One of the most innovative changes in Puerto Rican education—
bringing Montessori to elementary schools—came at teachers’ initiative.
The students file in eagerly to start another day, but instead of heading for desks, they sit in a circle on the floor, their teacher among them. Ms.
Delgado turns off the lights and leads
these 6- 7-, and 8-year-olds in a guided
meditation. “Imagine the entire
universe,” she tells the students. “Now
narrow your focus to our solar system . . .
to the planet Earth . . . to the Caribbean
. . . to Puerto Rico . . . to San Juan . . .
and to our school. Think of this class-
room and this new day we’re going to
At the end of the meditation, Ms.
Delgado makes an announcement or
two, and students move away from the
circle. They choose materials from low
shelves that line the classroom walls and
take them to small tables or mats on the
floor to work independently.
After a while, Ms. Delgado tells some
of the younger students to put away
their materials and join her in a corner
of the classroom for a geography lesson.
She makes a depression in a ball of
modeling clay and pours blue-tinted
water into it. “This is called a lake,” she
explains. “It’s water, surrounded by
land.” She places another lump of clay in
a bowl and pours water around it. “This
is called an island; it’s land, surrounded
After Ms. Delgado finishes, she asks
whether any students want to work with
the materials she has just demonstrated.
Two do, and she leaves them to make
PHOTO COURTESY OF MARTA NEGREÓN
Preschoolers learn life skills in a Montessori classroom at Santiago Iglesias, one
of the Escuelas Hermanas in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
lakes and islands of different sizes and
shapes as the others return to the materials they’d been working with before.
She goes back to observing. Noticing
that Elena is having trouble placing a
triceratops and a conifer on a time line
of the Earth’s history, Ms. Delgado sits
beside her for a few minutes and then
says, “Let me show you that again.” She
pulls out colorful cards that illustrate
different epochs as she launches into
another presentation, this time for an
audience of one.
Scenes like this, which readers may
recognize as the Montessori method in
action, are becoming more common in
Puerto Rican public schools. The infu-
sion of Montessori into 18 public
schools is one of the most innovative
education initiatives Puerto Rico has
undertaken since the mid-20th century.