Tuesday was “Wisdom Day” at Montessori Borealis, the public Montessori school for children in first grade through eighth grade. At about 8:30 a.m. kids in shiny galoshes formed a large, scattered circle on the turf field outside the Marie Drake Options Building, grasping cheerful flowers for their teachers. For some of these students, it was the first day of school ever. Others stood reunited with groups of friends, talking and smiling — veterans of Wisdom Day, an annual event that marks the first day of the school year.
The young ones weren’t the only new folks at school. Brand new principal Kristin Garot this year stepped up from teaching at Thunder Mountain High School to head up the Montessori school, as well as Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School.
Garot stood in the Wisdom Day circle with the children and parents as teacher Cory Crossett addressed the group and led them in singing “Alaska’s Flag,” the state song written by Marie Drake herself. Crossett told the children to acknowledge a friend in the circle, then someone they’ve never met before.
“Make a promise to yourself that in the near future you’ll take the opportunity to form a bit of community with them,” Crossett said.
He then introduced the leaders of the school community — the teachers. When Crossett got to what he thought was the end of the list, the children shouted, “The principal! The principal!”
After he introduced Garot, the crowd clapped and cheered. The Wisdom Day ceremony ended with a round of “Make New Friends.”
A few minutes later, Garot was leading first-day-of-school introductions at the alternative high school, also housed in the Marie Drake building. She told the approximately 60 students at the meeting about the Montessori school’s Wisdom Day ceremony.
“At Wisdom Day we said, ‘Be thankful that you are in school,’” Garot said to the high schoolers. “I know we don’t think about that as much in high school.”
She led the teenagers in a getting-to-know-you exercise.
“Partner up!” she said. “Everybody in the room, find a partner!” The pairs circled up around the common room and shifted right and left, trading partners and information about themselves.
Garot is no stranger to high school. Up until this year, she taught English and drama at Thunder Mountain High School since the school opened. Before that, she taught English and history at Juneau-Douglas High School for nine years. After completing an administrative program at University of Alaska Southeast, she decided she was up for a different challenge. She attended an international job fair which highlighted school administration openings around the world. But as excited as she was for a new gig, she wasn’t so excited to leave the city she’d called home since 1999.
“I didn’t really want to leave (Juneau), but I was willing to try something new,” Garot said after the first-day-of-school events. “When this job opened, it was perfect.”
She said leading the optional programs — both schools as well as HomeBRIDGE and a few other programs — is perfect for her.
“My true love is to take an interdisciplinary, team-based approach to education,” Garot said. “It’s all of these programs that are reaching kids where they are.”
In both schools, the teachers work closely with students to make sure they’re getting what they need, she said. At the alternative high school, Garot said staff is working to raise graduation rates. At the school, “success looks different than that standard graduation rate,” she said.
“This is a place where all those different levels of kids find a place where teachers can check in on them,” Garot said.
She sees her biggest challenge in her new role to be getting to know the intricacies of each program. Although Garot hasn’t had Montessori experience in the past, she attended a Montessori conference in Portland, Ore., this summer that gave her a good introduction to the teaching methods.
“It’s a really big job and I am excited about each part of that,” she said.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.