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Hawaii NewsIncidental Lives

Islander schools instructors on Montessori-style teaching

Michael Tsai
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Jerry Richmond

Whether in impoverished areas of Cebu or Nairobi or on the crisply manicured grounds of Chaminade University in Kaimuki, Jerry Richmond understands well the instructive power of her immediate physical and cultural environments.

Each summer, Richmond and a team of like-minded colleagues share this critical understanding with early-education teachers from across the U.S. and around the world through the Montessori Summer Institute.

For Richmond the institute has been an effective vehicle for helping children around the world through the methods and philosophy of Italian educator Maria Montessori, whose holistic approach to education Richmond sees as especially relevant today.

"I really worry about children and their lack of freedom in the world today," Richmond says. "Children really need to be grounded in who they are early. They try to absorb the world — both the physical world and their cultural environment. That’s what makes them feel secure. But we’re losing that."

Richmond’s introduction to the Montessori approach dates to 1966, when she and her husband, Henry, lived in the Philippines. Henry was working for a private foundation that provided grants for rice production. Richmond was volunteering at a local orphanage but was growing frustrated "seeing those children just sitting in an empty sandbox."

That changed when Richmond met a woman at a luncheon who had traveled to Italy to learn the Montessori Method. Through her Richmond learned how teachers could help children teach themselves by using their own language, culture and natural environment as guides.

Richmond would later use those skills to establish Montessori-based programs back in her native Hawaii. Now, as the driving force behind the Montessori Summer Institute at Chaminade, Richmond helps teachers from the mainland, Japan, Kenya, India, the Philippines, Mexico and elsewhere re-imagine the environments in which their students learn.

Every other summer, students gather on Oahu for two weeks of intensive training, learning how to formulate stimulating lessons from a trip to a tide pool or the gathering of elephant ear pods. In intervening summers, return students travel with Richmond to Kenya or the Philippines to help train local educators.

"For me that’s where it all comes full circle," Richmond says. "I feel that I’m in sitting in the perfect place and time to help expand people’s vision about what we can do to help children feel comfortable with themselves, to care for other people and to look at the environment respectfully and responsibly."

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