The Happiest Place In The World Is Coming To Gig Harbor
What: Arcadia Montessori School
Opens: Sept. 10
Owner: Carmela Micheli
Where: 13302 Crescent Valley Drive
Who: Pre-school through First Grade
Number of students: 20
Architect: Bern Hoft, Tacoma
Contractor: Grobins Construction, Home
Financing: Kitsap County Bank, Gig Harbor branch
Information, admission forms: arcadia-montessori.com; 253-858-1114 or 253-988-1204
Open House: Aug 22, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Arcadia Montessori School Gig Harbor opens next month in a brand-spanking-new building on Crescent Valley Drive.
Veteran early childhood educator Carmela Micheli began her dream of a building a Montessori school four years ago. The recession was just about to hit the economy but that didn’t stop Carmela or her dream of providing a happy place for young learners.
“I didn’t think about the economy,” she said. “I wanted to have a beautiful new school in nature, close to my home and in the community I’ve been a big part of most of my life.”
Carmelai has lived off and on in Gig Harbor since 1972 and has lived full-time in her Sunrise Beach area home since 1987. In 2009, she took over an existing Montessori day care in Gig Harbor on Wollochet Drive Northwest and renamed it Arcadia Montessori Gig Harbor. Last June, she closed it to prepare for her new school.
Today the 3,600 square foot red-school house sits among tall evergreens on 3.5 acres located a couple miles northeast of Gig Harbor. Fenced for safety, the school has two large classrooms, restrooms, a kitchen for making snacks and an upstairs storage room.
There is a large play area outside with climbing toys and Crescent Creek flows through a corner of the property. A nature trail is planned.
Carmela’s vision is to promote a safe, peaceful and environmentally friendly environment.
“We teach the importance of thoughtful communication and respect,” she said echoing the principles of Montessori. “With low student to teacher ratio, we ensure every child gets care and nurturing he or she needs to thrive.”
Arcadia has been doing that for 35 years in Tacoma where word of mouth has kept a waiting list at her preschool and kindergarten located at North 30th and Vassault streets.
Micheli estimated Arcadia has served more than 1,000 students in Tacoma. Today 45 students ages 3 to 6 are in preschool and kindergarten classes in Tacoma. There are 10 staff and teachers.
Arcadia’s Halloween parties are legendary. The annual school auction and the Winter Solstice Celebration are big events.
Both students and parents often return to say hello and soak up the feel of the school. They aren’t shy about praising Arcadia.
“I can't imagine a better learning environment than Arcadia for children to grow into peaceful little citizens of the earth,” said Chris Matter whose son has attended Arcadia since July 2009. “My son has learned so much and, frankly, so have I. I am so grateful my family is part of the Arcadia family.”
Philip Cowan is another happy parent.
“My daughter has been at Arcadia for a little over two years and I can honestly say that putting her at Arcadia was probably the best decision we have made for her in her young life,” he said. “ They offer an environment that is both fun and good for learning. Perhaps best of anything is the quality staff they have. The people truly care about the kids and do a great job making the kids feel secure there. They have more than earned my trust that my child is a better little girl because of her time there.
The Dicks family moved to Tacoma two years ago and found Tacoma Arcadia on the Internet.
“The environmental and non-violence areas caught my eye and I was impressed
with these as focuses in a preschool,” Ann Dicks said. “The school environment is caring and gentle and it is clear that all of the teachers truly enjoy the children and are excited to join them on their journey of learning and exploration. I appreciate most that Arcadia has taught our children the joy and wonder in learning.”
Former Arcadia student Halley Archbold, 26, who is now a lead chef at Gaylord’s at Kilohana, a fine dining restaurant on Kauai in Hawaii, remembers the happiness she found there.
“Arcadia is the happiest place on the planet,” she said. “I cannot imagine a better way to start my education. I vividly remember my time there as being full of laughter and cultural growth. I was able to count and sing songs in both Japanese and French before I entered first grade. Carmella was a supportive and enthusiastic teacher, and remained in my life for many years.”
Former students even have a way of returning.
“I have one girl volunteering now who was at the school when she was three and five years old,” Carmela said.
An educator for 35 years, Carmela trained in early childhood education at Tacoma Community College and obtained her Montessori certification under Madeline Justus through Spring Valley School in Federal Way. Justus brought Montessori education to the area.
Carmela believes early childhood education provides a key to later success in school.
“I think they are the most important years of students’ lives,” she said. “Their love of learning is formed if we are able to feed their interests and provide them with the right materials and environment.
“And cater to their individual learning styles and help develop a sense of independence and confidence. Most of them are learning through doing and through their senses and we can provide them with the opportunities.”
What makes Arcadia successful, she said, is the school’s atmosphere and the energy of the people who work there. “We respect children a lot,” she said. “We make them independent and happy. We don’t demand. It’s wonderful because it is individualized learning. We are not asking all 20 students to be on the same page.”
And parents are always welcome at school, she said.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from public elementary school and they are always positive about how our students come so prepared,” she said.
Carmela will be one of three teachers at the Gig Harbor school. She will be the lead and will be joined by local Gig Harbor artist and art teacher Jana Fisher and Cyndi Cashman-Dibiase of Home who has been a teacher herself for 25 years.
While Carmelai will spend her days in Gig Harbor, her Tacoma school will continue. “I have a great staff and it will run forever,” she said.
Carmela’s concern for the environment is evident in her community work over the years. She has been on the board for the Peninsula Neighborhood Association and a member of Friends of Pierce County and Pierce County Conservation Futures.
Her concern also is evident in the school site. She hired a wetland biologist to prepare a plan for the creek and wetland area for county approval. A landscape architect counted every tree and bush that were disturbed or removed. They were then replanted. The school’s driveway is pervious asphalt that absorbs water instead of flushing it into the surrounding land.
Micheli can’t help but grin as she looks at the school she has created.
“It’s exciting and was a little nerve-racking watching it grow,” she said. “It’s been a big learning journey for me. It feels good and I love where it is.”
(To arrange an interview and set up photographs, call Micheli at 253-988-1204)