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Utah’s First Wildflower School

Updated: May 20

By Donda Hartsfield

Along the road to becoming the first Wildflower school in Utah, the founders of Pinyon Montessori have grown tremendously as individuals and as co-producers. Margaret, Brandi, and Chip confirm, it takes a lot of “resilience, tenacity, and humility” to be on the Wildflower journey. Like the Globe mallow bee, who has unified its pollinating powers towards the beautiful orange Globe mallow of the desert, Pinyon’s founders are unified in their efforts, vision, and commitment to providing the highest quality education and nurturing environment for students and their families as they grow the first Wildflower school in Utah.

Photo courtesy of Nikoli Ikerd

Wildflower schools are grounded in an ethos that includes the liberation of all human beings, allowing people to live in harmony while cultivating a strong sense of individual purpose. By emphasizing the connectedness among all people, all nature, as well as embracing all facets of humanness, peace can be created within and in the world. The founders of Pinyon feel that, “ there is not enough opportunity for families to experience authentic Montessori and we hope bringing Wildflower to Utah will open the doors for families of all ethnicities, backgrounds and economic standing to be part of our community.” Wildflower schools also have a focus on nature, emphasizing the importance of children spending time in natural environments while learning from and connecting with nature as part of their learning process. By developing a relationship with nature, children can also grow their understanding and care for it.

The Wildflower vision is holistic and considers the evolutionary path of the whole child as well as the adults (teachers, families) and communities within the local ecosystem. There are over 60 Wildflower schools in the United States and Puerto Rico with more on the rise, as they celebrate their ten year anniversary this year.

Pinyon’s founders are thrilled to work with the Wildflower Network. Wildflower aims to be an experiment in a new learning environment, blurring the boundaries between home and school, between scientists and teachers, between schools and the neighborhoods around them. The network’s knowledgeable and supportive people have guided and encouraged Pinyon through their structured visioning, planning and start-up process to help them along their journey. The Wildflower network is supported by a foundation that works to build capacity, systems, tools and research to grow and strengthen the network. All Wildflower schools have access to this support and partnership throughout the life of the school.

Pinyon Montessori has established itself as a 501c3 corporation with active board directors to help it accomplish its mission and steward its health.

Brandi says that Pinyon is unique because, “We are a community nested in the city of Salt Lake. This allows us to see the city community in action and how nature surrounds us even in a city. We will be a micro Montessori school with 2 classrooms, Early Childhood and Elementary.” Pinyon includes the typical Wildflower teacher leader model. Wildflower Micro-schools are intentionally small, with an enrollment of ~20-60 students. The teacher leaders provide the vision, prepare the environment, guide the children in the classrooms and assume administrative responsibilities for the operations of the school.

Being the administrative and curricular decision-makers means teacher leaders can respond to needs promptly and holistically. Being small, and staying small, eliminates institutional bureaucracy and allows teacher leaders greater flexibility and responsiveness and builds deep meaningful relationships between students, families and school.

As Pinyon continues to establish its roots in Salt Lake, it also aims to help other Wildflower schools, serving infants through middle school, open in Utah and grow options for families. At this point in the journey they need more families to join them. They are also on the lookout for more opportunities to receive funding for their “forever home” as Pinyon is currently operating in a temporary space.

Many of the Wildflower attributes can be seen and learned from in nature, such as in decentralization. For example, Red harvester ants communicate to each other where food is, how much food there is, and whether or not they should switch tasks to forage based on chemical signaling and the rate of ant interactions. Without being directed by a central controller or even another ant, they are able to capture precise information about their environment and respond appropriately. Decentralized systems can have many benefits, especially when it comes to the ability to respond effectively, immediately, and authentically to a situation as needed. Organically, Wildflower incorporates the wisdom of nature. Wildflower is also considered a Teal organization. They follow Frederic LaLoux’s idea of evolutionary organizations.

Brandi says, “as Montessorians, we know the power and strength of community and that more minds leads to better understanding. The idea of teal follows the philosophy of Montessori beautifully and we are very grateful to be able to lead Pinyon in a Montessori/Teal way.”

At this point in their journey, the founders of Pinyon are continuing to learn and grow together. Being in a classroom with three experienced, knowledgeable teachers has shown them how invaluable good, authentic communication is. As Brandi explains, “Our work is to refine our vision of Pinyon so that many others can join us in the journey both as teachers, families and students.”

The relationships among the Wildflower schools, network, and foundation can be compared to the many vital exchanges within nature. Beneficial exchanges create conducive conditions for many species to thrive, which creates vibrant ecosystems. As the orange glow of Globe mallow flourishes in Utah’s deserts in the spring, the Globe mallow bee and other pollinators reinforce mutual partnerships with it and other wildflowers, contributing to an abundant and buzzing desert ecosystem. The Pronghorn antelope browse on sagebrush and mallow, as the Pinyon pine’s pollen is stirred in the wind. While organisms tune in to the seasons and their unique environment on the Earth, they leverage off of these natural cycles and adapt while building upon the many relationships that abound.

The significance of Pinyon Montessori as being the first Wildflower school in Utah is not only an organic matter, fueled by immense dedication, diligence and a love of learning, it also means that the founders are developing key experience and insights into the very particular niche of building critical relationships in their specific environment. This will be of great value to other Wildflower schools of Utah in the future while also extending the threads of mutualistic relationships and resilient communities throughout the region. As Pinyon founders state, “Our vision is to see Wildflower schools in Utah support infants through middle school students. We know that having other Wildflower schools to support one another will bring about a change in the Utah Montessori landscape.”

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Thank you Donda. We appreciate your work and your way with words.

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Beautifully written, Donda!!! You play a huge role in every arena you are a part of....WELL DONE! SO VERY PROUD OF YOU!!!

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