History of Belleair Montessori

misc_index6“It was during World War II. All the men were away at war and the women worked six days a week in the factories.  The women with preschool children were faced with a problem:  Who would take care of their children?  There were no nurseries or day care centers, so I opened one in my home.”

Evelyn Eshbaker Twedt remembers those bleak years.  She remembers what it was like to get up at 4:30am, get dressed and trudge out into the frigid, snow-covered world and drive along dark, icy Michigan roads – driving for miles and miles to pick up the children to bring them back to her home.

Those were difficult, tough years.  Mrs.Twedt forgot the exact feeling of being physically and mentally exhausted, but she did not forget when the war was over…. she took a long, long rest.  “I was sooooo tired,” she said.  So she and her husband and young daughter Joan vacationed in the Clearwater area and liked it so much they returned to Michigan, sold their home and moved here in 1945.  Although the war was over, Mrs.Twedt noted there weren’t any nursery schools in this area and decided to go into business again.

In the very beginning Tiny Tots Nursery School was located at 611 Clearwater-Largo Road in Largo, it was “just a day care center” Mrs.Twedt explained.  But gradually the enrollment expanded and she decided it was time to offer education.  It was also time to look for a new location, she said, because the small building could no longer hold the growing number of children.  A new school site was selected in Belleair Estates in 1947.

Sixty four years ago, it was suggested by Belleair Town Officials that she purchase property adjacent to the former Town Hall, which is presently the Garden Club.  In 1948, thanks to two town commissioners and friends of Mrs. Twedt, Tiny Tots Private School opened its doors at 905 Ponce de Leon Boulevard with an enrollment of 15 students.

Growing pains during the years between 1958 and 1967 resulted in additions to the first floor and construction of a second story.  More teachers were added to the staff.

While on a European vacation in the mid 1960s, Mrs.Twedt visited schools in Holland, Germany, Belgium, and Italy.  These were schools that had the same thing in common.  They were Montessori schools.

“I just couldn’t believe there was an educational system like it anywhere,” Mrs. Twedt recalled.  “Tears ran down my face.”  What moved her to tears was the fact that students of all ages were quietly working alone or in groups – and there were no discipline problems.

By this time, Mrs.Twedt’s daughter had graduated from college and was teaching at the school.  The daughter, Joan Kirk, took the Montessori courses and when she completed the classes in 1967, the Montessori teaching method was integrated into the curriculum.  Montessori equipment was purchased from Holland and slowly each room was equipped with the proper teaching materials. The name was changed from “Tiny Tots Private School” to “Belleair Montessori School.”  That same year Mrs. Kirk took charge of the school and Mrs. Twedt retired.

By the mid 70’s Belleair Montessori offered children ages four through fourteen an education based on the Montessori teaching method.  Unfortunately, during the 80’s there was a shift in the private school enrollment and Belleair Montessori was forced to eliminate their middle school grade levels.  There seemed to be a need for care of younger children, so Mrs. Kirk decided to offer care for one and two year olds.  This decision has proven to be a positive one since there usually is a waiting list for these classrooms.

Mrs. Kirk’s daughter, Cathie Hernandez, joined her mother at the school in 1984.
Cathie and Joan worked together managing the school for over 25 years.  Mrs. Kirk retired in 2010 and Cathie is now the principal. The school has made several physical upgrades and continues to offer an education for one year olds through five year olds.  The state funded free Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program is also available for four year olds.  During the summer months the academy offers five 2-week sessions of“Learning and Fun.”  These sessions will focus on academic activities to keep children interested in learning during the summer months.

Generation after generation of children has attended Belleair Montessori Academy.  Many parents that attended Belleair Montessori now have their children enrolled in the school. It is the oldest Montessori school on the west coast of Florida.  Thousands of students have been educated there and the legacy continues.  There is an open door policy for visitors to stop by anytime.

As a 501-(C) (3) non-profit business entity, Belleair Montessori Academy welcomes financial contributions that will be reinvested in the school infrastructure and the education of our children.

About Dr. Maria Montessori and the Montessori teaching method:

An Italian educator of the early 20th century, Maria Montessori is remembered as the founder of the famous Montessori Method of education which emphasized hands-on, individualized learning within mixed age groups in a child-friendly setting. Her teaching strategies and her discoveries about the process of learning revolutionized the field of education in the United States and profoundly influenced children’s education all around the world. Despite the familiarity of her name, few realize that much of the developmental, “hands-on” approach now employed in preschools and kindergartens can be traced to the innovations of Maria Montessori. Although best known as an educator, Montessori’s formal training was as a scientist and medical doctor. She is also notable for having been Italy’s first female M.D. For her committed efforts on behalf of children, especially in the face of the fascism of World War II, Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize (1949, 1950, and 1951).