The Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School

by Hans DePold, town historian
(Published in the Bolton Community News, December 2004)

Maria Montessori, born in 1870 in Chiaravalle, Italy, became Italy's first female doctor in 1896. She believed that one does not teach children, but rather creates a nurturing climate in which children can teach themselves through creative activity and exploration. She visited the U.S. in 1913 and impressed Alexander Graham Bell, who founded the Montessori Education Association in his Washington, D.C. home. She counted Thomas Edison and Helen Keller among her friends.

In 1898, Rev. William McGurk bought property at Bolton Center for his mother to run a summer home for girls with respiratory problems. During the warm months, Catholic Mass was held there every Sunday. By 1938, a larger chapel was needed because many town folk were attending as well. The chapel was elevated to the status of a station, and named St. Maurice. In 1950 the chapel was winterized and a permanent Catholic congregation began to grow in Bolton. By 1954, the Most Rev. Bernard Flanagan, first bishop of Norwich, raised St. Maurice to the status of parish and the Rev. J. Ralph Kelly became its first pastor. Due to its rapid growth, ground was broken for a new church in 1956.

Bolton then purchased the chapel property, and in 1957 overwhelmingly voted to let it be used as the Bolton Public Library. The American Montessori Society was founded in 1960 as a nonprofit education society. The Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School opened in Tolland in 1964 and later moved to Bolton, renting space at St. George's Episcopal Church before finally settling at 212 Bolton Center Road. This year the Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School has been in existence for 40 years.

Not only do the Bolton public schools rate with the best of the Connecticut private schools, Bolton also has a grades Pre-K and Kindergarten Montessori School. Part of what is special about Bolton's Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School is its philosophy of learning, which has proven timeless and has spread throughout the world like a steady and shining beacon of light in education. The best schools don't teach so much as they show their students how to learn for themselves. It isn't just the low student teacher ratio but rather the learning that occurs in an inquiring, cooperative, nurturing atmosphere that makes the Montessori school special. Montessori students increase their own knowledge through self- and teacher-initiated experiences. Maria Montessori recognized that students learn through the senses by manipulating materials and interacting with others. These meaningful experiences were recognized as precursors to the abstract understanding of ideas.

At the Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School, the physical, emotional, social, aesthetic, spiritual, and cognitive needs and interests of the children are considered inseparable and equally important. They reinforce respect and caring attitudes for oneself, others, the environment, and all life.

The Montessori teacher has to have special skills to observe and to match students' unique developmental needs with materials and activities. Teachers use an array of learning materials and activities to create a responsive, culturally relevant learning environment. They also provide classroom leadership skills that foster the nurturing environment that is physically and psychologically supportive of learning.

The Bolton Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School builds a partnership with each child's family. The family is considered an integral part of the child's total development. Taken together this Bolton preschool education provides a diverse set of experiences which foster physical, intellectual, creative and social independence. The children leave with increased skills in social interaction, cooperative learning, and emotional development.

Rev. William McGurk first bought that property at Bolton Center to help children. From that start, St. Maurice blossomed and grew. Later, on that same ground, the seeds of today's Bentley Memorial Library were sown. Today, Bolton's Hans Christian Andersen Montessori School stands there as a reminder to us that children are unique and our most precious resource.