Wendy Trenthem’s family goes way back with Mud Island’s Maria Montessori School — fourteen years to be exact. Wendy was the school’s librarian for ten years, from 2002-2012, while her older two children, Phillip and James were in school there. The boys have moved on to White Station High School, and she and her husband now both work at Rhodes College (Wendy as an information services librarian and Richie as director of IT), but the Midtown family is still a part of the MMS community, as Iris, their 8-year old daughter, is in its Elementary I class for 6- to 9-year olds.
Special note: Iris is a Leap Year baby and is having her 2nd official birthday today! Happy birthday, Iris!
What is the greatest thing going on at this school?
The love of learning that each child gets. I’m fortunate to have the perspective that some younger parents don’t have, in that I can still say it was the right path to go all the way through. I have two sons who have very different personalities and learning styles, but both thrived here and transitioned successfully to a public high school. It addressed their different needs and let them be their best selves.
What surprised you most about this school?
That there really is a lot of structure and method, even when it looks like there’s a lot of freedom. It’s different from a traditional school in that there’s a safe space for kids to try things and make mistakes and be guided back on the right path…with academics, emotional/social growth and with the community as a whole.
What does this school have that no other school in the area offers?
An Association Montessori International-accredited Montessori curriculum…it’s the only one in the state of Tennessee. There are many good Montessori schools, but MMS has been here for 30 years and follows the curriculum set by Maria Montessori and her son, Mario.
What do your children think of this school?
My teenage sons are really glad they went to Montessori. It equipped them well to navigate a large public high school and solve real-world problems. My oldest talks about the value of experiencing both public and private, small and big. He has tied so much of what he did as a young child here to the work he’s doing now and what he looks forward to doing in college. He also feels like he has a really good grasp on math — he has a concrete concept of it. My kids have compassion for their classmates from all different backgrounds.
What false impression of this school do outsiders have that you’d like to correct?
That it is a crunchy, granola place where children are just having fun. They are having fun but that doesn’t mean it’s not a place of learning. What’s wrong with having both? Mostly I hear, “What are they going to do for high school?” I can really say the middle school curriculum prepared them very well for high school. Having worked here, I know that kids have done well in all kinds of high schools — small and big, coed and single sex. The middle school teachers really help the families figure out the right high school for the child.
What other schools did you consider before selecting this one?
We thought we’d go to our local public school and hadn’t thought much about it until someone suggested it for our 4-year old. When we visited, I had a lot of hesitation, but my husband fell in love with the location and the tour we got from a student. My mother was a public school teacher for 25 years and I still believe in public schools. The Montessori method has taught me so much about what we can do better and what children and teachers deserve.
How do you stay involved (as a parent) at this school?
Parents are required to work 20 hours per semester or pay a fee if they’re not able to work. We find that working the hours really builds community. I work the Regatta (a school festival) and come and talk to middle schoolers about my profession. My husband loves to come fix things that are broken — from computers to fences. All of those tasks help us to bond with the other families and to be part of the school. People can serve in so many different ways. If you have strengths in a certain field, you can come share what you know.
What can be done to make this an even better place?
More money for scholarships so more kids could have an opportunity to attend. Also more locations of the school. I would like to see Montessori for more students. It creates problem-solvers.
What are your hopes and dreams for your kids?
Having three kids that are each very different, my hopes and dreams are that they’re able to be the best individuals that they’re supposed to be. I want them to be confident problem-solvers and lifelong learners. Flexibility and adaptability are very important today, and I think they got those tools here. Every year, my husband and I felt like the benefits of the school outweighed the drawbacks, even when we were giving up things like band or sports teams. We knew the method was equipping them to be able to insert themselves into those things later. No school is going to have everything but this school has the things we valued.