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.

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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)
newSpin blog, Email (c)610-393-1833
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]



Montessori School in Allentown celebrates 20 years of diversity

The Morning Call
Jan. 12, 2013
By Libby House

Did you know Maria Montessori's first classroom, Casa del Bambini (House of Children), was founded in 1907 in a tenement in Rome? The first Italian woman to receive a medical degree, Montessori started her school with 50 poor children living in a slum and successfully taught them, using her method based on the belief that each child has within his or her own potential that can be developed fully when allowed to work independently, with great educational materials and help from highly trained teachers. News of her school quickly spread throughout the world, as did the highly respected Montessori Method.

While most people think of Montessori schools as located in leafy suburban locales or cosmopolitan areas, did you know that a very successful Montessori School has been operating in inner-city Allentown for the past 20 years? A Montessori School in downtown, drawing families with children from all over the Lehigh Valley?

It may seem an oddity, but Grace Montessori School, on Linden Street between Eighth and Ninth streets, in the ground floor of the former Hess Brothers parking garage, is in a beautifully renovated state-of-the-art facility. It is alive, well and happily teaching approximately 100 children (ages 3 to 11) each year from Allentown, Bethlehem and the surrounding areas.

I am thrilled to be the director of this remarkable school, which many didn't think would stand a chance if we followed the dream of Maria Montessori, educating poor children so they may achieve their highest potential. But we did, and the school has thrived.

It was founded by Cathy Constantin Reid in 1992 to meet the need for excellent preschool education for children whose families were clients of the Grace Episcopal Church Food Pantry. From the start the school provided scholarships for children whose families could not otherwise give them a Montessori education.

The mission became to reserve 30 percent of the enrollment for children from economically disadvantaged families. The intention was never for an exclusive school, but an inclusive one that would bring in children from all socio-economic, cultural, religious and ethnic groups to learn and play together.

After getting over the initial surprise that a Montessori school had chosen an urban location, suburban parents came and saw the beautiful classrooms consisting of high-quality Montessori materials and furniture, all under the loving and careful supervision of Montessori-certified teachers. And they enrolled their children by the scores. Winning over these parents came quickly once the school's reputation for excellent early childhood education had been established.

But after an initial gift from an anonymous donor to the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem, the questions became: Who will provide the money for all those scholarships? Where will we find the grants? What kind of fundraising can we do so that parents who can afford to send their children to our school do not end up paying higher tuition to underwrite parents lacking income needed to pay for the costs?

That called for a development program that includes grants from Allentown and local foundations, money from companies and individual sponsors, and an annual scholarship benefit auction held by the parents. When parents decide to enroll their children at Grace Montessori School, they demonstrate their willingness to buy into not only the Montessori philosophy but also into the church's inner-city mission for social justice and serving the poor.

The city has provided grants, and foundations such as Harry C. Trexler Trust, Century Fund, Keystone Nazareth Charitable Foundation, The Rider-Pool Foundation, Charles H. Hoch Foundation, Holt Foundation, Just Born, and Talbot Hall Fund have provided support. This year the school became an Opportunity Scholarship Organization, so that companies can funnel some of their state tax money to the school. And our parents worked hard and raised $20,000 for scholarships last spring, while thoroughly enjoying themselves at their auction benefit held at the Allentown BrewWorks.

I'm looking forward to this 20th anniversary year of celebration, including Heritage Day from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, when our families revel in the school's amazing diversity — a mini-Unit Nations — and climaxing in the dedication of a beautiful, new labyrinth to be completed in spring, a gift from Commercial Real Estate Women, Lehigh Valley. I invite you to come and visit our unique and welcoming school.

Libby House is executive director of Grace Montessori School in Allentown.


To promote Allentown and benefit Grace Montessori School

A project –– traditional and fine art photos taken within Allentown by aspiring local artists –– sponsored by Dan’s Camera, Allentown Brew Works, The Morning Call, and Nikon Cameras will benefit Allentown and Grace Montessori School. GMS, an outreach ministry of Grace Church Allentown which provides scholarships to 30% of its student body, including inner-city children, was selected by a group of local businesses and Mike Woodland, co-owner of Dan’s Camera City in Allentown, to receive a substantial donation from a project designed to promote Allentown and a specific non-profit organization.

Throughout the summer and fall, Dan’s Camera City, described in the NYTimes as "one of he most innovative camera stores in the country," had offered three six-week photo journaling classes for which the primary subject was the City of Allentown. Approximately 45 students took photographs and met with their instructor to create photographic stories of Allentown while improving their camera skills.

Products featuring the photos of Allentown donated by the students have been created by Dan’s Camera City and will be offered for sale in the community. The products include a hard cover book, a 2010 calendar, note cards and framed photos. Depending on the specific product, GMS will receive 30 to 50 percent of the sales price. Dan's Camera City has produced and is providing these at cost.

The Morning Call and the Brew Works and Grace Church are providing publicity and hospitality for various aspects of the project. Nikon is donating five SLR cameras to GMS.

A password-protected website will be made available for GMS parents. The site will contain many candid shots of the students and the school of particular interest to parents. Those shots are not featured among the other products.


Identity and Diversity at Grace Montessori School

Identity and Diversity
By Libby House, Executive Director
Grace Montessori School, Allentown

In a book titled Learning from School Choice, authors Peterson and Hassel make the observation, “Stronger self-esteem produced by strong identity is associated with greater tolerance for others.” It is interesting that these three characteristics are so closely related and so mutually reinforcing.
 
Both the Montessori Method and the Episcopal Church of America embrace and celebrate diversity andpromote tolerance and inclusion. The principles of both Dr. Maria Montessori and Grace Episcopal Church, as a part of The Episcopal Church, are at the heart of Grace Montessori School where those beliefs play out each day as our classrooms serve as models for inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance, for respect of the individual child and development of self-esteem and self-identity.

Continue reading "Identity and Diversity at Grace Montessori School" »


Palms and Ashes at Grace Montessori School

From The Morning Call, Feb. 1, 2008

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Allentown -- At Grace Episcopal Church's Grace Montessori School Thursday, January 31, Father Pat Malloy burns palms for kids in 1st and 2nd grade. The group burned palms from the previous Palm Sunday and made the ashes that will be used on Ash Wednesday. This is a centuries-old tradition, but it is the first time kids at this school did this. (DON FISHER/TMC / February 1, 2008)

Click on the photo to view a larger image.


The Spirit of God stirs still over the chaos

This neighborhood is full of people living in chaos. The other day as I walked to work down Linden Street from 10th to 5th, at 10:00 in the morning, a bar room was open for business between 8th and 7th, and every stool had someone sitting on it.

I have nothing against drinking. Not a day passes when I do not go home from work and have a drink myself. But there's something startling about seeing people bellied up to a bar for a shot and a beer when in my world they should be at Starbucks having a latte.

Continue reading "The Spirit of God stirs still over the chaos" »


A First in the Lehigh Valley and the Diocese of Bethlehem

On Sunday,September 10, Grace Episcopal Church, Allentown, will dedicate the new elementary program of Grace Montessori School, the only elementary Montessori program in the Lehigh Valley and the first Episcopal grade school in the Diocese of Bethlehem. The school's dedication marks a momentous event in the educational life of the region.

The dedication will feature letters of commendation from Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Bishop Paul Marshall of the Diocese of Bethlehem, and the Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Download the news release below.

Download gms_dedication.News Release.pdf