How middle schoolers in Okemos are finding their place in the world

Print More

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Matt Prinz began the seventh and eighth-grade Montessori program in the Okemos Public School District and has continued to be a mentor for teachers joining the program.

Prinz is a science and social studies teacher at Chippewa 7-8 School and began the program alongside Josh Coty who has since retired. The idea of implementing a Montessori program at Okemos began with a group of parents.

“They did a little research, a little study, some of the parents went to the school board,” Prinz said. “The principal came to Josh Coty and myself, all the teachers, and said, ‘Hey, they’re looking at doing the study to see if it’s even viable to do a Montessori program in a six, seven, eight building inside another building’.”

Okemos sent a delegate to Cincinnati to look into the Montessori program in 2008 to determine if it was a feasible program. They came back and said it was possible if two teachers helped lead it. 

Prinz and Coty believed in the Montessori program being for middle schoolers and began training to teach the program in the 2008-09 school year. 

“A lot of it at the secondary level of the Montessori is about independence,” Prinz said. “It’s about learning their place in the world.”

The Montessori program focuses on building independence with the curriculum and being an independent adult. World service is also very important to the program, Prinz explained. 

When the program first began, students started an organic garden at Kinawa 5-6 School, since they moved to Chippewa. When moving locations, they took over an old greenhouse and turned their original organic garden into a community garden.

“We use the greenhouse as a kind of the world experience,” Prinz said. “It’s a fundraiser for us, but we use it to also start seedlings for sale. We start those seedlings and we sell them off to other people, but then whatever’s leftover, we donate to the food bank and to other local co-ops.”

The money the Montessori program gets from its greenhouse and garden goes into its funding. Another way the program raises money is through the school store it started that is open during lunches and student-run concessions. 

“We’re looking forward to in the future is we started to tap Maple trees around the property and turning that into another little side business for the students,” Prinz said. “They’re also learning the science and chemistry behind it, just like they’re doing with the plants and the greenhouse and the fertilizers and ratios and all that other stuff.”

With all these life experiences for the students, Prinz explains that everything is tied back to the curriculum. 

Looking forward, Prinz has been working diligently on plans for a Washington DC trip in May 2025 for the students of the 7-8 program. 

“Matt met with our policy committee back in October as one of the teacher reps to look to redo our policies to ensure our field trips are accessible,” Okemos Superintendent John Hood said at the regular Board of Education meeting on Feb. 26. “Mr. Prinz was just instrumental in providing some perspective.” 

The Chippewa program sent a survey to the parents of Montessori students to gauge how much financial assistance was needed for the trip. The result was a need for $10,000 across families. The program has since been able to exceed this goal through fundraising and assist the families further, Prinz explained at the Board meeting.

“Thank you so much for the presentation and really your awareness about how important it is to make it accessible to everyone,” trustee Tom Buffett said to Prinz at the Board meeting. “Last year, everyone who wanted to go was able to go. No one got left out for financial reasons.” 

Prinz has been working with World Strides, an educational travel program, to plan this experience for the Montessori students at Chippewa. World Strides has been accommodating and provided payment plans that fit the families of the Montessori the best.

Comments are closed.