Montessori flourishes with new school
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
The Pioneer Montessori School in Ketchum
continues to grow and expand since it began an elementary program three years
ago. The board of directors also recently hired Ann McAlpin as the new head of
the school. McAlpin is a veteran of the Montessori education process, having
received her teaching certification in Bergamo, Italy, in 1972.
McAlpin founded the Snowmass Montessori
School in Colorado in the early 1970s. From 1973 to 1976, she helped establish
the elementary program at the Santa Rosa Montessori School in California. She
taught in Ogden, Utah, and the Toronto Montessori School in Canada. She was a
consultant to the Hilltop Montessori School and taught at the Montessori
Children’s House, both in New Jersey. These are just a few affiliations among
The Pioneer Montessori School, on Second
Street in Ketchum, opened its doors in 1981. It’s a private, nonprofit school
that teaches the methods developed by Italian educator Dr. Maria Montessori over
90 years ago. Her approach maintains that education is a natural process and
should be based on the developmental stages of growth of the child. "You follow
the child," McAlpin explained.
Her interest in the process began when her
own daughter was 2 years old and the family lived in Aspen, where she was a ski
"I read Maria Montessori’s book, ‘The
Absorbent Mind.’ It touched my soul. I knew I wanted that kind of education for
my daughter," McAlpin said.
Hiring a preschool teacher wasn’t a
problem, she remembered, but once at elementary school level there was nowhere
for her daughter or the other Montessori educated youngsters to go. Which is why
McAlpin went to Italy and trained to teach at the elementary level.
"That was sort of the beginning," she
said. "No matter what, I was going for this education."
Since leaving her 120-acre horse farm in
southern New Jersey, McAlpin had been on the road for the past few years,
traveling with her late mother. On the farm she was a thoroughbred horse breeder
and trainer. Horses remain her biggest passion along with education and skiing.
McAlpin taught skiing for
years--everywhere from Vail, to Aspen, to Jackson Hole. However, she’d never
been to Sun Valley, despite the fact that her parents had famously been married
here in 1937.
Her mother, Helen Boughton-Leigh, was the
captain of the very first U.S. Women’s Ski Team. After meeting at the Olympics
in Garmisch, Germany, she and dashing U.S. Ice Hockey team member, Malcolm
McAlpin, eloped the following year by dog sled from Sun Valley to the Ketchum
Episcopal Church. This is the same church that now sits, somewhat forlornly, in
the Park & Ride Lot and is familiarly known as Louie’s.
When she arrived in town in May to meet
with the Pioneer Montessori board of directors, McAlpin immediately went to the
Ski and Heritage Museum and found a photo of her mother.
Hired officially in June of this year,
McAlpin moved here in August. Her concept for the school is to make sure the
elementary school is working and possibly look towards adding a middle school in
the future, "which I gather there is a need for," she said. "If you get parents
as dedicated as I was and am, we’ll go right through, God willing, and with the
Currently there are 90 children enrolled
at Pioneer Montessori. There are four classes: one toddler class, two primary
classes for kids ages 3 to 5 and one class for ages 6 to 9. Each has a head
teacher and aide.
The school is presently benefiting from an
Idaho Commission on the Arts grant to Ballet Idaho to teach at elementary
schools. Dancers are working with the children once a week on a piece about the
For McAlpin, that seems incredibly
apropos, her life and work remain a good example of how the world turns.