Teacher Leaders Ebony Marshman and Zani Dalili-Ortique enjoy a Family Day at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens The seeds of a series of Wildflower microschools have been planted in Washington, DC. Through conditional approval in April 2021 – DC Wildflower PCS, only one of five applications the DC Public Charter School Board approved – the first microschool will open in Fall 2022 as The Riverseed School in Ward 7 or 8. In this Q&A, Regional Site Entrepreneur Maia Blankenship previews the arrival of Wildflower in the District of Columbia. She shares what families can expect from these teacher-led, micro, Montessori schools and how educators can join the effort to establish liberatory learning environments in and around our nation’s capital. We also invite you to tune into the following conversation with the DC Wildflower Public Charter School Leadership Team on the Montessori in Action Podcast!
How would you describe what Wildflower will add to the DC public school landscape? Imagine small, tuition-free public schools – about 25 students – throughout the District of Columbia, tucked into neighborhoods and led by dynamic teachers dedicated to creating a liberatory learning environment in partnership with the community. DC Wildflower Public Charter School will create spaces for educators and communities to design classroom sites where each child’s identity is affirmed and their genius is unleashed. We believe that intentionally small, Montessori learning environments enable the liberation of children, families and educators from the structures that limit opportunity. Together we can and must accelerate the journey to a more racially just and equitable world.
How will Wildflower schools build and support community in DC?
Every school site will foster deep relationships with the community in which it is embedded. Teacher Leaders will build relationships that go beyond the students and families they serve by partnering with and tapping the unique assets of their community. Families and students will thrive in a vibrant school community that reflects who they are, the assets they bring, as well as the deep investment of educators, volunteers, local businesses, and nonprofits.
We believe that communities of color, especially, know what they need to thrive – it is often resources and access that are in short supply. The community’s ideas and needs should be central in the design of schools. Educators, families and children, advocates and invested community partners will collaborate to create Wildflower classroom sites that reflect the genius, beauty, cultural wealth and assets of the neighborhood.
In a city with a lot of school choices already, what differentiates Wildflower?
Each Wildflower school is intentionally small and directly reflects the community. We provide liberatory learning environments that are anti-bias, anti-racist, inclusive, identify-affirming and healing. Our schools are co-founded by educators who serve as guides (Montessori’s term for teachers) and also serve as the school leaders, managing the day-to-day operations and administration of the school.
Tell us about the leaders of DC Wildflower Public Charter School and their mission.
Our two founding Teacher Leaders, Zanso (Zani) Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman, are creating a community-embedded liberatory learning environment east of the Anacostia River – a school centered on Black students in a center of DC’s Black community. As local Black Montessorians, Ebony and Zani have deep experience as educators in DC, which, despite its increasing diversity and strength, remains stifled by historic and present-day racism as well as discriminatory policies and practices.
Also, we are thrilled that Rachel Kimboko joined DCWPCS as our Founding Executive Director of Stakeholder Engagement. A longtime contributor to DC’s Montessori community, Rachel will partner with Zani, Ebony and the Board of Trustees to keep us on track to open the Riverseed School, the first of up to six sites within the charter.
How is educational equity woven into Wildflower DC’s mission?
Our approach is grounded in the fact that the Montessori method is a holistic, time-tested curriculum that is keenly attuned to a child’s development and that, at its roots, is a tool for liberation. Providing a Montessori education faithfully and effectively requires both readiness of the environment (a physical space, within the community and saturated with identity-affirming materials and curriculum) and readiness of the people, especially teachers and staff who are committed to liberation and to disrupting all forms of oppression and who are armed with the tools to implement with purpose. Across all sites this includes:
Teacher-led and community-activated spaces that center Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx people and all people of color
Small and safe settings that are nimble and adapt to community needs
Intentionally anti-racist and anti-bias approach
Identity-affirming, inclusive spaces
Freedom to make decisions, move and communicate – with limits
Focus on developing intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards
Hands-on, experiential, challenging curriculum
What are opportunities to stay connected and get involved in Wildflower’s DC regional hub? We invite educators and families committed to liberatory, culturally affirming, community-embedded microschools to design with us. Public charter schools are one way that Wildflowers will grow in the DC region, but there are other ways, too. We are seeking Teacher Leaders interested in founding toddler programs or other teacher-led liberatory programs in the metro area. Learn more about our work at https://wildflowerschools.org/dc/, and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. On social media, follow Wildflower DC’s development on Instagram @wildflowerschools.dc and on Facebook.