I graduated from NewGate in the NewGate School’s Class of 2018 and continued my study of mathematics at New College here in Sarasota (Florida, USA).
When I came back to visit the school during my freshman year, Tim Seldin and the teachers asked me how I was doing at New College, and if I had any reflections about my years in Montessori.
I honestly think quite a lot about how my Montessori education created a seamless transition for me into New College, which really is like Montessori for higher education to me.
I was very fortunate to be able to have my childhood schooling be influenced heavily by schools like NewGate that are focused on whole-child development, which I think was the most valuable thing Montessori could have given me.
Academics always came quite easily to me, but I don’t think I would have been as prepared for college—or even going to a college that fits me so well—had I stayed at the college prep school I attended in ninth grade.
I feel that many kids can feel prepared for college, and even be more than ready for the academic shift, but perhaps not be as ready for the emotional, mental, social, and spiritual challenges that come with leaving the nest.
That being said, New College is also by far the college most focused on a student as a whole-person that I found in my extensive college search. New College was the school that I was confident would like my personal essay, in which I wrote about my experience helping with a rite of passage camp in the woods. I remember that when I finished writing, I felt pleased, but I was anxious when I submitted it to some of the bigger name schools on my list. That personal essay represented so much of me as a person: my non-academic struggle, personal growth, and so much that I was proud to overcome. Yet there I was applying to colleges that I wasn’t even sure would care about what I had to say.
NewGate and Montessori allowed me to realize the importance of everything outside of academics. For me, this was important because by my junior year I got to the point where I was building my identity around my grade point average. I think it is important to let kids realize that there is more growing to do than memorizing formulas or dates in history. Personal growth does great things for morale and confidence, which in then turn allows them to feel less anxiety when it comes to academics. Letting students realize that they are worth more than their schoolwork and that they are not defined by their grades actually does so much good when it comes to academic importance.
New College, Florida’s State Honor College, doesn’t even give grades. Our performance is based not on our scores but on our progress, engagement, and performance on tests. Many of my professors (all but my math professors, really) don’t even give scores on exams. We get satisfactory or unsatisfactory and comments to go with it about where we had strong material, places we were a little shaky, and places where we could use review. The commitment teachers have to students here, simply by teaching at an institution with this alternative grading system, goes such a long way when it comes to learning.
My fall semester, I got a concussion over fall break which left me with a headache that lasted over a month, and I struggled, especially in my screen-intense programming class. At a certain point in late November, I decided to cut that class loose and focus on passing my three math classes. When we got our evaluations in December, though, my unsatisfactory report ended up being the most kind of all. My instructor described how, even though I did not complete that class, here were the valid reasons why, and underscored all the ways I still put in a strong effort. They communicated with me. The fact that a school can recognize students as individuals and provide evaluations that reflect more than grades and numbers is so valuable and enhances the learning so much. And this system is really not far from Montessori, which made my transition here more smooth.
Both Montessori and New College allow for more independence when it comes to learning, and student drive is actually key to the whole learning process. This is especially true at New College during Independent Study Project (ISP), which, at New College is basically a month-long semester in January that offers a wide range of flexibility for students to explore something of interest to them in a more self-guided way. This year I ended up in a group Independent Study Projec on eco-feminism, and explored the topics by actively reading and committing to learning and understanding the material, not just passing the class. I also was able to realize strong interests that I had outside of math, which was a safety box I think I kept myself in for too long. At any other college, I would probably still be on a Mathematics Major track, and not exploring things that I love (like Mathematical Biology applied to conservation, which is my current plan for a major).
On top of that, I think the type of people New College attracts definitely meshes well with the Montessori system. New College is particularly open-minded, diverse, and accepting of literally every kind of person you could think of. This school is full of self-expression, students being who they are and doing so loudly, and students who are so caring, driven, and motivated. Coming to New College has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.
I feel like I could talk about this for hours, honestly. The ways Montessori and New College complement each other are endless. NewGate really was influential on me, and I still talk about the school and its importance to me more than occasionally.
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on all the ways my education has prepared me for my time here at New College and why this school is so perfect for me!
Sky (Mikayla) Bowling
NewGate School Class of 2018