AFTER starting Port Elizabeth's first Montessori school with only seven pupils 18 years ago, passionate principal Samantha Streak is ready to take the school to new heights, with a high school planned for 2015.
Providing an alternative option for education with a high school that is not solely focused on academic performance, but rather on intellectual and emotional independence, Streak wants to fulfil the Montessori vision of a continuum of education from birth to adulthood.
Streak decided to start the Port Elizabeth Montessori School after she fell in love with Montessori learning while working as an au pair in Miami.
"I always wanted to be a teacher and I knew I wanted to teach in a different way. I thought I would teach special needs children.
"The boy I was looking after was at a Montessori school in Miami and I thought it was so fantastic.
"I started training to be a Montessori teacher the day after I landed back in South Africa," Streak said.
She described Montessori learning as "allowing the human to be present".
"Our philosophy is that education should be an aid to life...We don't feel that written exams is authentic learning. Rather, authentic learning comes through continuous assessment and individualised tests."
When she started the school the public were sceptical, she said. regarding it as "new age scary stuff". She first started with a pre-school, but it soon grew and she decided to open a primary school in 1998, adding the levels each year until it reached Grade 7.
The primary school now boasts 110 pupils and it is the only Montessori primary school in the Eastern Cape.
Following several calls to expand the school, Streak eventually decided to consider growing the primary school and a new building in Villiers Road, Walmer was purchased. The pre-school pupils will remain at the Prospect Road campus and the school will open a new infant/ toddler group for children aged 18 months to three years.
"The primary classes, six- to 12-year-olds, will be at our Villiers Road campus and it is our intention to work towards opening a formal high school class by January 2015.
"For this project, we have the unequivocal support of the Montessori Lyceum in Amsterdam – which was the first Montessori high school established, in 1929.
"While an alternative option for high school is not everyone's choice, the time has come to offer it. Not because our children don't do well in the system but because, increasingly, the focus in mainstream high schools is purely on academic performance and this means the whole child that we nurture so carefully for so many years is being lost.
"This saddens us and we feel the time is right to explore offering more, for longer."
She said she would spend the next two years formalising the logistics and working with the Department of Education on the plans for the high school.
While there were traditional parents who still frowned upon Montessori learning, Streak said there were several high schools that welcomed pupils from her school.
"We have a strong work ethic...The last time we checked, 80% of our children who moved on to public and private high schools were in the top 20 of their classes.
"They struggle with the short lessons at first and the impersonal relationships with their teachers, but they adjust easier because they are more independent."
Streak is one of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber's Top 40 under-40 nominees.