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Museum partnership with Montessori program pays off for both

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Challenging economic times call for organizations to discover creative solutions. A good example of this is the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, which has been desperate to replace massive budget cuts from the city in order to keep the doors open and keep the community connected to its past.  

This fall, the museum entered into a unique partnership with Academic Associates, a local nonprofit that provides reading help for students of all ages. The agreement allows the organization to rent out space in the basement of the museum for tutoring and also allows it to run a Montessori program for a dozen elementary school students. This arrangement brings $500 a month to the cash-challenged museum and creates a dynamic learning environment for the business and its nonprofit educational program.   

Academic Associates' Director Anni Hisey was one of the 30 Under 35 young leaders recognized in 2012 by our Business World Magazine. Her business partner in the Joyful Scholars Montessori program, Cara Hackenmiller, received the same recognition in 2013.  Hackenmiller and Hisey found each other just a year ago when they were both looking for ways to begin a Montessori elementary program that their kids could attend. They clicked immediately and have formed a strong working relationship.   

Museum Director Brenda Abney called the partnership with Academic Associates a "symbiotic arrangement" and a "no brainer," because it extends their mission to reach out to children with programs that inspire their love of learning.   I toured the Montessori program this week and received the cook's tour by 7-year-old Seleah Hisey, Anni's daughter. The smell of fresh bread baking permeated the space where children were working in teams or individually on projects, building skills and capabilities in order to take on more complex tasks.   

Here's how Hisey explained the Montessori method: "It begins with the notion of deep respect for the learner in each child. We recognize that each child wants to learn and doesn't need incentives or rewards or punishments to be coaxed into learning." Everyone works at his or her own pace and nobody knows what everyone else is working on, said Hisey. "It's really a personal journey," she added.   

Hisey and Hackenmiller have both taught in public schools but prefer the interactivity and hands-on learning that Montessori promotes.   

One of the beautiful aspects of the partnership is that kids take "field trips" to visit museum exhibits.  "We use this as our living encyclopedia," Hisey said. "It's the perfect place for us." They've also developed other partnerships. The folks at Ki Fighting Concepts, for example, donate martial arts lessons for physical education. Being downtown has helped the kids connect with local businesses in their exploration of ideas. At the end of the day, the students head home and Academic Associates begins its tutoring program in reading.  

This partnership between a local business and the museum is a wonderful example of finding creative opportunities to use public buildings effectively and what a unique learning experience it has created for the kids in the Montessori program.