Montessori breathes new life into old school site

Children return to Mount Benson elementary school site, which has been vacant since 2008

Lila Keeling

The old Mount Benson school site is being used as a school again.

Nanaimo school district is leasing a wing of the building to an independent school.

Discover Montessori School, formerly known as Nanaimo Montessori School in its former location on Waddington Road, moved into the Mount Benson site at the beginning of the month.

“It’s a great building and a fabulous property,” said Cynthia Dyer, vice-principal.

“We knew that we were growing out of the old school about two and a half to three years ago. It’s much easier to move into an existing school.”

She said the school has about 60 kids aged three to 12 and since the building was already a school, only minor changes were needed, such as a new playground for the pre-school-aged children and a door separating the school from the rest of the building.

The school is inviting community members to attend an open house on Saturday (Nov. 26) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to see what the Montessori program is all about and meet the staff. The school is at 4355 Jingle Pot Rd.

Montessori is a philosophy of teaching that focuses on guided self-learning rather than teacher-directed learning, said Dyer.

“A lot of the materials, the children perceive them as games,” she said. “The method has been around for almost 100 years now. It’s incredibly effective.”

With the new facility now open, the pre-school program will begin accepting new students in January and while the elementary program is full, the school anticipates expanding it as well.

For more information, please go to www.discovermontessorischool.org.

Trustees decided to hunt for a short-term tenant for the building last spring after an attempt at making the closed school into a community centre failed.

When the school closed in 2008, the district was given an $8,000 provincial grant to hire a consultant to talk to community members and potential tenants of a community centre.

The consultant identified 37 interested organizations and a range of services the community wanted to see in the building, from daycare to activities for seniors. But staff were unable to find a main tenant who would provide enough lease money to make the venture cost-neutral for the district.

Instead, it was decided that a short-term tenant would be found so that if the district ever needed the building for educational purposes again, it would be available.

Pete Sabo, the district’s director of planning and operations, said another tenant is being sought for the remaining two-thirds of the building.

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