Silver anniversaries in the field of education abound this year. Three of them are: MathCounts, a national program designed to increase the skill and enthusiasm of middle school students for mathematics the release of “A Nation at Risk,” a landmark report on the state of education in the United States, and SENG, Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted, a national organization dedicated to helping gifted adults and children understand and accept themselves and help schools and workplaces understand and accept them, with a Web site at

As important as these organizations are, I would like to direct your attention to a local educational institution celebrating its 25th anniversary this year — Stillwater Montessori School of Old Town.

Stillwater Montessori School opened in September 1983 with a full enrollment of 24 students ranging in age from 2? to 6 years. The nonprofit, nonsectarian, private school has an enrollment of 72 and provides a Montessori education for children ages 2? to 13 from 21 communities in Greater Bangor.

Montessori education is based on the work of Maria Montessori. Born in 1870, she was the first woman to graduate from an Italian medical school. As part of her work as a physician, she developed an approach to learning based on her knowledge, skills, and observations of children. She tried her ideas with institutionalized children and children living in the slums of Rome in 1906. Montessori was successful and educators began applying her approach to learning within a more mainstream environment.

You can see her impact today when you walk into a preschool or elementary classroom. Notice the furniture? It is child-size. Today, this is an expectation. When Maria Montessori began working with children it was unheard of. She installed child-size furniture in her classrooms as part of her work creating an environment that would allow children to flourish.

Public schools adopted child-size furniture along with other Montessori tenets. John Dewey’ s theories of education dovetail with Maria Montessori’ s. Both postulated that children learn by doing and that the very act of doing creates learning. Classroom activities such as writer’ s workshops, where children learn to be writers by being authors, are based on these theorists’ work.

The Stillwater Montessori School has been a vital part of Greater Bangor since its inception. It was able to double its size in the third year of operation from one classroom of 24 to two classrooms of 24 each. In 1994, it added an elementary classroom using space leased from the Holy Family Parish in Old Town. The school received national recognition in 1998 when its founder, Joanne Alex, was selected as Maine Teacher of the Year. Alex was the first preschool teacher, first private school teacher, and first Montessori teacher to be awarded this honor in Maine and in the United States, according to the National Teacher of the Year Association. The school expanded in 2001 to include a middle school program that graduated its first eighth-graders in 2003.

When asked about their experiences at Stillwater Montessori School, parents, teachers and former students I communicated with offered high praise.

“Stillwater Montessori School is so much more than a school,” wrote Stephanie Parlee, a parent of two students, in an e-mail. “It is a community that has embraced our family. The staff are committed to both the intellectual and social growth of our two boys. We are truly thankful to have the support and encouragement of all SMS teachers on an ongoing basis. I cannot count the number of times I have felt blessed to have our boys in their care. I am always pleasantly surprised to hear the vast array of knowledge my children are learning.”

Kathy Johnston is an assistant teacher at Montessori and parent of a student. “It has been an amazing journey to be part of Stillwater Montessori School,” she wrote. “Here, everyone has the opportunity to have hands-on experience with the continents, the countries and cultures that make up the world. It has been awesome to watch the children evolve from their egocentric selves into world citizens. The children gain an understanding of our world and of the many similarities between us. The children have gained skills in patience and compassion exposing the beautiful peacemaker within them. Here at Stillwater Montessori School, the children experience an education that will not only serve them but the world!”

A former student, Carl fondly remembers a school event called Culture Fest, especially the year he learned about Micronesia. He also recalls performing in “HMS Pinafore,” building a computer, participating on the chess team, taking care of ChinChin the chinchilla, and attending Conservation Camp.

Any child is eligible to be admitted to SMS. There is a parent-child interview process. The cost is $5,050 a year for primary classes, and $6,050 for elementary, according to Joe Alex, director and co-founder of the school.

To commemorate its 25th anniversary, the Stillwater Montessori School has taken on two major fundraisers. The first is to raise $25,000 for the scholarship fund and the second is to raise $25,000 for new playground equipment. One of several fundraisers will be held this weekend. You and your family are invited to attend the 25th Anniversary Children’ s Fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the Holy Family Parish on Brunswick Street in Old Town. Adult admission is $5, children will be admitted free. Children’ s games, food, a silent auction, and a kayak raffle will be part of the day’ s festivities. Another opportunity to celebrate with the Stillwater Montessori School will be at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 7, when a “peace pole” will be dedicated, hopefully along with a new playground.

If you want more information about the fundraisers, Stillwater Montessori School, or Montessori education, please contact Joe Alex at 827-2404. Joe will be glad to answer your questions.

What educational anniversaries are you celebrating this year? How do you mark these important dates? E-mail me at