Portfolio Partner Profile
Wildflower Loan Fund II
Wildflower is an ecosystem of decentralized Montessori micro-schools that are teacher-led and offer child-centered learning environments to support children and families from diverse backgrounds committed to the liberation of every human being, every community, and the human spirit, so that we may all live in harmony with our individual purpose and the world around us, free from oppression and able to follow life's unfolding journey.
The model combines Montessori methods in one-room, neighborhood shopfronts with a focus on parent engagement, intentional student diversity, teacher empowerment and data-driven instruction.
The Wildflower Foundation provides support services for the schools, including administrative tools, financial resources, marketing support, technology and coaching. The financial resources that the Foundation provides include startup grants coupled with low-interest loans that do not require personal guarantees from the teacher-leaders. Calvert Impact Capital lends to the Foundation’s Sunlight Loan Fund, which supports the Foundation’s unique ability to provide teacher-leaders with flexible and affordable debt to schools so that they can focus on providing quality education and administration.
Wildflower currently has 60 schools in the network in locations including Massachusetts, Minnesota, Indiana, Rhode Island, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, Colorado, California, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. As the neighborhood where the first school was opened, Cambridge has the largest existing cluster of schools with 13 locations.
Featured Impact Story
Goldenrod brings together children from across Cleveland in a centrally located historic shopfront site at the edge of several racially and socioeconomically diverse communities. Founders Jill Evan and Kaitlin Tonelli both gravitated to Montessori after working in traditional schools. During past teaching experiences, Jill frequently saw that academic pressure from administrators and districts was stressful and frustrating for teachers, families, and students. So when she found Montessori, she said it felt like a miracle: “Montessori doesn’t prize students being at the same developmental or academic level or progressing in sync. You aren’t bandied about by the trendy research and fickle pressures. You have one set of research and curriculum that 100 years of practice tells us works well. The rest of education is just starting to catch up.”
Kaitlin was exposed to Montessori while working for a STEAM-based after-school enrichment program that partnered with a variety of different schools. She fell in love with Montessori’s emphasis on self-directed education and trust in educators to prepare the environment to support the students. When she came across a posting from Jill, searching for a partner to share in the calling to launch a neighborhood school, Kaitlin couldn’t believe her luck: the school was everything she was looking for and growing just two blocks from her own home.
Because of Covid, Jill and Kaitlin experienced many delays in opening. Still, the pair found safe and creative ways to begin building their school community: they created outdoor events to meet prospective families and build relationships with their neighbors, including a food and music event at an urban farm and a parent meet-and-greet at a nature center. As their school community grew, they could also support online activities for enrolled students to build relationships with families before their launch in January.
Honeypot Montessori was founded by Deja and Taysiah with a simple belief in the effectiveness of Montessori as a method and the importance of its accessibility for diverse people. They are the first Montessori school and the first nature school in Newark, NJ, designed to help close the “nature gap,” which too often leaves children of color, especially in low-income communities, with limited access to green spaces and the healing benefits of outdoor play.
Honeypot currently enrolls 100% Black students from the neighborhood. It is a joyful place where children are encouraged to freely explore and learn while embracing who they are. For Deja and Taysiah, creating a culture of joy and liberation means living out their own inner child and being themselves too. As teacher-administrators, they follow their instincts and respond to children’s social emotional needs in the moment as they see best – sometimes shifting plans to truly listen to each child. Taysiah, as both a founder and a parent at Honeypot, takes immense pride in creating a school where her outgoing young black son can be himself, use his voice, and be heard.
At Honeypot, children are thriving through the combination of Montessori and nature-based pedagogies. The simplicity and coherence within these approaches allow children to grasp complex concepts effortlessly. They actively engage in activities such as planting, weeding, harvesting, and tasting, all while learning about sustainability and the impact of climate change.
Blazing Stars Montessori began as a shared dream between two educators and mothers who wanted a safe environment where their three brown boys could flourish as themselves – especially in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. As LaTania and Kameeka close out their first school year, they are most proud of their school’s diverse student body – Blazing Stars is a thriving community of about 75% low to middle income families, 70% BIPOC families, as well as students with learning differences. LaTania and Kameeka were able to create this diverse school by building a culture of liberation and wholeness that starts with themselves, and also by partnering with Florida’s Early Learning Coalition while working toward being a Florida Step Up for Students provider to open up financial access. To their families, Blazing Stars is “everything they never knew that they needed.”
LaTania and Kameeka have been amazed by how their vision for a school that is a safe haven for every child and family has resonated with those in Dade City. A network of community members invested in their work is growing – a local leader and a restaurant owner visited Blazing Stars and donated on the spot, a local entrepreneur and community innovator invited them to share their story through her media platform, and a seasoned community member they met at the farmer’s market gives lessons on the piano for the children on Fridays. The way LaTania and Kameeka believed in and continued sharing their story despite setbacks has come full circle – their school not only reflects the diversity of their community but it is contributing to the flourishing of it.
Clover Montessori School
Clover Montessori School is an inclusive Montessori environment in the heart of the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. As Philadelphia residents, Founding Teacher Leaders Eileen and Jake identified the Mt. Airy community because of its rich socioeconomic and racial diversity, as well as its need for more high-quality child care centers. Their students benefit from community access to a local park, library, and neighboring small businesses where children can learn and explore on their path to becoming global citizens.
