Chiaravalle Montessori heads back to school this fall celebrating a special anniversary and a new North Wing.
Words by Selena Fragrassi / photography by Chiaravalle Montessori
It’s not many times you hear children say they are dying to go back to school in the middle of the summer, but the students of Evanston’s Chiaravalle Montessori have had good reason to be counting down the days. When classes are back in session on September 8, not only will it be Chiaravalle’s 50th anniversary, but there will also be a new home with The North Wing. The unprecedented three-floor, LEED Platinum Certified annex expands the amount of flexible space for developmental learning programs and bridges the gap of indoors and outdoors through recycled building materials and expansive windows to make the 350 students more aligned with nature.
“I imagine we will even see some kids crying,” anticipates Head of School Robyn McCloud-Springer of the ribbon cutting ceremony that will be held on the first day of classes. Students from grades kindergarten through eighth grade have been a part of the process all along, asking to see blueprints in the beginning, bringing soup to construction workers, singing holiday carols in the winter, and writing thank-you notes as the process wraps up. “I don’t think the crew is used to having people cheering when they put beams up,” McCloud-Springer says, laughing.
The North Wing, however, has been a long time coming for the Chiaravalle community. Though the construction has been active for a year, plans for such a facility have been the talk of the school for a decade after administrators were able to purchase two buildings on Hinman Avenue they had been leasing since the 1980s. While the main structure, designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, remains intact and is the site of homerooms, the addition (built in the 1950s) was in a state of disrepair, and Chiaravalle opted for a teardown to construct the North Wing. The plans for it were originally designed by Trung Le Cannon Design who also helped administrators meet green initiatives, which include a geothermal heating and cooling system, recycled rice husk paneling, and nontoxic, low VOC materials.
The not-for-profit school raised the $3.5 million to complete the project through capital campaigns with school families, donations from corporate sponsors and grants, and school budgeting. “Everyone recognized how important it was to do it and do it right,” McCloud-Springer says, all too aware of how fortuitous it is that the building is completed during the 50th anniversary while opening up the doors for Chiaravalle’s future. “For years we have been trying to provide the best programming possible, and we’ve been struggling with space issues. We’re in a position now were we can do everything at a completely new level.”
It also comes at a time that the school is growing as alternative learning styles like Montessori—developed by Dr. Marie Montessori who believed in developmental, hands-on, child-driven learning—are gaining more mainstream acceptance. “People have been struggling with the politics of education in the U.S. and how that eventually trickles down into classrooms. We’re in an era where we are not always serving kids in a way that meets their needs,” admits McCloud-Springer who has been with Chiaravalle since 1998 and has enrolled her children in that time. “The future is different, so many jobs now are what people have invented … the foundings of entrepreneurship are embedded in the teachings of Montessori that builds skills and utilizes talents and teaches kids that every day matters.”
It’s an ideology that is embedded in every corner of the North Wing, which opens to The Hub, an open-air gathering space with carpeted stairs that double as bleachers to watch talent shows and plays. “If there’s one thing we do, it’s perform,” says McCloud-Springer noting that the stage area was designed with consultation from the Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier. Every Friday, middle schoolers also run a community meeting “for kids, by kids” in the space.
Also on the main level is a café where parents can gather and talk, and children can sell produce and herbs from the school gardens or items made with their 3-D printer to the school community to subsidize their micro economies.
Upstairs is the integrated Da Vinci Art & Science Workshop, the Global Learning Lab for foreign language classes, and Skyping with partner families in Mexico and Madrid and a centralized library with source material for independent research.
On the top floor is one of the crown jewels: the gym. “It’s almost two times the size of our old gym with a full court that can accommodate regulation basketball and volleyball games and can be divided into two activity centers,” says McCloud-Springer. There’s also a rock climbing wall and “huddle zone” outside for breakout functions.
All of the spaces, she says, will help the children to approach the world in a creative, integrated way as they have seen in alumni. “Our kids really do love coming to school, so we know we have to be doing our job right.”
Chiaravalle Montessori School is located at Dempster and
Hinman in Evanston. To learn more, visit chiaravalle.org.