I was initially skeptical of the 'montessori-inspired' curriculum when my oldest child entered in kindergarten. I figured it would be fine for the first few years, but then we'd need to find a more structured program. Over those few years, we became more and more attached to Ancona until we couldn't imagine leaving. It has been an excellent fit for each of my children and with high school looming on the horizon for my oldest, I am sad (and nervous!) to think of leaving the Ancona bubble, but also confident that my child will do well in high school. (For what it's worth, most of the kids move on to the "favorite" high schools we parents hope our kids will attend.)
The kids learn a lot, but I think that's true at a lot of schools. Two main benefits of Ancona's approach that I've noticed are: 1) sense of ownership of over one's education/academics; 2) sense of personal responsibility as a citizen of the world. I've seen these develop in my kids and in their peers.
The teachers are wonderful and they know each of my children well. The teachers seem to truly love their work and take a lot of pride in it. Many (maybe all?) of them go out of their way to find professional development opportunities and then bring that work back to Ancona. Teachers who have been there for 30 years have told me how they are still and always learning. They keep up with latest in progressive education and then pick and choose which things to incorporate into their classrooms.
Finally, we love the whole Ancona community. It is a relatively small school, and it doesn't take long to get to know each other. The front desk staff can welcome almost every single child and parent by name, and the parents engage with each other outside of school in discussion groups, book clubs, and theatre nights. At the assemblies we sing together and laugh at 2nd grade jokes together. And the community mourned together when one of Ancona's beloved custodian passed away last year. Sincerely: parents crying and hugging. We still miss him.
Strong and nurturing community, excellent teachers, and a mission that the school tries to live on a daily basis. We love it.
A few great ones, but every time one of the great old teachers gets replaced, it's a lowest-bidder replacement. The school takes advantage of the fact that they have no requirement to have certified, professionally trained teachers to hired young, inexperienced, untrained teachers who would take the low pay that Ancona offers. The results are a step back to the days of disciplinarian teachers who discourage creativity and squelch individuality.
The old principles of creative learning and awareness of the needs of the whole child are gone in relentless pursuit of test scores and the hollow rhetoric of "project-based-learning", which means (some) teachers pushing rote learning and cookie-cutter projects. No student can distinguish themselves under the strict conformity of thoughtless teachers.
My daughters have been enrolled at the school for 8 years now and couldn't be happier. The teachers are fantastic and cater to the needs of the individual child. I passed up an opportunity to enroll my daughters in a selective enrollment school when they were five and have never regretted it. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. The Ancona School community is awesome and even at this age my kids look forward to going to school each and every day.
Honesty, integrity, fairness--and social justice--are at the core of Ancona. Even at the age of 3, children are encouraged to explore these topics. One kindergarten class felt that something their teachers were doing was unfair, so the teachers helped them come up with a plan to explore this with the Head of School and make their case. It was amazing to see that children were encouraged--even at that age--to explore issues of fairness.
My daughter is in her third year at Ancona, in the All Year Montessori program, and we couldn't be happier. The learning is phenomenal--she is not simply memorizing facts, she is truly understanding complex concepts and craves to understand more. I have volunteered a number of times in class, and I'm always blown away at how the class operates. The teachers are amazing--calm, patient, nurturing and empowering. The children respect each other and work together. You can see how the school is setting the class up not only to be life long learners, but to work with others. The emphasis on Spanish, music, art, and outdoor learning (the new outdoor learning space is going to be great!) provides a well-rounded education. The Ancona community is diverse--families look different, come from different neighborhoods, and are all just so supportive and warm. There are many efforts to bring parents together and to create a community. We highly recommend this wonderful school!
Our son is in the All Year Montessori program at the Ancona School, and he--and we!--could not be happier with the experience. While we had no prior connection to Ancona (nor were we very familiar with the Montessori approach), we have found it to be such a wonderful and welcoming community, and a perfect fit for our family. The AYM program features a dual Spanish/English curriculum, which was a stand-out feature for us. The teachers are absolutely amazing at identifying each child's strengths and helping them develop at an individualized pace. They have shown such warm enthusiasm for my son's interests and have nurtured his curiosity for learning about the world around him. Whether learning about the solar system, our city's architecture, or African dance, the teachers work WITH the students to develop creative projects that inspire a holistic understanding of the material, often taking advantage of the city's rich resources for real world experiences. Whatever the lesson, I appreciate that the emphasis is about intellectual exploration and true understanding, not memorizing for a test. Beyond the classroom, I have also found the staff to be exceptionally kind, professional, and connected to the students and families. The parents, too, are involved and invested in the school, yet without the sharp competitive edge that sometimes exists in private school environments. Parents are not doing assignments on behalf of their children here, much to my relief. To touch on the broader mission of the school, Ancona encourages its students to be independent problem solvers who are respectful and responsible members of their community. In addition to the academics, students are shown how to be kind to one another, and how to work together to solve problems, and how to appreciate diversity in its many forms. I am always impressed that even the youngest children here will look adults in the eye and speak to them with confidence. In sum, this is the educational experience I wish I would have had as a child (a somewhat anxious, high achiever who felt constrained by an exam-driven curriculum). I am so glad we found Ancona, and I look forward to many more years of joyful learning for my son.
Ancona is an extraordinary school. It offers a world class education but that is not what makes it so special in my opinion. It's values are what really sets it apart from other school. Ancona is committed to social justice and that thread runs through everything the students do. It is also the most diverse school in Chicago but not just in terms of the student population (which is 60% students of color with a wide variety of backgrounds represented) but in terms of the curriculum. There is a significant emphasis on creating a peaceful community. It is truly a beautiful place.
I also love that kids are kids here - there is daily recess (often twice daily) and a very reasonable homework situation. They want kids to have time to play. What a relief!
Finally, the families who come to Ancona are extraordinary - we have made so many amazing friends. It's a privilege to be a part of a community that shares your values. We want our children to receive an excellent education (and get into the city's top high schools), have fun, and help make the world a better place.