By: Anna Schwind (4/5/12)
A few weeks ago I had the great good fortune to visit the Hershey Farm School (http://www.hershey-montessori.org/) What is the Hershey Farm School, you ask? It is one possible answer to the question, “What will my child do after sixth grade in a Montessori school?” It is a three year program for adolescent children, aged twelve to fifteen.
The Hershey farm school is also the carrying forward of Maria Montessori’s great dream of Erdkinder – a plan she’d devised and outlined, but did not live to put into practice. Unlike primary and elementary programs, which she implemented herself, Erdkinder was something she wrote and talked about but never fully achieved. It was to be the perfect setting for the adolescent, whom she observed needed: real work that produced real results, to feel a participant of the adult world, and to be away from the stresses of urbanized life as well as from their parents.
At the Hershey Farm School, adolescents take on all the usual aspects of study: language, math, history, physical education and arts. The difference comes in the special areas of study the students undertake as occupations. These are areas of study that combine science and true to life skills, such as assessing the woodlot for hardwood lumber harvest or becoming apiarists. In these areas, the students work with faculty or people from the community who already have these skills, learning them in the classic hands-on Montessori way. Now, instead of using specially designed materials meant to embody concepts about the world (as they used in primary and elementary) these young people use the actual materials of the adult world. They themselves will boil down the tree sap until it becomes maple syrup, subsequently sold at the local farmer’s market stall which the students man and run.
In addition to occupations, which all students participate in, older children in this three year program choose positions of leadership and organize the work. For example, we were given our campus tour by a third year Hershey student who has chosen to be the hospitality manager. She selected another student to help her answer questions and the two of them led us around the school, explained how it worked and talked to us at length about their experiences there. The qualities exhibited by the adolescents who gave us the tour were all the ones you’ve come to expect from your primary and elementary aged Montessori children: poise, self-confidence, openness and peacefulness.
It was a stunning experience, and I invite anyone who has the opportunity to visit the campus of the Huntsburg, Ohio Hershey Farm School.
The students care for all the animals.