As Friday afternoon approached, students of the St. Joseph Montessori Children’s Center were preparing for summer break, but the day marked more than the close of a school year. After 46 years, the center’s foundress, Sr. Pat Hill, officially retired, concluding a more than six-decade career in education.
Due to personal matters, Hill was unable to be there for the last day of school, but she was celebrated nonetheless and will be recognized at a gathering June 2.
Hill founded the center in 1973, and close to two dozen children were enrolled in the first class. While that enrollment has fluctuated over the years, the center has become a place of unique multi-generational learning for thousands of children.
The center has seen changes in the nearly half-century it’s been open, from new administrators, lead and assistant teachers, and additional learning spaces, but Sr. Pat has always been a consistent presence when it comes to molding the young minds of the community.
Hill and other staff at the center teach the Montessori method, which works to develop academic skills of preschool- and kindergarten-age children, as well as social, spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
The classroom is divided into different learning sections, such as practical life skills, sensorial, math and language, and the goal is for children to work on the skills they have an interest in and need to develop with guidance from the teachers rather than being told what, when and how to do something throughout the day.
“We try to get them to make decisions for themselves” and develop a desire to learn, Hill told The Standard in a 2015 interview, explaining it is important for children to learn how to problem-solve and be more independent in their education, which is what sets Montessori apart.
“If parents (or teachers) do too much for a child, then the child cannot make decisions on his own,” Hill said. She wants to see children go on to become leaders in their community not because of incentives but because of their own desire to better their community and themselves.
Kim Cote, a nurse practitioner, attended the center from 1991 to 1994, starting with the 3-year-old program. Looking back, she said Hill had a huge influence on her life, as did the Montessori method.
Cote said the knowledge and drive Hill instilled in her provided an early foundation for success and she consistently did well in school even after leaving the center.
Cote wants that same foundation and experience for her own children.
“My oldest child, Braylen, attended Montessori, and is currently one of the top performers in his class at Bardstown Primary,” Cote said. “My middle child, Luci, is a current student at Montessori, in the pre-school program. She wakes up each morning excited to go to school, and at 4 years old, is beginning to learn to read with the help of Sr. Pat.”
Cote’s youngest, Eleanor, will also be attending Montessori when she is old enough.
“I cannot say enough positive things about Sr. Pat,” Cote said. “She has a ‘tough love’ attitude about her; her students know to behave and do what she says, but they also know she cares for them as if they were her own. She is truly a blessing to our community.
“I know she has individually touched the lives of each of her students in some manner,” she said. “I owe much of my success and the future success of my children to her individually along with the Montessori method.”
Cote isn’t alone in her admiration of Hill. Several other alumni and Montessori parents also credit the SCN for providing them the tools to succeed.
Deanna Smith Kelley has a 5-year-old entering kindergarten at the Montessori center next year. She started in pre-K.
“Sr. Pat has taught her so much,” Kelley said. “She is currently learning to read and is learning addition.”
But Hill has also instilled an early love and appreciation for nature, and is truly a one-of-a-kind teacher, Kelley said.
Nicole Wheatley is also a Montessori parent. Hill taught her sons, and she said they, too, learned more than academics under her guidance.
“She did teach them both to read and write, but she also taught them to be compassionate and to love all living things,” Wheatley said. “Sr. Pat is someone who instantly earns respect. She is full of knowledge and life lessons. She is definitely one of those few teachers who will have a lifelong impact on my boys; a teacher who they will always look back on with fond memories.”
The center is hosting a small retirement celebration for Hill on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. with a program at 3 p.m. The celebration will be held in Crimmins Hall, located next to the school on the Nazareth Campus.
To learn more about St. Joseph Montessori Children’s Center, visit www.stjosephmontessori.org.