a first-rate preschool, kindergarten, and elementary grades (1-5) for children ages 3 to 11 who live in the downtown of the city. While the school attracts children of families of a large variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, and of all economic levels from all over the Lehigh Valley, GMS reserves 30 percent of the enrollment each year for children who are able to attend only because of the financial assistance offered by its scholarship program. The school also offers child care and summer camp programs.

Grace Episcopal Church is a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. It has been known for decades for its many social justice programs, primarily Grace Community Foundation Food Pantry, Grace House, a permanent group residence for previously homeless individuals, and Grace Montessori School. Its outreach efforts also include providing space to the GED Program of the Adult Literacy Center of the Lehigh Valley, IMPACT Project, Inc., which helps first-time juvenile offenders to re-establish good criminal justice records, and North Penn Legal Services, all of whose staff and volunteers provide essential services to the people of the surrounding neighborhoods.

CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women), Lehigh Valley Pa chapter, is the premier real estate organization in the Lehigh Valley and the local chapter of a national organization that is 8,000 members strong. Its members, men and women both, represent every aspect of the commercial real estate industry, including law, leasing, brokerage, property management, finance, construction and more. The organization’s mission is to advance the success of women in commercial real estate.

For more information, contact: Elizabeth H. House, Executive Director, Grace Montessori School, 610-435-4060, or ehhhouse@yahoo.com

Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998)
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Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]


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