America's Most Radical Integration Experiment


WATCH — A Family’s Perspective on How Their Public Montessori School Led Them to Think Differently About School Integration, Special Education, and Inclusion

October 1, 2018

When Lexa Rijos and Jamie Roadman bought a picture-perfect bungalow in San Antonio’s historic Highland Park neighborhood, they didn’t have kids and so didn’t think to investigate the local schools. Four years ago, when Santiago was born, that changed. The San Antonio Independent School District didn’t have a great reputation, so Rijos and Roadman imagined they would have to move away from their funky urban haunts or somehow find the money for private school tuition.

Rijos was investigating preschools for Santiago when she noticed a Facebook post announcing a new San Antonio ISD public Montessori school. When she clicked on the link, she was amazed to learn that Steele Montessori Academy was opening just down the street and enrolling children as young as 3. Now the couple walk their son to school every morning and go back often at night for school-wide family activities.

One of the things the family appreciates is the fact that Steele intentionally recruits and enrolls students whose families come from a range of income levels, as well as children with disabilities. Montessori’s methods were originally created to help develop self-regulation skills in children with intellectual or developmental delays. In Santiago’s mixed-age classroom, it’s impossible for visitors to tell which students receive special education services.

Steele is one of 31 dynamic and diverse-by-design schools that anchor San Antonio ISD’s plan to use a carefully calibrated combination of socioeconomic integration and school choice to break up concentrations of poverty in the district’s schools and ensure that when students graduate they are ready to go to college and stay until they earn a degree. As they’ve watched Santiago become more confident and independent — taking charge of getting himself ready for school, for example — Rijos and Roadman have become Montessori ambassadors. To find out why, take a peek inside Santiago’s classroom. And then read more about the city, its schools, and the leaders behind a revolutionary integration experiment. (Click here to read the full 74 Special Report)

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