Inly School’s new da Vinci Studio is taking creativity and innovation to new heights.By Laura Desisto | Photography by Chris Bernstein
When Charles and Jane Terranova opened the Montessori Community School in 1973, the world was a much simpler place. In those days, a handful of children filled a tiny white Cape perched on a small rise just off route 123 in Scituate and students aged 2 through 10 were guided in the classic Montessori methods that featured carefully prepared environments and encouraged peer and independent learning.
Now in its 43rd year and under the skillful leadership of current head of school Donna Milani Luther, the school (now known as Inly School) has undergone tremendous growth—the likes of which the Terranovas could hardly have imagined.
Since taking the reins at Inly School in 1996, Milani Luther has overseen multiple expansions of the physical structure of the school, its program offerings and the student population that now stands at 280 and serves students as young as 18 months old through the 8th grade. Milani Luther was also involved in the rebranding and renaming of the school to “Inly” –an Old English word that means deep thought and understanding.
The school acquired much of the land that surrounded the original tiny schoolhouse and the grounds are now home to a 4.5-acre outdoor classroom dubbed “Sunflower Hill” that features nature trails and student-run organic gardens. The property is also home to athletic fields and a performing arts center called the Meehan Family Artsbarn, which hosts plays, musical performances and speaker series events.
While all the changes under Milani Luther’s leadership have certainly been impressive, Inly’s latest project–the opening of a 15,000-square-foot addition this September–is clearly a watershed moment in the evolution of the school and may be the capstone of Milani Luther’s legacy.
Housed in a three-story circular structure that juts out from the front of the new building, the addition is home to six new classrooms, a new library, a learning lab to support students with mild to moderate learning differences, and at its core, an innovation space known as the “da Vinci Studio.” Inside, steel beams form a massive “tree” with beams that stretch up to the ceiling like branches.
The da Vinci studio houses a dedicated robotics space, a digital lab and design studio, a “Maker Space” containing 3-D printers, laser cutters and other tools, and a “Think Tank” equipped with whiteboards for brainstorming sessions and mid-project iterations.
Assistant head of school Julie Kelly-Detwiler was integral to the development of the new space and says that the project evolved in large part out of the school’s focus on what is often referred to as “21st-century skills.”
“These are the abilities widely regarded as necessary to possess in order to be successful in the information age,” says Kelly-Detwiler. “They include but are not limited to: collaboration, creativity, communication, critical thinking and technology literacy. Actually, these skills have always been an important part of a Montessori education, but the new space will exponentially improve on our ability to deliver them.”
One example of how the new space might support these skills, says Kelly-Detwiler, would be if a student was given an assignment in language class, they might first brainstorm using the white board in the Think Tank and then work collaboratively using a green screen and digital equipment in the Design Lab to make a movie of themselves conversing in Spanish.
“In that one project, the student would be bringing many of those 21st century skill to bear, working cooperatively and creatively while using technology versus just sitting alone at a desk on a laptop writing a report or answering a prompt.”
Kelley Huxtable, Inly’s Technology Integrationist notes, “The space is not just about us having all the latest technology. It’s about building habits of mind. We are developing the inventors, the engineers and the builders of our future and we feel a deep responsibility in how we shape them to find real world solutions to the challenges of our time.”
The intent of the studio is to support the project-based learning that is the hallmark of a Montessori education. Students will be encouraged to use the space whenever they have the need versus during a standard technology block.
“The da Vinci studio is an extension of each classroom to be used creatively and often as an additional resource for students, much the same way our Outdoor Classroom integrates and extends multiple areas of our curriculum,” explains Kelly-Detwiler.
The project grew out of the school’s programming needs.
“We have a vibrant and growing robotics community,” says Kelly-Detwiler. “Five years ago, we had a few students participating and now we have multiple programs and robotics teams. This space will have the capacity to support this growing demand.”
While Inly’s new space certainly contains cutting-edge technology (their Glowforge 3-D printer had to be ordered pre-production), Milani Luther is quick to point out that the school is careful and deliberate in making technology just one part of the overall curriculum.
“This generation of children are ‘digital natives’ whereas us older folks are ‘digital immigrants,’ she says. “Many children are using iPads and iPhones while still in diapers. The challenge is to get kids to be thoughtful and productive users of technology.”
Kelly-Detwiler agrees. “At Inly, we believe that kids should be creating with technology, not consuming it,” she says. “Further, Montessori observed and current brain research strongly suggests that children should be working three-dimensionally at least through the second grade. We do not introduce two-dimensional technology such as the use of computers until about the third grade, but project based learning that supports the skills needed to use computers effectively can be developed at much earlier ages, and all of our students will be using the da Vinci Studio.”
The design of the six new classrooms housed in the addition was also heavily informed by the latest research on brain development. Every classroom has a secure outdoor space easily accessed by the children.
“There is a midline connection between the two hemispheres of the brain that only happens when children are physically active at a critical stage in their development. If you miss that connection, it will sometimes never fully form,” explains Milani Luther.
Over the years, this thoughtful, research based and child-centered approach to education has attracted many families to the school; and the new addition and curriculum are already drawing a fresh crop.
One such family is the Cutlers of Scituate whose son George is an incoming fifth grader. George’s mother, Katie Cutler, says that her son has always been a “techie” kid and the family has been looking for a school that could enhance and expand the way their son uses technology.
“Our generation of parents has had to become ‘technology police,’” says Cutler. “This is something our parents did not have to contend with and in some ways I think it sends the message to our children that technology is somehow bad and that it has to be doled out in small doses. Our hope is that since our son has a facility with technology, Inly will guide him in productive ways to use it.”
If the new space and programming lives up to its intent, George’s needs will be well met and he and other Inly students will be well prepared to meet the many challenges awaiting them in the information age.