The Benefits of An Individualized Learning Approach, A School Success Podcast episode featuring Ms. Angela Riforgiate, director of Education at the Casa Dei Bambini Montessori school in Aurora, Illinois.
Well I did grow up here, so I was born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois in the suburbs. And I spend most of my younger years here, so I didn’t really relocate down to Florida until I was about 19 or 20 years old. So really after that is when I started my home Montessori journey. So once I landed in Florida, I was actually pregnant with my oldest daughter, 1994. So I’m just dating myself a little bit right now. But it does stem back to that era and a very special time. So I was introduced to Montessori by being a nanny for a family whose daughter went to a Montessori school. So part of my job was to pick her up from her school at the end of the day. And I started talking to the teachers a little bit more and kind of pushing myself into the classroom a little bit more. And just getting curious about what are all these little boxes in. Why are all these children just so calm and peaceful and why is this so different? So I started asking a lot of questions and the next thing I know, I just enrolled in a training course for the summer to get my official Montessori training while I was pregnant, so that was fun journey. But that’s where it started and after about a two year practicum, you become trained and you become a leader in Montessori and you do an internship so that you can gain that certificate, which would allow you to teach worldwide. So once you have that, foundation set, you’re able to utilize these awesome materials that Dr. Maria Montessori made, and because they’re universal, everybody worldwide has the same concept, so that it’s consistent for the children. So that’s pretty much where it began. And I ended up becoming a teacher trainer, which is really important to me and being able to forward all these awesome messages and taking my care and experience into consideration to be able to pay it forward to new teachers. So I’ve been doing that since 2001. So it’s been a long, long journey, mostly in and out of private schools for myself. I really never wanted to, I don’t know. I just didn’t buy into traditional elementary education that’s just not where my education track took me. I did this specialized training, right kind of in the middle of my college years and it was just something special and something different. So, it seemed important to me to pursue that. And my only experience in working with elementary education students was in my first public Montessori school, which was down in the Delray beach area of Florida called SD. And that’s a very special place because I had never had that background where it combined traditional education using common core standards and implementing all the Montessori materials by trained teachers and combining the two. So it was definitely an interesting hybrid program, but it gave me such amazing insight. The differentiated learners, the way Montessori fits in for all different ways that the brain thinks and how we’re already prewired it, it just spoke volumes to me and my eyes were wide open and I had never experienced anything like that. Being able to help children in remediation and see how the materials fit in for different ways to learn really helped and all of the tracking and everything. So that was a major stepping stone for me. It brought me back here to Chicago because in that role, I was able to leave the classroom and join the admin team as their Montessori program coordinator. And that gave me a lot of insight to the administration level of being in a Montessori and running a school and a school and working very closely with our principal and our assistant principal. And I was the liaison between the teachers, the parents and the administrators. So it was a really special role. We served about 600 students from age three to twelve at that time. And being their coordinator I knew every single child, every parent, it was such a fascinating special place. But that particular experience is what led me up back up here to Chicago not only for family reasons, because I still have family here. My husband now husband has his family here and a lot of our high school friends are still here. So it was special for me to come back home. If you will go to Chicago and find myself with this opportunity to do this new startup school as head of school, like Casa dei Bambini Montessori, it hadn’t even opened yet when I arrived. So I was really part of that startup crew getting licensed by DCFS learning all the rules of Illinois, nothing I was familiar with because all my adult training and all my years in Florida was a completely different state. So it was a challenge but a good one. And I have to say, I feel like I’ve set us up for some really good success and our track is just growing. And we now serve infants through kindergarten at this time, but the building is large and if you get to see on our website or videos on our website, you’ll be able to see the magnitude of our campus because its capacity holds about 500. So we’re growing and eventually it’s meant to be an elementary school, so infants through sixth grade. So we’re on that path of trajectory to try and get it increased in its enrollment to keep it going strong. So that’s where I am now head of school and hiring teachers and building families and making a school community. That’s what it’s all about.