Photo Credit: Cari Faye Photography

Maria Montessori didn’t intend to change the world. Her goals, while lofty, were not intended to shape an entire educational landscape. She never wanted to be featured on Italian bank notes or have schools or curriculums named after her. When Montessori graduated from Regio Istituto Tecnico Leonardo da Vinci in 1890, at the age of 20, she just wanted to help people, no matter the cost.

The cost, she would soon find out, was great. Because of the cultural norms of the time, women were not expected, nor encouraged, to pursue fields that were deemed “inappropriate” for women. Unfortunately for Montessori, pursuing a degree in medicine was one of those “inappropriate” fields.

She didn’t care.

Montessori enrolled in the University of Rome, despite objections from Guido Baccelli, the professor of clinical medicine at the school. She was met with anger, judgment and sneers from her classmates and professors, all of them males. She was forced to study cadavers alone, after hours, because studying a male body in the presence of other males during regular class times was, again, “inappropriate.”

Nevertheless, she persisted.

She graduated, with honors, in 1896 as a doctor of medicine. Her thesis was published in the medical journal Policlinico and she started a private practice in 1897.

Through it all, though, she never intended to be the face of an entirely new way of teaching. But that’s exactly what she became.

Montessori was always interested in the way children thought, felt and acted. It was this interest that led to her working with mentally disabled children for a time, before focusing her studies on children with learning disabilities. Her background in medicine and science allowed her to study children with an objective, scientific method. Through this method, she realized a few key behaviors in children.

She noticed that the children she was studying in a classroom experienced episodes of deep attention and concentration. She also noticed that they responded well to multiple repetitions of activity and had a vast sensitivity to order in the environment.

Based on these observations, Montessori developed a curriculum and a number of practices that would highlight the interests, both educationally and personally, of children. She had no idea that, in the 100 years since her observations, more than 7,000 schools worldwide would adapt her philosophy and implement her ideas. She also couldn’t have known that these schools would take their namesake from her, calling themselves Montessori Schools. She most assuredly didn’t know that, right in the heart of Downtown Casper, one of her schools would be building a brighter future for the children of Casper, Wyoming.

Cari Faye Photography

You walk through the front door after ringing the doorbell. You’re let in by the school administrator and you’re led through an area that serves as a lobby, and just a general gathering place. When you arrive at one of the two classroom doors, you open it to a world of pure imagination.

You would think that a classroom of children, aged 3–6 years old, would be loud, rambunctious and high-energy. And while the energy is there, the loudness is not. Children of different ages and backgrounds are quietly working on their present task. Some are focusing on reading and writing. Others are working with numbers. Others, still, are drawing. These seem like menial tasks; something you would see in any classroom across the world. But here, it’s different.

You’re reminded just how different this place is when a child walks up to you and takes you to your seat to “observe.” She offers you a cup of tea. And then, you watch. You study. You observe.

This is what you see:

You see beautiful painted walls of all different muted, calm, colors. You see covers over the fluorescent lights. You see irons and ironing boards, sinks and dishes that are put away, stacked perfectly on top of each other. You see plants growing and thriving. And, most importantly, you see them — children who are also growing and thriving…and learning and laughing and sharing and giving and building the foundation upon which they will stand for the rest of their lives.

Cari Faye Photography

Don’t call them teachers. They’re guides. That’s what Debbi Savini says the adults working at The Montessori School in Casper want to be called.

“We prefer to be called guides because, technically, that’s what we’re doing,” Savini stated. “A guide is someone who shows what is possible for someone, and gives them a lesson and shows them how to use a piece of material, and then they use it on their own so that they can incarnate what it has to offer them. Teaching is kind of a misnomer. I’m not sure that really ever happens. People have to learn on their own.”

And so, that is what these children do. They learn. They play. They laugh. They ask questions. They find answers. This place, The Montessori School of Casper, is so much more than just a classroom. It’s a place for children to find out who they are. It’s where they find out what their interests are; where they find success and where they face challenges. It’s a place that doesn’t just teach “the basics.” The Montessori School of Casper is a place where children take those first steps towards the rest of their lives.

“Montessori said that education is a pathway to life,” Savini shared. “It’s something that helps you figure out how to live your life and how to help others; how to be a contributor to society. And that’s what education is really about.”

The Montessori School of Casper was opened in 1975 by a group of dedicated parents who were inspired by what Dr. Montessori created. For 48 years, this school has operated under a different set of guidelines, procedures and measures of success.

“Montessori education is comprehensive education starting with understanding that the child is driven from the earliest moments of life to construct oneself,” a description of the school reads. “This construction of mind and body is formed by spontaneous interactions within his/her environment.”

The presentation states that Dr. Montessori had no preconceived notions regarding how to help the development of a child. She just…observed.

Savini began working for the Montessori School of Casper 42 years ago, after working for the Austin Montessori School in Texas. She first heard about the school when she was pregnant with her own children, and she was so fascinated by the process and the ideas behind the school that she chose to become a guide herself.

Similarly, Ashley Barnard, another guide, began working at The Montessori School of Casper after serving as a nanny for a local family. She served as a classroom assistant until she became pregnant. When she had her child, she took a few years off to be a mother. But then she returned to the school to work alongside Debbi as her assistant for three years before becoming a guide herself. The Montessori School of Casper sponsored Barnard’s education, sending her to the Montessori Institute of North Texas, where she trained to become a Primary Guide.

The two women both have their own classroom, each filled with students from 3 years old to 6 years old. The older children, in many cases, serve as examples for the younger ones. They also have a toddler program, which serves children aged 15 months to 3 years old. The waitlist for that program is a long one, because parents know just how much good The Montessori School can do for their children during their most pivotal ages.

