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An end for young beginners

WORTHINGTON -- A 41-year-old Worthington education institution will not survive to age 42.

The Worthington Montessori School (WMS), which served about 650 children ages 33 months to 6 years over the past four decades, will not open the doors this fall to its colorful and creative classroom in the lower level of Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Declining enrollment hastened the school's demise, despite the fact that families whose children attended the preschool over the years were dedicated to its purposes and program.

Typically, WMS accommodated 20 students annually in its daily 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. format.

A parent-run, non-profit organization (led by a parent board and an advisory committee), WMS was founded in 1971 by a team of local parents, spurred by former longtime Worthington residents John and Joan Mork.

"The parent board of Montessori passionately and creatively fundraised and recruited throughout the spring and summer months but did not reach our goal," said Traci Scheepstra, WMS's parent board president. "We had to set our passion for Montessori aside and make a business decision.

"A steady decline in students for the past few years and our unhealthy financial situation left us with no choice but to close."

Based on the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori, an early childhood educator and philosopher who taught and founded schools for children around the globe in the first part of the 20th century, WMS embraced several goals: to offer the best educational start possible to all children; to enhance a child's emotional and social development through creation of a warm and understanding environment in which to work and succeed; and to complement parents' efforts in rearing the child.

"A huge part of the Montessori philosophy is the social interaction of the school community, working on positive contacts with each other and developing mutual respect -- all skills that are great preparation for kindergarten," said Sally Anne Benson at the time of her retirement as the school's directress in May 2011.

Benson was a part of WMS for 32 years, having served as a WMS program aide for three years prior to training for and assuming the directress role in 1981.

Following Benson's retirement, Leann Enninga headed WMS during the 2011-12 school year.

Both Scheepstra and Julie Lopez, a past WMS parent board and advisory committee member, value the time their children spent as students at WMS.

Offered Lopez, "My son Ben attended Montessori for two years, and it's very sad to see this end. Montessori was a positive and high-quality preschool option in our community, and to see a school like this go is not a good day.

"I feel Montessori gave my son an excellent base from which to start the public school system, with its educational and social components and the sense of independence it helped foster."

Added Scheepstra, "I believe there is no better foundation for a young child than Montessori and I am deeply saddened by its closing.

"It was a difficult decision but the right decision."