Beginning this fall, Northern Kentucky children able to work beyond the constraints of grade-level-based classwork will have another option to realize their academic potential.

Northern Kentucky Montessori Center, a private, non-profit school that emphasizes independent study and individualized attention, is opening an elementary program for children ages 6-9. Like its programs for younger students, the elementary program will allow students to progress at their natural rate, often well beyond their traditional grade levels, and flourish in an environment of initiative and creativity.

“Children learn best by having concrete experiences and through multi-sensory learning,” says the school’s Executive Director Julia Preziosi, a 25-year veteran of Montessori.

“We let them learn at their own pace and grow into learning. We don’t hold them back by saying, ‘This is the lesson plan of the day. This is what we’re teaching everyone, whether you’re ready for it or not. Even if it’s something you’ve already mastered.’ ”

Montessori teaching traces its roots back to Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori, whose work with children in the early 1900s led to tens of thousands of namesake programs worldwide.

Montessori observed that children using self-directed learning activities grasped concepts much easier and advanced more quickly than traditional educational models. She eventually carved out a curriculum that featured independent study guided by teachers, hands-on activities and classes of mixed-age children. It was a curriculum that grabbed the attention of Fort Mitchell resident Kitty Salter, who started a Montessori program in her home in 1967.

She continued to teach students there for nearly 40 years, as Northern Kentucky Montessori Center took shape, eventually counting hundreds of local children as students.

Salter and her husband, Dan, retired in 2004, and the program moved to its current home on Anderson Road in Crescent Springs. Since then, it’s continued to thrive, offering full-day, morning-only and after-school programs for children. Its students have thrived, too.

“Our children have left NKMC doing work well beyond their grade levels,” explains Preziosi. “When our children leave our kindergarten program, they’re usually reading at the third- or fourth-grade level, for example.” Math scores are similarly accelerated, she adds.

According to Nicole Schmidt, a teacher at the center, the students motivate themselves.

“They find something that catches their interest, and you can see them get lost in it. You could drop something right behind them and they don’t notice,” she says. “As a teacher, it’s incredible to see them work on something and then have their own ‘a-ha’ moment. They get such a feeling of accomplishment, and then they can’t wait to dive in to the next thing.”

The prospect of those students returning to traditional schools after completing the center’s kindergarten program led to a decision to open the Montessori elementary program this year.

“We wanted to continue to offer an educational alternative for these students and parents that we’ve formed such a bond with. Some of our parents went to school here, too, and now we have a second generation of students,” says Preziosi.

“We felt we owed them to continue to provide an educational home.”

The center has enrolled 60 children for the fall, including a handful of students for that first elementary class.

As the Montessori Center fills out its elementary program over the next three years, it is already eyeing the future. A high school Montessori program is in the planning stages, and leaders are looking for a new facility to allow expansion.

Small teacher-to-student ratio