My name is Sonceria Radford. I am a co-founder, the Director, and the lead elementary teacher for first through fourth graders at Nia Montessori School in Nashville, TN.
The idea to start Nia House Montessori began when I was pregnant with my first child. I was an overly cautious pregnant mother. I was very critical of the education system because I knew that my unborn baby deserved the best. I visited many different daycares, and while I was doing this I realized that what was offered was not going to cut it.
At the time I was teaching at a high school. I began to really observe the students at the high school, and I realized that part of their challenge was that they did not love learning. A lot of them were already defeated before they came into my math class. Part of the challenge I had to overcome, was having my students become more confident in their ability and in their intellect.
When I had my daughter, and I just knew that I could not put her in any school. So, I decided to quit my job and stay home. My husband did not want that, but I knew it was the best decision for us. When I stayed home with my daughter, I had other friends who were facing similar situations. They also realized the education system was not meeting their needs, even at the daycare level. They asked me if I could take care of their children while they went to work for two or three days. Things really began to form organically in my home. The techniques that I was using on my own daughter to help her learn different things started working on their children. Then I realized that I may have something more.
About three years later it was time to put my daughter in school. We had hit a phase where I just was not able to teach her more. However, instead of looking for schools, I started looking for philosophes. That was a big change for me. I really wanted to find a philosophy that fit the parenting style I have. I came across the Montessori philosophy and it just made sense to me.
I began to look for schools. I had a friend who worked at Hull Jackson, and she took me on a tour of the school on the very last day of classes. Summer break was coming up, every teacher’s classroom was pretty much packed up. Nobody was teaching anything. I had my daughter with me and at some point, I realized she had wandered off. I ended up finding her in Ms. Darlene Neely’s classroom which unlike the others was fully outfitted as if she was going to teach throughout the summer. I knew then that this was the philosophy, the school, and the teacher that I wanted for my child.
I began to develop a beautiful relationship with Ms. Neely. She knew I wanted to open my own Montessori school. One day, she said she’d like to join me. I was nervous because she is a veteran. She was teaching teachers by that point. She was my professor when I went to get my Montessori certification. We created our founding team which included my husband and later Ms. Holt because of her marketing guru skills. That is how this black-owned Montessori school in Nashville got started.
When we started, our focus was not necessarily that we were a black-owned or run school. Our focus was on creating a thriving space for our brown children. We want them to be in a place where they could experience people from other cultures. We want them to be in an environment that will not demean them for who they are, but one that would understand and relate to them.
We really want our students to appreciate who they are as a person regardless of their racial background, and to also celebrate others. We want our students to use their intellect and resources to be changemakers. We believe it is very important to empower them to have a voice and to use it.
Part of what makes our school so successful is that we bring in the community. We have a huge community support system. Not only do they support us, but they help contribute when they can. When we studied quilts, we had a grandmother come in to help our elementary students make a quilt. Having the ability to have the community rally around you and support you is beautiful.
We have a wonderful farm teacher named Kelly Taylor. She loves nature, science, animals, and the farm. She has been a blessing to our community. The kids absolutely love being out on our farm; rain or shine. They get their backpacks, coats, boots, or whatever is necessary and get out there. It is such a beautiful thing to incorporate that connection with nature into a child’s life.
It is beautiful to see our student’s development. It is so revealing to see how community makes a difference in how a child perceives both education and their own ability to command a space. The hardest part is when our kids have to transfer out of Nia House. We are like a family and having to send them off to someone else is bittersweet. We want to make sure whoever gets our students know how much of a gem they are getting in their classroom. We are protective, and just want to make sure they are cared for even after they leave.