In the Beginning
In 2008, a group of community activists, educators and parents sought to establish a Montessori program to serve public school students in Washington, DC. In 2010, the charter application was approved by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board and the vision of establishing Shining Stars Montessori Academy Public Charter School (SSMA) became a reality. The school enrolled its first students in the 2011-2012 school year.
The SSMA founders reflected the professional and ethnic diversity required to govern a high-performing and progressive public charter school. They chose the Montessori Method as its centering pedagogy because they were convinced that this approach would change the educational outcomes for children living in Washington, DC.
In 2014, the school transitioned to new leadership and thus began a new path forward. In 2015-2016 the school expanded to add one additional Primary classroom (Nelson Mandela Stars) and one Upper Elementary classroom (Langston Hughes Stars). The following year (SY 2016-2017), the school enrolled 200 students and added one additional Primary (King Stars).
While growth was relatively steady, facilities insecurities and site impermanence created challenges for the school’s growth and progress. SSMA needed a new campus by 2016, and so the Executive Director set out, again, to seek a new, more permanent home for the school's ideals and work. She discovered the 28,000 square foot building in Brookland owned by Howard University that had previously housed a parochial school. The administration, faculty and student body began designing a new campus and the ways in which it could maintain "the SSMA Montessori way."
A New Home, A New Future
With a new long term lease with Howard University in hand, SSMA opened the doors of its new Brookland campus at 1240 Randolph Street NE —complete with its first gymnasium/auditorium, first play space, small garden, library, parking for staff, space for 300 + students and staff, and a fresh sense of potential.
Shining Stars has grown and evolved at a remarkable pace while maintaining its allegiance to its core Montessori values of uninterrupted morning and afternoon work cycles, mixed-age classrooms, classes fully equipped with the unique Montessori materials, and credentialed Guides/teachers (all with Bachelor’s and/or Masters degrees) in every classroom.
SSMA’s programs have expanded in size and ambition. We offer:
- Montessori Middle United Nations experiences
- Dedicated library time for all students;
- Montessori After School Program (MAPs) which offers enrichment programming in art, gardening, robotics, chess, cooking, capoeira, basketball, soccer, Girls on the Run, Young Ladies with Purpose Group (grades 1-6) ballet/dance, and homework assistance for students in grades 3-6;
- Montessori Spanish Immersion program that has doubled in size since 2018;
- School gardening program funded by a multi-year River grant
- More ”going out” expeditions and field trips, simulations, and projects that challenge students whose curiosity and invention continuously grow.
Students have graduated from our upper elementary to attend prestigious private schools and high-performing public charter schools for middle school and beyond.
The school has been praised as a "model school" that has found success with such a diverse faculty and student body. SSMA is currently the only DC public charter school to be dually-accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, and the American Montessori Society.
This school year, the school expanded to almost 300 students whose families speak 18 languages, and come together from every ward of the City. We now have 13 classrooms serving PreK3 through 6th grade; three classrooms, two primary and one lower elementary are part of the SSMA Spanish Immersion Pilot, which began in 2018 and will continue to grow.
The 2019-2020 year also launched SSMA’s third strategic planning process, a community-wide effort, culminating with a bold plan calling on SSMA to inspire and expand student discovery; honor SSMA’s faculty & staff; achieve greater diversity, equity, and inclusion; strengthen SSMA’s financial foundation, and proclaim SSMA’s mission and core values.
"A key aspect of SSMA’s success is the mutual respect among teachers, students, and parents, says Dr. Regina Rodriguez-Garcia, SSMA’s Executive Director. “The exchange of information and ideas about our students between teachers and other adults builds students' confidence, particularly as teachers speak personally and sincerely to the students and learn who they are. SSMA is all about dialogue, practicing kindness, equity and giving voice to each of our community members.”