New Montessori school opening in downtown Fort Wayne

Sara Gensic, left, and Suzy Ulmer, co-founders of Alyssum Montessori School, stand in front of the school's storefront location at 916 S. Calhoun St. in downtown Fort Wayne. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)
Remodeling and painting are underway at Alyssum Montessori School, which plans to open to students Sept. 4 in a storefront location at 916 S. Calhoun St. (By Kevin Kilbane of News-Sentinel.com)

Fort Wayne will get a new Montessori school, and, by design, it will operate from a storefront location in the heart of downtown.

Alyssum Montessori School, which opens Sept. 4, is finishing remodeling work now in the former Riverfront Fort Wayne office space at 916 S. Calhoun St. across the street Indiana Michigan Power Center plaza at Calhoun and Wayne streets.

The school plans to start by serving ages 3-9, but gradually will grow into serving 36 to 40 children ages 3-12, co-founders Suzy Ulmer and Sara Gensic said. Enrollment already is full for ages 3-6, but they still have room for a couple of children ages 7-8.

“What they are looking for,” Gensic said of parents who have enrolled children at Alyssum, “is something for children that aligns with the way children naturally learn.”

That involves providing children with the opportunity to be curious, use their imaginations and move around, she added.

Of the families enrolling children at the school, about half live downtown or in the nearby 46807 and 46805 ZIP code areas and half are parents who work downtown, Ulmer said.


She and Gensic, who will serve as school leaders and teacher leaders for children age 6 and older, have about 15 years of teaching experience in a Montessori setting, both most recently at Oak Farm Montessori School in Avilla. Aubrie Tinsley will be teacher leader for students ages 3-6.

Montessori school programs encourage peer learning by placing children of multiple ages together in the same classroom, provide uninterrupted time for students to work on things that interest them and offer teacher-guided choices of work activity, all in a visually pleasing setting, it said on the American Montessori Society website.

Montessori programs also emphasize helping children learn about peace and justice and to develop the science skills now popular in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math) curriculum programs, Ulmer said.


She said she has been intrigued by the idea of operating a Montessori school in downtown Fort Wayne. She also has been interested in being a school leader.

In addition to working in a Montessori school, Gensic said she was excited by the idea of operating from a storefront location in a neighborhood.

They also saw a need: Existing Montessori schools in Fort Wayne – including Bunche Montessori Early Childhood Center and Towles Intermediate School in Fort Wayne Community Schools – all have waiting lists of families seeking to enroll students in their programs, Ulmer and Gensic said.

Alyssum also will be the first Wildflower Schools network school in Indiana, they said. Efforts also are underway to start Wildflower schools in Indianapolis and South Bend.

Wildflower Schools, which were founded in January 2014 by a professor in the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), are a loose network of school programs that emphasize a Montessori approach to learning, small enrollments and storefront locations, it said on the network’s webpage.

Wildflower network schools also make use of community resources, such as public parks and libraries, and try to build connections between children and their community, the website said.


“We’ve thought a lot about urban play,” Ulmer said, noting plans call for Alyssum students to be outdoors at least one hour per day.

She and Gensic envision that outdoor play taking place in Indiana Michigan Power Center plaza, the plaza outside the downtown Allen County Public Library, downtown parks and local rivers.

They also want their school to serve children from a diverse background, both culturally and socio-economically, they said. So they sought and received Indiana State Board of Education approval to participate in the Choice Scholarship voucher program, which will allow qualifying families to use a state education voucher to pay for most or part of their child’s tuition at Alyssum.

The cost is $6,900 per child for full-time enrollment during the 2018-2019 school year, plus a $150 registration fee.

However, joining the state Choice Scholarship program means Alyssum will have to administer state standardized tests to some students and follow certain other rules, which Ulmer and Gensic believe place an unnecessary burden on teachers.

They have relied on donations and a grant from outside the community to get the school open, they said. In the future, along with Choice Scholarship and tuition revenue, they hope to attract grant support from local foundations once the foundations can see the school in action.


• For more about Alyssum Montessori School, click here.

• To inquire about enrollment, email co-founder Sara Gensic at sara@alyssummontessori.org.

• To learn more about the Wildflower Schools network, click here.


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