Life has come full circle for Mayra Cuevas. As a young student growing up in East Boston, Cuevas attended the Dante Alighieri Elementary School, graduated from East Boston High and still makes Eastie her home.
This year, Cuevas has returned as principal at the Alighieri to head up the school’s new Montessori model.
Last year the Boston Public School Committee voted 7-0 to move Eastie’s public Montessori program from the Early Education Center in Jeffries Point to the vacant Alighieri building. The former elementary school of the same name was merged with the Mario Umana Academy a few years back to consolidate school across the city.
Cuevas, a 23 year BPS education veteran was the project manager on Eastie’s Early Education Center back in the 1990s and worked there for five years.
“I started 4th grade at the Alighieri and then went onto to East Boston High,” said Cuevas. “I then graduated from Northeastern University and got my Master’s degree from Lesley University.”
After her work as a teacher in Roxbury Cuevas was an educator at the neighborhood’s Early Education Center. Now Cuevas is taking her Montessori experience to the Alighieri. The school will be a K-0 through 5th grade by next year with K-0 through 4th grade slots already filled.
Cuevas said the Montessori model lets the educators, child, and environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the educators to encourage independence, freedom within limits, and a sense of order. The child, through individual choice, makes use of what the environment offers to develop himself, interacting with the educators when support and/or guidance is needed. The areas of our Montessori classroom are:
“It is a unique model that takes on the philosophy that children have a choice,” said Cuevas. “Every class room is set up in particular order and while the teacher is there to present the lessons they are no longer the center or focal point.”
Cuevas said teachers step back and observe and listen to the students.
“It doesn’t mean they don’t teach but from the early grades they make learning more inviting and attractive and then challenge the students interest to the next level,” she said. “This makes for a more intriguing education model where the students’ curiosity is opened up and they are free to explore their interests but then challenge the students to do more.”
The school, said Cuevas, will also focus on practical life exercises to instill care for self, for others, and for the environment. Activities include many of the tasks children see as part of the daily routine in their home, such as preparing food and washing dishes and cleaning. Through these tasks, children develop muscular coordination, enabling movement and the exploration of their surroundings. They learn to work at a task from beginning to end, and develop their powers of control, concentration and independence. The teaching and encouragement of learning about “manners” is part of the Practical Life exercises.
“It has been a great few days,” said Cuevas. “We’ve had parents leaving the school happy and the students are doing great. It’s exciting to be here in East Boston and seeing friends and families come through our doors and we will work hard to become an active part of the community.”