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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of November 12 - 18, 2003


Montessori flourishes with new school head

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 many others.

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 instructor.

"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 right parents."

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 Solar System.

For McAlpin, that seems incredibly apropos, her life and work remain a good example of how the world turns.



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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.