It was in 1981 that Ms. Kathleen Mayorga, having been a recent graduate of the Washington Montessori Institute in Washington, DC, first introduced the Montessori method to Greenville, NC. Ms. Mayorga had recently relocated to the area and was eager to begin a Primary Montessori Classroom for children aged 3 to 5 years.
Eastern NC had no Montessori schools and therefore, there were but a few individuals knowledgeable about the wonders and benefits of a Montessori education. Ms. Mayorga went to work educating the local community and was greeted with enthusiasm by parents and educators alike. It was through these meetings that she saw her plan beginning to take form. Ms. Mayorga was so eager to get things started, that she enlisted the aid of a friend to accompany her to New York City. Once there, she personally selected the particular Montessori materials. The small amount that she was able to budget barely filled the back seat of her car. The first classroom was located in a small room rented from a local church and from such humble beginnings the Greenville Montessori School (GMS) was born.
By the end of the first year the school had 18 students. Ms. Mayorga’s sincere desire to offer the education of a lifetime to children, combined with the children’s innate drive to learn, were a potent combination. After only four years, the first school building was constructed at our present location and a new teaching assistant, Suellen Biel, was hired. But more important than the materials and the building, was Kathleen and Suellen’s passion of the educational process and dedication to the development of the whole child.
It was this genuine zeal that led to a waiting list of children eager to begin their Montessori education. After having spent the prior two years as a primary classroom assistant, Ms. Biel completed the certified Montessori teacher training and started the second primary classroom at GMS. The success of GMS, and the growth of Montessori education in the area as a whole, can be attributed to their combined efforts. Ms. Biel is truly one of the most knowledgeable and competent educators that NC has to offer. Her track record in Montessori Education and her overall commitment to the community makes her such a valuable asset to our school.
In 1991 it was apparent that Greenville Montessori School had to take the next step. Ms. Mayorga and Ms. Biel initiated an all out search to find the special someone to guide the elementary program. This would allow the school to offer Montessori education to their students through age 9. Their quest ultimately led them to Dublin, Ireland to interview a potential candidate, a graduate of the prestigious AMI Montessori College; one of only two such training programs outside the US (the other being Bergamo, Italy). As good fortune had it, the candidate was tailor made for the position. She met all the criteria for the job and possessed an abundance of great qualities they hadn’t even thought of yet.
It was 1992 when Lesley Byrne-Steedly left her home in Dublin, Ireland to lead the way for the establishment of an elementary classroom at Greenville Montessori School. She arrived at the Greenville Airport with a pioneering spirit, enthusiasm second to none … and 3 suitcases. She is a talented and skillful facilitator. A few moments spent observing her classroom will make obvious her innate gift for Montessori education and show the significant contribution she makes to our school and the growth of our children.
Ms. Byrne-Steedly’s dedication and example have not only earned her the utmost respect from her peers but most importantly the unequaled esteem of her students. A former student, a finalist for the Presidential Scholarship, recently stated that Ms. Byrne-Steedly was the teacher who most influenced his life. There can be no higher compliment than when a teacher is recognized for having had such an impact on a student’s life.
Heather Cameron was hired as the new teaching assistant for the lower Elementary Classroom in 1998. Once again recognizing the need to “complete the picture” of Montessori education for GMS students, Ms. Cameron left Greenville in 2000 to complete her training for Upper Elementary Montessori Education. She traveled with her two children (both GMS students) to Silver Spring, MD and returned with the knowledge and mindset that laid the foundation for our 9 to 12 year old students. Her commitment so inspired the school and parents that she received sponsorship from both. It is truly remarkable to see how Ms. Cameron, who leads by example, inspires her students to “reach out to their community”. In Spring 2003, the first two students graduated to complete the entire Montessori education cycle at GMS.
GMS was celebrating its finest hour. As her first students were graduating, Ms. Kathleen Mayorga, (Founder, Administrator and Teacher) announced her retirement. She had indeed accomplished her goal … to “complete the picture” for GMS. We will never be able to repay Ms. Mayorga for her dedication and influence in so many lives. She truly led the way for Montessori education in eastern North Carolina.
The primary classroom was not the only place where Ms. Mayorga’s vast knowledge and experience would leave a void. It was not until she approached Ms. Byrne-Steedly and Ms. Biel about taking on the administrative and day-to-day responsibilities at GMS, that the two realized that Ms. Mayorga had been applying her well-honed Montessori techniques outside of the classroom as well. The Montessori method teaches that the best preparation for a task is often indirect preparation. She had been indirectly preparing them for this role by always involving the entire teaching staff in administrative decisions, school planning and implementation of new policies. It was only after their commitment to continue her work, that she had begun some twenty years ago, that Kathleen could finalize her plan.
As parents, we have watched our children reap the benefits of an experienced and committed faculty who have laid a solid foundation for the future of our children. We hope this compilation helps illustrate where GMS has been and where we are going. We invite you join to our School Community.
Compiled and written by:
Greenville Montessori School Parents Group