Princeton students start nonprofit based on Montessori school system

By Navil Perez
Thornton, Colo.

Several Princeton students and alumni are looking to follow in the footsteps of Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp ’89 by tackling the challenge of education in America.

Christian Smutherman ’14, Greg Groves ’13, Jason Warrington ’13 and Amina Yamusah ’13 are establishing a nonprofit called the Freestye Montessori Urban Academy (FMUA).

While studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa, Warrington and Groves were taken back by the poverty and inequality they encountered. But they soon realized that the issues they witnessed in Cape Town were not unique to South Africa.

“Seeing the parallels between Africa and America were crazy,” Warrington said. The group realized that education was key to addressing these issues.

With black and Latino students accounting for the majority of dropouts in the United States, the founders wanted to improve education for low-income and minority students in America.

The FMUA founders decided to model their solution after the approach of the Montessori school system, which encourages independent learning. Groves and Warrington believed the Montessori school system is critical to increasing school retention rates. Both had received Montessori educations and were aware of the costs of such an education. But they also believed that it should not be absent from the lives of low-income minority students.

FMUA founders hope that exposing kids to a school environment where creativity and independence is stressed will foster in them a thirst for knowledge. Students will want to stay in school because “Montessori makes learning fun,” as Warrington said.

FMUA has developed an eight-week summer program supplemented with bi-weekly Saturday classes during the academic year. Additionally, teachers will meet with parents once a week to encourage them to implement Montessori practices in the household.

FMUA is supported by The Keller Center’s eLab Summer Accelerator Program, a program dedicated to helping aspiring entrepreneurs create start-up companies. FMUA is the first nonprofit venture supported by eLab.

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