January is for new beginnings. Claudia Medina and her family are definitely starting a new episode in their lives. Claudia has just fulfilled a lifelong dream of building her own Montessori school. It took months of hard work but they completed a two-story addition to their house at 1044 Dunlop. The first floor will house Bilingual Montessori Lab Academy for teaching students and training teachers.
Medina received her Montessori training in Miami. She moved there in 1992 to flee violence in her native Columbia. After completing her training, she earned a scholarship to come to Chicago. She has now been training teachers for 16 years in far-flung places like Norway and the Czech Republic. Having her own lab school will enable Medina to remain closer to home and family.
Her husband, Rosalio, and three children, Camilo, Gabriel and Maria Teresa, helped provide the muscle to build the school. Ground was broken on March 7, 2018 and the family worked weekends to complete the interior. They did the plumbing and installed sinks. They finished the window frames and did all the painting.
Claudia and Rosalio laid the heated floor. They also built the shelves and furnished the school with kid-sized tables and chairs. They bought their Montessori teaching supplies from a school in Indiana that was closing after 50 years. The final result is a cozy 800-square-foot classroom, decorated with colorful teaching tools. It has the classic look and feel of a Montessori school.
Medina’s roots run deep in this method of education. Maria Montessori taught her grandfather, Bernardo, when he was 3 years old. She then started a training center in Bogota, igniting a passion in Medina’s family to become teachers.
Medina’s house, meanwhile, has deep roots in Forest Park history. It was originally a farmhouse built in 1892 by the O’Connor family. They farmed south Forest Park, prior to the land being subdivided for housing. The three-bedroom sits on a double-lot that is 175-feet deep. This will give students plenty of space for outdoor activities, like gardening.
Medina is planning daytime classes for K-4th grades. She will provide Spanish-only guitar classes, so students can learn language and music at the same time, and she will add after-school Spanish classes. She will also help daycare operators with bilingual education. Once she obtains accreditation as a training center, she will instruct teachers on weekends and evenings.
I can personally testify that Medina’s training is effective. During a half-day workshop, she taught me how to fully engage my ESL students and dramatically increase their productivity.
I call Claudia a “force of nature” for her tireless energy. It could take her 2-3 years to become fully accredited but she has already accomplished so much. Besides completing construction, she has secured her not-for-profit status. She plans to charge tuition but will make Montessori affordable to the community.
Besides wanting to teach Forest Park kids, Claudia and Rosalio believe the project taught their own kids some valuable life lessons. It has shown them how to make a vision reality. They learned a similar lesson when they campaigned for their mother to be elected to the District 209 Board of Education. Medina completed her school’s construction in time to conduct her re-election campaign.
Not that all of the construction is finished. They are still working on the living space above the school. They also plan to finish the basement and install offices and meeting rooms. Neighborhood kids have helped in what Medina calls a labor of love. Bill Dwyer’s family also donated a sign they fashioned to honor his late wife, Carol.
It says, simply, “Dream.”
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com