My name is Darlene Neely. I am one of the co-founders, the Academic Dean, and the lead teacher in the 3–6-year-old classroom at Nia House Montessori School in Nashville, TN. My experience with the Montessori approach started in 1996 when I worked with a team to try to start the first Montessori school in Nashville. I spent 18 years working at Hull Jackson Montessori. During my time there, I started a program at Belmont University where I became one of three founders in a rare program that trained Montessori teachers.
Montessori was growing, but because of its rareness in Nashville, we needed to get teachers qualified to teach the philosophy. This led to teachers founding schools and that is how I met Mrs. Sonceria Radford. After meeting her and putting our heads together we knew we were going to change early childhood education in Nashville through Montessori. These moments really changed my life, and Nia Montessori was born.
Our motto is curious, joyful, independent thinkers. As we began to brainstorm, we wrote this vision everywhere- on paper and on the walls to express what we really wanted for our children. We knew we wanted the best curriculum, and we also knew we wanted the best teachers. We wanted our teachers to have passion and love what they were doing. So we intentionally recruited teachers who celebrated diversity and culture into our classrooms.
Our school’s journey begins with understanding others. We place a big emphasis on our curriculum because we don’t want our children to just learn about other people through books; We want them to walk with them, eat with them, and worship with them. We develop our curriculum around this goal of understanding and love. For example, our students have studied dance from Hawaii, Indonesian puppets, and quilts from their grandparents that show their family story.
I have watched our students really embody our vision. At Nia House, we are like a family and in a family, we get to watch our kids grow and take on new roles. What is beautiful is to see them taking on leadership roles to help their fellow classmates.
In our school, we promote excellence in education. Mrs. Radford came from the high school level where she witnessed students in the system who were told they were disadvantaged before they could decide for themselves who they wanted to be. We know children come from greatness. We wanted to create a school that would be an excellent school for all children.