As Betsey Howard sat on the steps in a Cincinnati public school when employed as a Head Start teacher, she curiously peered into a pre-primary Montessori classroom next door. Since graduating from college she’d been teaching in a Head Start program for four years. Betsey had grown up close by in Oxford, Ohio graduating from Miami University, (Ohio). She attained a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish, with a minor in Portuguese. She recalls asking during one of her first observations, “Where did you get these kids?” They seemed so different to her; motivated, focused, intent. The Montessori teacher answered, “It’s the Method.” A term used to refer to the style of teaching behind Maria Montessori’s unique philosophy. Eventually Betsey would receive her MEd through Xavier University and her Montessori certification from the American Montessori Society. On the last day of class in 1975, she moved to Anchorage, Alaska.
It would be in Anchorage, during two years of working in a Head Start program, that she would meet Toni Serpe-Davies, another Montessori certified teacher, and the idea of Anchorage Montessori School (AMS) was formed. In 1976 public meetings were held, explaining the Montessori philosophy, and a committee of interested parents was created to explore the possibility of opening up a small pre-primary program. The search was on for classroom space, recruiting students, hand making many of the materials, and developing a plan for their business. The school was opened in the fall of 1977, offering whatever schedules the parents wanted for eighteen 3-6 year old children. The teachers sacrificed and worked hard ‘’livin’ on a shoestring.” Betsey shared that the first few years would not have been possible without major parent involvement including such individuals as Mary Core, Tom and Ruth Nighswander, and Abbe Hensley. Among the many who have contributed to AMS since the doors opened are Kee and Ed Miner, Anne Pulkkinen, Sylvia Robinson, Angelika West, Sylvia Holloway, Terri Wangstrom, and countless staff and parents.
In December 2007, Betsey retired as the Director of AMS. She was a priceless member of Anchorage Montessori School for over 30 years. She will continue to contribute to the Montessori community as a field consultant and maintaining contact with her dear and close colleagues. These days she has been traveling, being a yogi, and taking classes through OLE program (Opportunities for Lifelong Education). When asked what she found to be the most encouraging moments while working for AMS, she replied, “The commitment of the staff over 30 years. These individuals have been a GIFT.” Many lasting bonds were created and there was a powerful influence of strong women throughout the years.
As a dedication to Betsey’s caring guidance, the school has a plaque hanging in the central room naming the versatile space after her the Betsey “Big” Room. Anchorage Montessori has become a school that has played an important role in the development of thousands of Anchorage youth over the past three decades. An achievement made possible through Betsey’s vision and dedication.