In 2017, after having worked close to thirty years in wonderful private schools, Patricia Wills decided to commit to an initiative that enables children in challenging economic situations to receive the same quality of education. Fundación Quinta Carmelita (La Quinta, Mexico) is an orphanage, a private non-profit organisation dedicated to restoring the child's right to a loving family. The children in their care have been subject to neglect, abuse, abandonment and often were living on the streets of Mexico City.
By Patricia Wills
I had known and indirectly been in contact with Fundación Quinta Carmelita for more than 19 years, before starting work with them in 2017. In that year I took some Montessori materials with me to work with children at the elementary level and children at the infant community age. The children from La Quinta used to attend a traditional school and the work I did with them was to try and offer a different approach to what they were learning in school, and, in the short period of time they were with me, trying to best meet their needs.
Research will often report that the development of children in institutions can be six months “slower” when compared to children growing up in a family environment. Working with these children I realised that once they enter a traditional school, the opportunities to get the kind of support that meets their development process is minimal. This is when I began thinking of getting a scholarship to enroll the two little children I was working with into a Montessori environment. They were about to turn three, but their development was that of a child a year and a half old.
I began searching for a Montessori school near the orphanage and found CEMAC (Comunidad Educativa Montessori A.C). The school's principal showed great interest in supporting my idea, and invited me to pay what I could for the children and use their classrooms in the afternoon to work with all the children from the orphanage. I declined the second suggestion, as I thought the children really needed to socialise with children coming from different backgrounds and not only with the children they lived with in the orphanage. Before walking out the door, I received a phone call from la Quinta, telling me that a third child who could attend the Children’s House had just arrived. The principal immediately went along with this change, so we ended up paying one tuition fee for three children!
We still wanted to have an opportunity to work with the rest of the children at la Quinta, so we explored other options and adopted the following avenue: I would work for the school, we would open another Children's House environment and up to 20 children from the orphanage could attend classes at the school with more than 70% scholarship, as of the 2017-2018 school year. Beginning with children at preschool level, we now have children also attending the elementary level. Working with different institutions we have been able to pay the corresponding part of the tuition and buy the materials the children need to attend the school. More than 50 children have benefited from the programme so far.
The response from the school community has been wonderful. The Montessori directresses who work with the children have all the patience and love of the world, understanding the emotional difficulties the children face, the delay in their development, the lack of interest they may show when they first arrive, and even the anger they have inside. The community is ready to help in buying things that they may need, like lunchboxes and by sending cakes to celebrate birthdays with their classmates, as children with families do. The children are well integrated in the activities and are invited to parties outside of the school as well. It is so empowering to see them arrive at school in their van, with a big smile.
We are hoping to increase the number of children supported with an education in Montessori environments, and are exploring different alternatives, including reaching an agreement with the government to create a Montessori school for children in other orphanages, and creating a private school that would provide opportunities for orphans and children with economic difficulties in the community.
What we want the most is to transmit the message that children with disadvantages are much better served with an education and care that meets them where they are and not where they should be according to their age. Better served with an education that supports their full development and not only zooms in on academic achievement. Better served with an education that will pay attention to their individual needs.