• Gabriel Donio

Montessori coming to St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish

Fr. Rivera wants to bring Catholic school back


The Rev. David Rivera inside a new classroom inside Carmel Children’s House, a Catholic elementary school that will feature the Montessori Method. This picture was taken on July 27. (THG/Gabe Donio. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Weeks before the ribbon cutting held on August 18 for the new Montessori Method classrooms at Carmel Children’s House inside St. Joseph Center at St. Mary of Mt. Carmel Parish (SMMCP), The Gazette was invited on a tour on July 27 led by SMMCP Pastor The Rev. David Rivera of the new facility.


During that tour, Rivera made an announcement about Catholic education in Hammonton.


“I want to have a Catholic school here again, at least up until fifth grade to start. If we could get it done in the next three to four years, I would be pleased,” Rivera said.


Phase one environment would involve 3- to 5-year-olds together.


“It would fulfill the kindergarten requirement,” Rivera said.


The second environment would include 6-, 7- and 8-year-olds and the third would include 9-, 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds, according to Rivera.


“They can all be from Hammonton, but we’re taking them from anywhere. It’ll be first-come, first-serve,” Rivera said.


The hope is to have 24 students per environment so class sizes remain small.


The Little Cubs program, which has seen much success in recent years, will continue, Rivera told The Gazette.


“It will be parallel [to Carmel Children’s House]. It’s not meant to replace. I hope that Little Cubs is full and Montessori is full. We want to have the building as close to completely in use again,” Rivera said.


In addition to the school, the former St. Joseph Regional Elementary School building at the corner of Third and Pleasant Streets is being used as a community center, with classes in religion, cooking and Italian all being offered.


During the summer, a CCD program was held for one week. The program was intensive, and relatively new, Rivera said. The well attended program drew a number of students.


“It’s more like Catholic school for one week,” Rivera said.


Rivera toured The Gazette through a beautifully-renovated and modernized classroom area with entirely new flooring, lighting, doors—even a kitchen built for younger students—that Rivera hopes will soon be filled with the furniture one floor above it that is designed for the curriculum.


Building enrollment for the Montessori-based educational program will take time, Rivera said. Introducing it to Hammonton will have its challenges, he admitted.


“There are stereotypes that it is for rich people, that Montessori is too ‘woke,’ but really the basis of the Montessori Method is ‘train the senses’—all information comes through the senses,” Rivera said.


On August 18, the Carmel Children’s House held an open house event to tour the insides of the new Catholic Montessori School. The facility is brand new, and is dedicated to the Montessori method. Named after Maria Montessori, the method allows for children to become motivated in their learning abilities, and focus on the desire for knowledge.


A ribbon cutting was held at the event to celebrate the finished product of the facility. Rivera was at the ceremony to say a few words about the upcoming school.


“I want to welcome everybody today to the ribbon cutting, and before I do that I want to say a few words of very special thanks. This project was made very much possible by the generosity of Jim Heath, and Oksook, his wife. A very special thanks to them as sponsors. Supporting mostly financially, Jim basically was the product manager for all of this. He’s put a lot of time in this building… This is step one of a five-year process, of having a Montessori school 3 to 12 years old in three classrooms… this is not a one-hit wonder, this is meant to be an elementary school and that is our goal,” Rivera said.


Rivera also thanked the parish staff, as well as the community for their support with the new school. He said that with the prayers of the community, the Carmel School House goals can be met.


The classroom for the Montessori school is very soothing, with a tan color lining the floors and a white color of paint on the walls. The few decorations in the room are small and not too engaging, which was all done by design. The design team focused on engaging children in learning, and how they choose to learn, rather than focusing on what decorations to put on the walls.


Jim Heath, the donor of the program, had thought of every possible design that could help younger children in this environment. Heath, a former electrical engineer, told The Gazette that the goal for the Montessori program is to help give children a jump start in learning. By using tools that children can engage with, it helps them to better understand what they’re learning, and how they can apply it to their education.


“What it does is it shows them physically what they are learning, and they can conceptualize that two plus two is four,” Heath said.


The children in the classroom will have total control of what they want to learn, and when they want to learn it. By providing this freedom, the teacher or guide of the classroom can further determine what the child enjoys learning, and help them to their needs. Lisa Lorusso, a Camden Diocese teacher, will lead the classroom. Heath explained that Lorusso currently has been training in Princeton’s Montessori School for this reason.


Heath also explained that there is a bias against Montessori school, as many people believe it is unaffordable. Heath claims this is a false narrative for Carmel Children’s House, and hopes the community gives the school a chance.


He understands the hesitation to bring children to a Montessori school, however, he wanted to express that the program would greatly benefit the children learning. He said that his own daughter had gone to Montessori school, and had an upper hand on the other students who had not participated in such a program.


The Catholic Montessori school will open in the fall this year, and will give children the opportunity to learn at their own pace and to focus on their own self growth. To learn more about what the Carmel Children’s House has to offer, go to their Facebook page.



Sean Friel contributed to this article