Big Work State of the School Update June 3, 2024

There is a vital force in every human being which leads them to make ever greater efforts for the realization of individual potentialities… Joy and interest will come when we can realize the potentialities that are within us.”

— Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

Montessori education is rooted in the belief of boundless potential. At the end of each year, we take stock of our journey as a school and examine the efforts that allowed us to realize more of its inherent potential as an institution. This reflection is Chiaravalle’s form of “Big Work,” a deep dive into our past year’s journey and achievements. From classroom activities to school-wide initiatives, our work embraced our vision of a modern Montessori approach designed to prepare students for the evolving needs of the world they live in and will inherit.

The wonder of the solar eclipse offered a unique opportunity for students to delve into this astronomical phenomenon, guided by faculty to explore scientific principles through art and science.

Building Connection and Belonging

Fostering community and belonging is central to our mission. This year, we placed particular emphasis on our ongoing priority of developing relationships, inclusive connections, and meaningful volunteerism.

Community Meetings bring students together to celebrate and share


Students are invited to work across classrooms at various times throughout the year to strengthen social connections. On Fridays without Community Meetings, our students met in community. Middle School students mentor Kindergarten buddies through games, reading, and crafts, while elementary students work across classrooms in smaller groups.

Middle School students lead Kindergarten buddies in a lively game.
Lower Elementary students invited Kindergartners join their end-of-unit Writer’s Workshop activity, sharing Small Moments stories that turn everyday events into well-structured narratives.


Montessori multi-age classrooms support students in working cooperatively with people of different ages, backgrounds, and skill sets. This structure allows students to benefit as leader, learner and collaborator throughout each three-year-cycle. These life skills are particularly helpful when navigating transitions. In the spring, 7th grade students hosted 6th-graders to ease their move to Middle School next fall. The peer-led session covered topics like an introduction to subject area studies, Social World humanities and Natural World science, a typical math lesson, navigating tools like Google Classroom, and understanding Middle School practices like Socratic seminar discussions. Similarly, Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms welcomed rising 1st and 3rd grade students, creating connections now for stronger classroom communities next fall.

During the transition event, 6th and 7th grader students found the process fun as they rotated through 5-minute presentations before joining a whole group Q&A session.


Service Learning helps students to grow as global citizens. We guide them in developing awareness of contexts, communities, and causes beyond Chiaravalle while building their skills and self-efficacy to make positive change in the broader world. We reaffirmed our commitment to this work by creating the Director of Community and Engagement role. With an expanded remit beyond traditional Development, Kymberly Marrinson refined systems and processes that expanded our service learning capabilities and enabled student-led bake sales, clothing drives, and events like the St. Baldrick’s event Chiaravalle Kids Conquer Kids Cancer (CKCKC) to make a difference in our community.

Jaden, a Chiaravalle 6th grader, was recognized at the Thresholds gala as a Youth Champion for hosting the organization’s most successful coat drive, collecting over 400 coats and hygiene items.


This year, Chiaravalle DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts) progressed through expansion and engagement.

The inaugural Pink, Blue and White dance marathon raised funds and awareness for the Trevor Project.

The student-initiated Pink, Blue, and White dance marathon benefited the Trevor Project. The student groups Dreams (BIPOC) and Rainbow Club (LGBTQ+ and allies) fostered dialogue and exposure to diverse identities and experiences through twice-monthly meetings, workshops like the Young Men and Young Women of Color Conferences, and field trips. These spaces cultivate belonging and share perspective.

Upper Elementary members of Dreams, the student BIPOC affinity group, took the stage at Community Meeting to share their history, purpose, and activities.

Chiaravalle expanded adult DEIB involvement as well. Parent volunteers stepped forward to launch new affinity groups for Latino/Hispanic and South Asian families, Single Parents, and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as BIPOC staff. Racial justice dialogue continued through a second cohort of Planting SEEDs and Community SEED’s inaugural cohort, bringing the first parent and caregiver SEED cohort together to continue their equity journey.

This deliberate work in building connections across programs and cultivating a true sense of belonging represents the critical Big Work of developing students’ empathy, self-awareness, and ability to be uplifting global citizens.

Modern Montessori

At Chiaravalle, we embrace a modern Montessori approach that delivers an innovative curriculum and programming rooted in Montessori philosophy and values, incorporating evidence-based educational advances. We prepare our students with the critical skills to actively engage with and positively shape an ever-changing world through culturally responsive, developmentally attuned learning experiences.

