Norwood-Fontbonne Academy and Chestnut Hill College Establish Partnership in Support of Montessori Education

Norwood-Fontbonne Academy and Chestnut Hill College Establish Partnership in Support of Montessori Education

On June 30, 2022, Dr. Ryan Killeen, President of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy (NFA) and Sister Carol Jean Vale, former President of Chestnut Hill College (CHC), formalized a longstanding agreement between NFA and CHC to establish a partnership in support of Montessori education.

This partnership between the two institutions, both of which are sponsored works of the Sisters of Saint Joseph (SSJ), provides shared classroom and practice room space, shared staffing for support of educational programs and other initiatives part of the Chestnut Hill College Institute for Montessori Education (CHIME). 

“Our expanded partnership is an important milestone for both NFA and CHC as we build on our strengths and set ourselves as leaders in Montessori education both in the Philadelphia region and on the national level,” said Killeen. “This Preschool-8th Grade/Higher Education partnership is a transformational differentiator.”

“NFA as a lab school, creates an incubator for innovation and development of best practice,” added Killeen. “Our students will benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of an increased presence of student interns in the Montessori program; and our faculty can grow in their individual professional development, modeling life-long learning and sharing their expertise with our colleagues at CHC. This collaboration provides access to rich professional development with master Montessorians and thought leaders.”

“The Montessori faculty and staff at Chestnut Hill College are excited to be partnering with Norwood Fontbonne Academy in advancing a model for Montessori education that reaches both students and teachers from early childhood to mid-level education,” said Dr. Christopher Dougherty, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at CHC. “As one of eleven U.S. colleges or universities offering an accredited program in Montessori education, CHC has been a longstanding leader in preparing generations of Montessori educators. We are proud to expand our partnership with NFA, a fellow sponsored work of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, whose faculty and staff are master teachers supporting  a model for the highest standards for students in their Montessori programs. We look forward to our combined resources providing a range of educational and professional development opportunities for Montessori educators.”

NFA has been a leader in Montessori education for the past 52 years. NFA's Montessori program is Philadelphia's only accredited school for children ages three through third grade. In 1969, Sister James Anthony Scanlon was the principal of Norwood Academy for boys. A friend of hers, Monsignor Francis B. Shulte, a 1940 graduate of Norwood Academy who later became Archbishop, encouraged Sister James Anthony to explore the possibility of starting a Montessori program at the school. With the help of Sister Mary Harold (SSJ) and Sister Roseann Quinn (SSJ), Sister James Anthony opened the first Montessori preschool classroom for 30 three to five year-old boys in what is now the White House on the school’s upper campus on Germantown Avenue. Two years later, in 1971, the first Montessori classroom for three to five year-old girls was opened.  

In 1972, several Sisters of Saint Joseph traveled to Italy to study the Montessori method. Upon their return, they worked to establish the Junior Level Montessori classrooms at Fontbonne Academy for six to nine year-olds on the second 

floor of the Fontbonne building located on lower campus at Sunset and Norwood Avenues. In 1973, the school merged its girls and boys schools, becoming Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

Today, Montessori children begin their time at NFA as three, four and five year-olds in warm, welcoming house-like settings. Following pre-school, their educational path continues into the Junior Level Montessori classrooms still located within the Fontbonne building. The Montessori students merge with NFA’s primary students in the fourth grade, however elements of the Montessori philosophy remain in NFA’s curriculum through the eighth grade.

The Montessori Method of Education is a way of learning that was created, developed and implemented by Italian physician, Dr. Maria Montessori in the early 1900’s. It is a child-centered educational approach based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. Dr. Montessori believed that education had a role to play in the development of world peace, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education,” she said. This philosophy, closely aligned with the mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, fits naturally within NFA’s dual path curriculum.

NFA is fully certified by the American Montessori Society (AMS) to properly implement the Montessori curriculum and materials. In the Montessori method, the teacher facilitates learning by connecting each child with specifically designed materials and carefully chosen exercises, based on each child’s individual interest and ability. Learning is auto-didactic and self-paced; students learn directly through their personal experience and practice with these materials, which they freely choose. Choice is fundamental to the Montessori classroom. After receiving a lesson, children may return to that “work” as many times as they want. Montessori-educated children learn to make appropriate and reasonable choices by practicing this skill daily.

Over these 52 years, the Montessori Program at NFA has grown to be a signature offering within its dual-path curriculum, educating children of all backgrounds. Montessori students have experienced the joy and success of learning in authentic Montessori classrooms where 21st century skills are planted and nurtured. As self-directed learners, they have learned to treasure themselves, others and the Earth and to develop a life-long love of learning and service. They have grown in leadership, scholarship and compassion and are making a difference in our world by using their gifts to spread peace and solve problems.

NFA also offers a Pre-Primary/Primary option for children, age three through third grade, which offers an alternative for families seeking a more structured approach. In fourth grade, students from both options seamlessly merge into our intermediate program, then advance to our middle School program as they prepare for high school and beyond.

“Combining our efforts enriches both institutions and allows us to leverage our strengths and optimize opportunities for our communities,” said Killeen. “It’s a win, win for everyone – especially for our students.”

Founded in 1920 by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy is a Catholic, Independent, co-ed academy for preschool to eighth grade students. Committed to a strong academic program, Norwood-Fontbonne Academy offers both a Montessori academic path and a Primary academic path enriched by service learning, outreach, and co-curricular experiences. Within a faith-filled community, students are challenged to become self-directed persons who live gospel values, enjoy learning, make reflective choices, and treasure themselves, others, and the Earth. NFA is a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

Chestnut Hill College, an inclusive Catholic community rooted in and animated by the Mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, is committed to transformative holistic education, just relationships, innovative thinking and responsible action toward a more unified global society and sustainable Earth.The College has been rated by US News & World Report as among the best master's universities in the North, as among the best Northeastern colleges by The Princeton Review, and has been classified as selective by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Since its inception, the College has offered a rigorous curriculum that provides students with a broad background in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. The goal of Chestnut Hill College has been to prepare students for life's challenges by helping them to grow intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.