Montessori Academy at Onesimo Hernandez celebrates new focus

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On Monday, Oct. 15, students, staff, and district and community leaders celebrated the official transition of Onesimo Hernandez Elementary School to the Montessori Academy at Onesimo Hernandez. At the beginning of this school year, the campus opened by serving students in pre-K and kindergarten using the Montessori Method of instruction.

Students in Montessori schools are often placed in mixed-age classrooms. Students choose the activities they want to perform from an available range, and learning is often achieved through discovery by the student rather than direct instruction. Montessori, which was developed more than 100 years ago, is one of the earliest forms of personalized learning.

“As we launched the school year, already it’s obvious that there are so many great things happening,” said Brian Lusk, Chief of Strategic Initiatives. “As I watched classrooms this morning, it was that people have really embraced the model.”

He said parents and the community need to stay involved. “It is a little bit of a leap allowing our kids to be a little more independent,” he said. “But it’s the right thing to do.”

District 8 Trustee Miguel Solis thanked the community for sticking with the district as the school transitioned. “I know for many it was not the easiest transition,” he said. “There were perhaps questions about what we were doing to this school and what ‘Montessori’ meant for the children who would be attending this school.”

He said the fact that the pervious Onesimo Hernandez Elementary School escaped the Improvement Required list through hard work and added resources provided by the Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program. “Because of those things, Hernandez didn’t just make it off of the Improvement Required list,” Solis said. “It did a phenomenal job in getting kids where they needed to be in the final year.”

Stephanie Hernandez, daughter of the late Dr. Onesimo Hernandez, spoke about her father’s early educational experiences. When he began attending the all-white Maple Lawn Elementary School, a teacher took him under his wing and kept tabs on him as he progressed. He went to become the first Mexican-American to graduate from the UT Southwestern Medical School, she said, and worked to open doors for others.

Parent Dr. Samarpita Sengupta said that it was a leap of faith for parents to send their children to a brand-new program at Hernandez, but there was district precedent. “The success of the three Montessori campuses before this one made the leap of faith seem a little less daunting,” she said.

The resources the district has provided at Hernandez, from building renovations to new learning materials and furniture in every classroom, have shown the commitment to the Montessori program.

She said that on a personal level, she wanted her son to attend a school where he felt like he belonged – that there would be other students and teachers who looked and talked like he does. “The diversity of this school among teachers, parents and students is going to be its greatest asset,” Sengupta said.

The goal, she said, is for everyone to work together to help the school reach its full potential and also so that students who move on from Hernandez are academically gifted, but also kind, generous and compassionate people who enact positive change in the world.

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