Montevideo community rallies to support rural Montessori school

·3 min read

Sep. 5—MONTEVIDEO

— Koreen Drexler Thompson opened the Wildwood Montessori School in her home in Montevideo more than six years ago in hopes of providing children with the education that can help them become thoughtful, committed citizens able to change the world.

Thanks to a whole lot of committed adults in Montevideo, that opportunity remains, but now exists in a much bigger way.

The Wildwood Montessori School in Montevideo celebrated its successful transition from a home-based to center-based educational facility on Aug. 31, 2022. The celebration — held on the birthdate of the late Maria Montessori — was only possible because the community had rallied to help the school raise $120,000 to secure its future.

"There were times last year where I laid awake at night and worried how we were going to raise the money to make this move to this space," said Patrick Moore, a member of the Wildwood Montessori board of directors. "How were we going to expand from family-sized child care to a child care center?"

The school needed to find a new home when Koreen and her husband, Erle, moved out of the country and could no longer offer their home for the school more than a year ago.

The answer to Moore's question came from the Zenk family and family member Pam Baukol.

The family converted the Montevideo Family Dentistry office on the city's east side into a spacious facility for child care and education. Along with developing the building for the needs of the school, the family has offered what Moore described as a "sweetheart deal" of a lease to help it succeed.

But even with that help, the school needed to raise funds to equip it and make its operations sustainable.

A Montevideo business owner anonymously offered a $40,000 contribution, provided it was matched by contributions from individuals in the community. It was matched and exceeded, and last week the donor's anonymity was busted for the sake of recognizing the importance of that initial contribution.

The contribution was offered in memory of Lois Hein, and it should only be her name that is honored on the wall of contributors at the school, said her surviving husband, Keith. The founder of Hein, Theobald and Associations, Hein made his contribution through the Eagles Wings Foundation fund administered by the Montevideo Foundation and Southwest Initiative Foundation.

Hein told those joining for the school's celebration that he was motivated to help the school by having witnessed how a Montessori education can benefit children. His late wife's brother and family had children in a Montessori school. Hein said he watched them blossom, thanks to the education they received.

Hein's donation — and those of community members — were joined by grants from a variety of foundations and organizations, including the City of Montevideo and the Montevideo EDA and Development Corporation.

The Wildwood Montessori School is one of a very few Montessori schools in a rural community. Its ability to make the transition to a center and survive is a credit "to some people who just didn't give up," said board member Pam Saeger.

"We just feel so lucky to have Wildwood here in Montevideo, and have this opportunity for the students and for the families," said Katie Pieh, the school's director.

Pieh is among six full-time staff members serving 34 enrolled students, ages six months to 6 years.

Providing a Montessori education can be challenging, Pieh admitted, but she was quick to answer when asked what the rewards are for her. "Seeing the children grow in independence and know that I am able to create an environment where they can be enjoying themselves while learning," she said, is what makes it all worth it.