Former SunGarden parent to fill longtime director's shoes

Since 1980, SunGarden Montessori Children’s House has been a constant in West Linn’s Sunset neighborhood.

Nestled in a cozy neighborhood opposite Sunset Park, generations of families from West Linn and surrounding communities have sent preschoolers to SunGarden. And for the past 19 years, Ann Messick has been there to welcome and nurture them.

When Messick decided to retire in June, SunGarden seemed on the brink of a transition. Yet thanks to longtime staffer Jacqueline McCarville, SunGarden traditions remain intact as the school welcomes a new director. McCarville, a West Linn resident, originally hails from England, where she received training as a teacher. She said that Messick is a big part of the reason she came to work at SunGarden, where she is an assistant.

“I worked at a different Montessori and was looking for something different,” she said. “I met Ann, and that was it. She is just Montessori through and through. She lives it, she believes it.”

McCarville and Messick worked together for 15 years. Messick was a Montessori guide, or teacher, for the first nine of those years; she has served as SunGarden’s director for the past six years.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - SunGarden's new director, Francesca Anton, in the rear, stands in the schools garden with former director Ann Messick, left, and assistant Jacqueline McCarville. Young learner Miriam Kelly, 4, accompanies them. The Siegel family of West Linn sent their two children to the school’s “garden” room, where Messick was the guide and McCarville her assistant. Jake Siegel, now a fifth-grader, learned with both of them for three years.

“Jake started there at just beyond two-and-a-half years,” said his mother, Linda Siegel. “I trusted them with him because they were so loving and nurturing. I can’t say enough about both Jacqueline and Ann. I think Jake learned more there about how to be a kind and loving person because of them. That’s something you don’t really learn at such a young age, to be kind to others, to respect others, to be a team player.”

Circles play a role in Montessori education, with circle time being an important part of each learning day, as students and teachers gather in a circle to focus and plan the day. The circle is also a metaphor for the way students learn from each other. Siegel referred to “nurturing circles” and said children of all ages benefit from them.

“The older kids reach out to the younger kids and the younger kids are nurtured by the older kids,” she said. “It’s a complete circle.”

The school’s new director, Francesca Anton, is completing her own SunGarden circle. A SunGarden parent in the 1980s, Anton eventually left the area and was working in British Columbia this year when, out of the blue, her phone rang.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - SunGarden Director Francesca Anton uses an outdoor instrument to make music in the schools garden.“It was a treat to get a phone call asking me if I would like to consider replacing Ann Messick,” Anton said.

“We needed someone who loved it. Francesca loves SunGarden,” Messick said. “I think she knew she loved it at the time (her children attended), but as she’s seen her children grow up ... it’s a pretty strong foundation.”

Montessori is a specialized approach to preschool education. Named for Dr. Maria Montessori, the educational philosophy emphasizes individual development and choice. SunGarden is unique among Montessori schools in that it has been operated as a nonprofit corporation since 1983.

“No one owns SunGarden,” Messick said; she now serves on the school’s eight-member board of directors. “We create (an operating) budget that is funded by tuition. Anything extra is funded by fundraising.”

At SunGarden, the “extras” include scholarships and tuition assistance, Messick said, estimating that about a quarter of students receive financial aid.

With the board overseeing finances, Anton’s focus is on the school’s young learners.

“My very first interest is to keep the integrity of both classrooms at the very highest,” she said. “When classrooms are full and children, parents, teachers are happy, it’s such a blessing.”

McCarville is doing her best, as she has for the past 15 years, to make that happen.

“Support,” she said. “I hope that’s my role, to support everyone.”

Anton is counting on that.

“Her presence gives us all perspective, keeping us grounded and keeps us delighted with the experience of SunGarden,” she said.

SunGarden will hold an open house Aug. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m. The school is located at 2284 Long St. All are welcome; call 503-655-2609 for more information.

“We will have classrooms set up,” Anton said. “Come in and look at the grounds, get to know the staff.”

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