Academic Leadership Transition

Embracing new leadership marked an exciting year of renewal and progress for Chiaravalle’s academic programs as we welcomed three new team members. Education Director Dr. Carrie Kamm brought expertise in curriculum development, organizational learning, teacher coaching, and equity work. Her background complements our goals and offers a new lens for evolving our practices. Accomplished Montessori teachers Jennifer Schwartz and Jaclyn Jones joined our administrative team as program leaders for Early Childhood and Middle School, respectively. Each brought expertise with the Montessori methodology and a commitment to refining our curriculum with evidence-based learning.

Our new educational leadership team paid special attention to opportunities to develop a vibrant school experience, including facilitating a student-led mixer for Chiaravalle and Rogers Park Montessori Middle School students.
It was a big year for school spirit, including a pep rally with the Cardinal mascot, our first snack shop at athletic events, and drawing enthusiastic crowds for our cross-town basketball rivalry with Baker.

Embracing and Modeling Lifelong Learning

Chiaravalle believes in putting our values into action. This year, we provided meaningful professional development to enhance our modern Montessori practice, using Universal Design for Learning for student engagement, understanding the Social Development of the Young Child, Interventions and Accommodations for Dysgraphia, Social Emotional Supports for Students with ADHD and Anxiety, and Understanding and Addressing Microaggressions. In a session exploring how Montessori prepares students through its focus on cultural responsiveness, peer teaching, self-management, ethics, and strong character development, faculty and staff were equipped to facilitate learning environments that develop academic and vital social-emotional skills. Additionally, the school continued its leadership role at the annual conference for the Association of Illinois Montessori Schools, where several of our administrators presented for the wider Montessori community.

In Upper Elementary, students use both Montessori materials and technology, selecting the tool to best tackle the problem at hand.

Modern Montessori in Practice

In Upper Elementary, the Interest Fair and scholarly debates each represent quintessential Montessori Big Work. For the debates, teams of students analyzed the legacy of Alexander the Great using the evidence-based DBQ (Document-Based Question) Project Method. The project required document analysis, research, perspective-taking, and crafting cohesive arguments to strengthen their critical thinking, communication, and intellectual confidence.

5th grade Maris at Interest Fair, an eight-week project that includes reading, note-taking, finding reliable sources, summarizing ideas in writing, using technology, structuring a paper with a comprehensive bibliography, practicing an oral presentation, and creating an art extension — in his case on Roger Maris.

Whether through staff development, curriculum design, or in the classroom, Chiaravalle remains committed to our modern Montessori approach, which realizes each student’s fullest potential by combining Dr. Montessori’s core principles with modern advances to illuminate a path forward to developing upstanding, impactful citizens.

Envisioning the Future

Institutional reflection, evaluation, and long-range planning bookended the 2023-2024 school year.

Accreditation Process

After dedicating professional development time last year to writing a comprehensive self-study, Chiaravalle submitted its accreditation report in October 2023 and welcomed a visiting team in April 2024. Both AMS and ISACS teams unanimously recommended the school for reaccreditation — a hard-earned accomplishment validating the quality of our Montessori programming and operations. The visiting team's commendations and recommendations will guide our continuous improvement efforts for the next accreditation cycle. The accreditation process invited our community to engage in sustained analysis, open dialogue, and solution-oriented collaboration. We looked holistically at Chiaravalle’s strengths, opportunities, and aspirations to position us for even more significant impact.

Drawing from schools in three states, the ISACS and AMS visiting teams represented a wealth of experiences and included five Heads of School.

Strategic Planning

Chiaravalle pairs accreditation with its strategic planning process to create a roadmap of priorities for the next five years. Led by the Board of Trustees and Head of School, an 8-member subcommittee reviewed past plans, conducted peer review, and gathered input from all constituents through surveys, focus groups, workshops, interviews, and an extensive “Participatory Narrative Inquiry” exercise to analyze 95 lived experiences. Our new strategic plan, which we will share with the community in July, sets objectives that directly connect the Head of School goals to school actions and will continue to elevate every student’s experience for the next five years.

These accreditation and strategic planning processes allowed us to realize more of our community’s vast potential through reflection, analysis, and looking forward.

Next Steps

As we look back on the 2023-2024 school year, we celebrate the measures of growth, large and small, in each child, ourselves, and our community. As we look forward to our work together, we strive to build a community where every individual can work towards their potential, feel dignity, and contribute to a better world.

Thank you for sharing your children and partnering with us and engaging in the continuing evolution of our modern Montessori education. Together, our dedicated, hardworking faculty and staff, administrative team, Board members, CFA, volunteers, families, and students help co-create this vibrant community and build belonging every day. As we look to next year, let’s remember that each of our gifts shines brightest when shared, and true success comes from lifting others as we cultivate a more peaceful world — one child at a time.

With gratitude,

Robyn McCloud-Springer, Head of School and Sara O’Mara, President, Chiaravalle Board of Trustees