A lot has changed over 40-years at Millhopper Montessori School. And for those former students who now serve as teachers, the changes are more personal than the obvious name change from the Montessori School of Gainesville to the name it has now.
This year, the school will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its inaugural school year, 1977-78 with a reunion on June 9. The school holds a reunion every five years, but this year, there will be two alumni parties. The first welcomes alumni of all ages with a second event in the evening for alumni 21 and older at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
School director Christina Miller, has been with the school since its name change 40 years ago and sees the this anniversary as a milestone.
“I thought, ‘Well, should I wait until 50? Fifty is more, you know, half a century,’” Miller said, who purchased the school from the previous owner. “I thought, ‘Nah, I’ll do 40.’”
The average longevity for teachers at the school is between 15 and 20 years, Miller said, because “nobody ever leaves.” And sometimes, alumni end up coming back to work there.
Gini Bernal, an after-school care supervisor, started at the school in 2001, when she was in kindergarten, and continued through her eighth-grade graduation in 2010. She volunteered with the school while in high school. And after high school, she was one of the ones who came back.
Bernal said she notices a difference between students who attend the Montessori school and students who don’t.
“Interacting with children here, and just the difference between them and the other children that I interact with, either babysitting or just casually, these children, they love learning as opposed to some kids who dread going to school,” Bernal said. “They actually enjoy being here and learning.”
Laura Clark, an after-school care supervisor, also graduated from the school in 2010. In addition to working as an after school care supervisor, she helps with summer counseling as well as substitute teaching.
Clark said she came back to work at the school because she likes the setting, the school and the people who work at the school.
“I thoroughly enjoyed all my years here,” Clark said. “I think some people have a little bit of a stressful middle school experience, but I really enjoyed it.”
Laurie Newsom, a parent of three children who attended the school, said the school is “unequaled to any other school in this area.”
“Tina Miller’s school is by far the most prominent in preparing children to make decisions throughout their lives and live their lives,” Newsom said. “And my children are excellent examples of that.”
The school is currently for students from age 2 through eighth grade, with nine classrooms and a student population of 220.
In the future, Miller would love to have a high school.
Even though Miller has been at the Montessori school for 40 years, she does not plan on retiring anytime soon.
“A lot of my friends are retiring, and the thought is horrifying,” Miller said. “I get choked up at just the thought.”