Crossway Montessori Community is an authentic birth to six Family Community Center that serves the whole family through a variety of co-located services with on site family and teacher housing in 37 apartments on campus and an intergenerational learning and community center with a Montessori school for children from birth to six years and their families. Maria Montessori’s theory of human development and the application of that theory through her pedagogy is the foundation of Crossway’s approach to family and community development as a tool for social change.
Crossway Montessori Community is an authentic birth to six Montessori Family Community Center that serves the whole family and community through a variety of services including on site family and teacher housing (37 apartments) an intergenerational learning and community center and traditional Montessori programs for children and families prenatally through six years.
Located in suburban Washington, DC, Crossway began in 1992 as an intervention for single mothers and their very young children. A unique blend of housing and education, the Crossway “campus” is a former elementary school that is now home to 37 teachers and families, a school, and community center.
“What we’re really implementing here” explains founder and Executive Director Kathleen Guinan, “is an asset-based, family support model.” Initially, childcare was a minor player in the model; a necessary “service” to enable the mothers to engage in educational and therapeutic activities. Montessori philosophy arrived several years into the initiative with the arrival of Ann Byrne, a Montessori educator with extensive community and family outreach experience.
“We were running a well-regarded pre-school model,” explains Guinan. “And it was chaotic; children crying, acting out, adults trying to control them.” Byrne convinced Guinan to try Montessori in one of the classrooms. “In the less than a month, it was a totally different story.” Children learned to concentrate, and therefore redirected their energy to “work.” “Everything calmed down,” Guinan notes. Just as important, the families noticed the change in their children, and began to pay closer attention to what was going on in those classrooms. Once Guinan witnessed the impact of Montessori learning and teaching, she quickly embraced its theory and practice as a driver for the entire organization. Through her observation of children, families and the community, she asked the families what they needed to be successful and they too embraced the philosophy of Maria Montessori as a tool for social change.
The families who come to Crossway represent vastly different social and economic circumstances, but all have encountered challenges that have left them vulnerable. Crossway’s aim is to assist all families in transforming their lives. In many cases, that means breaking generational cycles of poverty, substance abuse, violence, and familial dysfunction. In other cases it means a welcoming, prepared adult who greets everyone. Transformation, according to Guinan, starts with fundamentally understanding the family as an emotional system. It also means an acknowledgement of the learning that takes place across the generations.
Blending housing, early education, and comprehensive family supports (including wellness, life skills, and workforce training), Crossway measures its success on outcomes for both families and children. After three years of residence at Crossway, 85% of families retain employment, maintain households without public assistance, and report no issues with substance abuse.
Crossway’s operating vision is extraordinarily ambitious. Catalyzing change from the inside out – Montessori theory and practice infuse every aspect of the organization – from the design and maintenance of the campus to an emphatic focus on practical life to an integrated vision of work as the path to lasting prosperity.