Jake and Eileen have over 20 years of collective classroom experience and are committed to bringing high-quality Montessori to all children. Serving a more diverse group of students motivated them to start their own school because many of the schools they taught at in the past were exclusive, despite the best intentions of school administrators. At Clover, they are able to work with families directly to help them access various state and local childcare subsidies, and they also offer tiered tuition so that they can teach in alignment with their values and bring the Montessori pedagogy to more families.
As they worked to open Clover, Jake and Eileen had to navigate a string of challenges in licensing and COVID-related delays, but their families stuck with them. Their inaugural group of students was eager to be in the classroom, and families were attracted to their values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “Being upfront about our school’s goals drew really amazing families to us,” Eileen expressed. “Now, we’re at the point for next year where we have a waitlist. The people who are waiting are waiting because they believe in our mission.” Their tight-knit community comes together around parent education nights and other gatherings, and Clover is helping plant the seeds for a sustainable ecosystem of beautiful, high-quality Montessori microschools in Philadelphia.
Sundrops emerged from collective visions of the management of the El Rancho Verde affordable housing development in San Jose—who wanted a Montessori school to serve the families in the community—and founding Teacher Leaders Helen and Encarna, who jumped at the opportunity to open their school in the beautiful new space within a culturally and socioeconomically diverse community. Just within El Rancho Verde, there are 700 units, including many multigenerational immigrant families.
As immigrants to the U.S. themselves, Helen and Encarna are passionate about providing accessible, authentic Montessori education combined with nurturing and healthy family engagement. They both began their Montessori journey along with their young children. After teaching at local Montessori schools for a combined 20 years, they each reached out to Wildflower about starting their own school, and Wildflower Bay Area staff introduced them. In a twist of fate, they already knew each other. Twenty years earlier, Helen worked with Encarna’s husband. Their mutual respect and friendship formed the base of a strong partnership, and Sundrops was born.
Through COVID-19, they have felt fortunate to have achieved their license and opened during such uncertain times. They were one of the first schools in California to be licensed virtually during the pandemic, walking the inspectors through their classroom via iPad as Helen and Encarna took detailed measurements. In addition, their strong network of support—from the housing development, their families, and Wildflower—enabled them to start in February with a soft launch serving a small number of students as they focused on building enrollment through trusting relationships with area families.
Roxbury Roots Montessori, Inc.
Roxbury Roots is the dream of its founders, Renee Jolley and Kendall Allen. Renee grew up in the Boston neighborhood of Roxbury and wanted to bring the magic of Montessori education to her community. The program began as a parent-child initiative, educating parents on how to complement their child’s education at home. It grew into a small, home-based program, and now Roxbury Roots will be able to serve more families as it opens a beautiful, community-embedded microschool in the heart of the Roxbury neighborhood.
After becoming a Montessori guide, Renee spent months of her time driving outside of her community to teach in different schools. When describing her work to friends and family with children, they would say, “That sounds like an awesome education. I wish it were here.” Thus, Renee crafted a vision: bring Montessori education to Roxbury, make it affordable, and bring an Afrocentric focus for Black students and families from all backgrounds who want to expose their children to a multicultural learning environment.
Renee found an ideal partner in Kendall Allen after training together at New England Montessori Teacher Education Center and participating in the Wildflower Massachusetts fellowship program together. Kendall took advantage of the opportunity to partner with Renee because she also wanted to create an Afrocentric school that honors the passions and interests of young students, inspired by a school she attended from kindergarten through third grade.
Roxbury Roots has been supporting children and parents in a small, home-based pod during the pandemic until their beautiful center in Roxbury is complete this summer. Roxbury Roots also seeks to expose children to languages, including American Sign Language and Kiswahili, and positive images of people from the Black diaspora, to instill a sense of pride and empowerment in their students.
The Dahlia School of San Francisco
The Dahlia School is an authentic Montessori Spanish immersion school in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. Bay Area locals Alejandra Tryon and Lindsey Barnes dreamt of starting an intentionally diverse, equitable Spanish-immersion program. Lindsey, a Mission Bay resident and former technology marketing manager turned Montessorian, was eager to do something about the lack of accessible, high-quality schools in her community. She partnered with seasoned Montessorian, Alejandra Tryon who brings significant experience leading Spanish immersion programs and coaching teachers and parents. Together, they launched the two-classroom school serving children ages 18 months to 6 years.
Lindsey and Alejandra knew Mission Bay needed a Montessori program and a place for the community to come together across lines of difference. Still, the extraordinary real estate situation in the city made the entire project challenging and costly. Leasing and renovating space cost more than $1 million, which they pulled together through a $260,000 grant from the city of San Francisco, $550,000 of tuition pre-payments from families, loans from Wildflower, and more than $30,000 in private fundraising. “San Francisco is one of the most inequitable places in the world right now," Lindsey shared, “and if there’s ever a place that needs a Wildflower school, it’s here.”
They are united in their passion for opening up the world of Montessori to families who traditionally haven’t been able to afford it. At The Dahlia School of San Francisco, they provide fully customized, indexed tuition based on family income and accept San Francisco city vouchers. They are proud to prepare their students on a great path to contribute to society by supporting their academic and social-emotional skills to be in community, build friendships, and be accountable for their actions. They also enjoy coaching parents in positive parenting and Montessori methods at home. The Dahlia School’s re-enrollment rate is already strong, and the reception from families is bolstering their ambition to add an elementary program, beginning in the fall of 2022.