Dawn Kropatsch, the Administrator for The Montessori School of Casper, said that she is constantly amazed by what goes on inside of that Downtown Casper building.

“The program really focuses on independence; teaching the child to be independent and responsible for their own choices in the classroom,” Kropatsch stated.

Kropatsch was not always the school’s administrator, however. When she first became involved with Montessori of Casper, she was just a mom.

“Both of my daughters went to school here, and they thrived,” she said. “This was a great experience for both of them. And I just know from my own experience that it’s given my children a foundation of knowledge that they’ve continued to build on and it’s just set them that far ahead for their whole life.”

A typical day in the life of a Montessori student is as follows:

“Children come in and they take care of their own things,” Barnard stated. “Everything is very independent here. So they come in and they put their lunch boxes away. They hang up their backpacks, their coats; they change their shoes from outside shoes to inside shoes. Debbi and I choose to start our mornings with a morning gathering in our classrooms, where we sit together and maybe talk about some announcements. The children share things about their weekend, or the day before, or anything like that. We call it a gathering and we shake hands in the morning and say good morning to each other. Sometimes we sing songs. Sometimes we read a book.”

It’s all very…calm. Children and guides are not screaming over each other. Instructions are given quietly, gently. Children in these rooms have been taught how to listen, really listen; whether it’s to a guide or to a fellow student.

“Then, we work for a three-hour cycle,” Barnard continued. “They choose to work independently as the guide goes about and gives lessons for three hours.”

Guides aren’t presenting one subject at one time to the whole class. There isn’t a math hour, an English hour, a science hour. The guides at Montessori realize that no one child learns in the exact same way, so they don’t teach — they don’t guide — in the exact same way.

After that three-hour block, they’ll do another gathering. Whether it’s singing more songs, reciting more poems or just talking about their days, their lives. It depends on the children’s moods.

Following that, they play outside for a while and then they have lunch.

“Our lunch is really beautiful,” Barnard shared. “The children set up for lunch on tables that are their size. They have tablecloths and pitchers and glasses and silverware and they make it all very pretty. And the kiddos who set up lunch get to decide who sits where. It’s kind of a rite of passage.”

The lunch setup, like many of the activities at the Montessori School, are designed to prepare these kiddos for life outside of the classroom. The school has ironing boards, so children can learn how to iron clothes. There are sinks and they do their own dishes. There are so many different areas that prepare children for “real life.”

“One of the big things we teach in our classrooms are practical life skills,” Barnard said. “Those are all the things that you’re going to do in your daily life. Those are things like pouring, scrubbing, sweeping, spooning, food prep — all of those kinds of things. Dressing frames, learning how to zip and how to tie, and more. Sensorial is a huge part of our classroom. It’s kind of like the center that pulls everything together. They’re learning with their senses.”

They see, hear, smell, touch and taste. And they do it all with guides who don’t treat them simply as children; they treat them as smaller human beings — ones with the same emotional complexities that the rest of us have.

“At this age, between 0 and 6, they’re laying a foundation for the rest of their lives and the things that they learn at this age, they will continue for the rest of their lives,” Savini said. “If they can go off and get themselves dressed, they won’t have to rely on somebody else. If they can bake bread at this age, they don’t rely on somebody else to do it. If they go off and read a book at this age, then they’re always going to look for a book.”

Even more than teaching children how to get dressed on their own and bake their own bread, The Montessori School of Casper is teaching children how to interact with each other and discover themselves.

Kropatsch stated that one of the misconceptions about The Montessori School of Casper is that it’s “too expensive” for some families. But, she said, the Montessori School provides scholarship packages for those who qualify.

“I think we’re lucky in Casper,” Savini added. “In many cities, it’s a lot more expensive to send your children to Montessori or any other private school. But here, it’s pretty comparable to daycares…which we are not at all.”

The education that children receive at The Montessori School of Casper is priceless. It’s something that provides building blocks for the rest of their lives. Not just in how they learn, but in how they interact with others.

“I think our school is great to have in the community because it teaches children at such a young age how to not only live and work in a community, but how to thrive in a community,” Kropatsch stated. “It starts right here in the classroom. They learn how to interact with their peers while they’re working and navigating throughout their day. And it just creates this foundation that’s going to stick with them the rest of their lives.”

Kropatsch said that she wants all of Casper to know about The Montessori School.

“I was working with our accountant one evening, and she said ‘Montessori is like the best kept secret in Casper,'” Kropatsch said. “And I said, ‘I don’t want to be a secret! I want everyone to know about us.'”

When asked what the biggest reason for her wanting to work with children at Montessori is, Savini said, “To be honest with you, when I first got into Montessori, the thing that appealed to me was [her] idea of cosmic education. She had a view that human beings, if they’re given the opportunity to help out their fellow man now, they’ll do it forever.”

And shouldn’t that be the point of school? Many students will not remember math equations or specific dates or homophones, but if they’re learning how to solve life issues by themselves right now, they’ll know how to do it forever. If they are developing a kindness in their hearts while helping a friend tie their shoes right now, they’ll keep that kindness for the rest of their lives.

Each and every day is a new opportunity for these kiddos to find out who they are; it’s a chance to learn about the world and their place in it. It’s a chance to prepare themselves for the rest of their lives.

Dr. Maria Montessori valued the importance of a good education; she had one of the best, in fact. But she knew, even in the 1800s, that it was the character and the integrity of a person that mattered most and she worked tirelessly and thanklessly to give children an opportunity to develop those attributes at an early age. They’re able to do that at The Montessori School of Casper.

For more information on the Montessori School of Casper, visit its website or to request more information, you can email The school will be holding a “Prospective Parent Night” on Monday, June 12, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at The Montessori School of Casper.

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