Montessori diploma course first of its kind in Michigan

Leelanau Montessori’s Arden Wilson greets student Amy Rizik at the door. Photo by Abby Chatfield

By Abby Chatfield

Sun contributor

The first internationally recognized Montessori Diploma Course in Michigan will begin this June, with Leelanau Montessori Public School Academy (LMPSA) in Lake Leelanau co-hosting the renowned program alongside The Children’s House (TCH) in Traverse City. Offered in conjunction with Washington Montessori Institute (WMI), the one-year accreditation course will train future Montessori teachers to help guide and support the development of children 3–6 years old. A Montessori diploma in early childhood is equivalent to a master’s degree and qualifies graduates to work as “Level Two” professionals, or Lead Instructors, in a childcare setting. Leelanau joins Atlanta and Charlotte as the only national locations to host the WMI program, and it could help address the shortage of prepared early childhood educators and professionals in our area.

WMI is an affiliate of Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), a teacher training institute based in the Netherlands and globally believed to offer the highest fidelity Montessori implementation for teachers. Although AMI has existed for over a century, this is the first AMI training course in Michigan. The American Montessori Society has a training center in Michigan, but AMI is the only internationally recognized credential that can be taken anywhere in the world. “Accessing a high-fidelity Montessori diploma course in the United States is difficult. Our educators want to be prepared but have lots of pressures,” shared Arden Wilson, Head of School at LMPSA.

Monica Korson, LMPSA Primary Lead Guide, emphasized the significance of this course coming to the area. “I completed my AMI Primary Montessori Training in Portland, Oregon, in 2017. I was lucky enough to take an academic year to complete my training from September to June, attending class five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is not the most feasible way for just anyone. I traveled across the States for a whole year to complete the course. I am excited for the opportunities this new course offered here in Traverse City will provide people wanting to become Montessori trained. Not only for people here in Traverse City, but it might also bring very qualified Montessorians to the beautiful area or Northern Michigan.”

WMI will move staff and a laboratory classroom from its main campus near Washington, D.C., to The Children’s House campus in Lake Ann. The two-summer blended diploma course will offer in-person lectures during the summer and online lectures during the regular academic year. Some of the practicums will take place at LMPSA, where Montessori diploma course students will observe and learn in a realistic work environment. The course is open to those 18 years and older, no bachelor’s degree required. All LMPSA Lead Guides already have state and Montessori credentials, but LMPSA plans to sponsor one candidate from their staff and fully fund their admission.

Wilson initiated the effort to land this course on local ground through her relationships with WMI and Montessori school leaders from around Michigan. Aware of WMI’s ambitions to find another satellite location and of Leelanau’s need for more early childhood professionals, she acted as the bridge spanning the gap between the two. WMI and the team of educators worked together to assess feasibility and interest in the course.

Core partners who helped in the assessments alongside LMPSA, TCH, and WMI were Northwestern Michigan College (NMC), United Way of Northwest Michigan (UWNM), and Bay Mills Community College (BMCC). Mary Manner of UWNM offered her expertise in early childhood and is assisting with community and business outreach. BMCC, charter authorizer for LMPSA, will help sponsor applicants, while NMC and some enthusiastic local residents will supply housing as needed.

Carrie Mosqueda, an LMPSA instructor, had to travel as far as Arizona with her infant son in tow to complete a 0-3 AMI course at the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies. Mosqueda said about the program, “As a mother of five, I could make so many connections to science and the “why” behind the Montessori theory.” As a special needs mother and pre-nursing student, I already had a lot of knowledge. Taking this class has given me more specialized information on how to show up for children 0-3, and a new professional confidence to help families, give advice and guidance, and collaborate with other Early Childhood Educations professionals through challenges, all for the cause of helping each child become their most capable self.”

Addressing area shortages in childhood educators is crucial, but Wilson hopes the AMI Montessori Diploma Course will provide other opportunities for the Leelanau Community as well. Montessori focuses on development of the child, family, and community. Guides develop the skills to transform their own perspective, leading children and community in the transformation to a child-centered mindset. In return, the child learns how to be an active, productive member of the community.

Although this course focuses on Montessori methods for early childhood care, various types of childcare givers study them to gain insight into starting their own care centers. Representatives from existing and soon to be childcare centers in Leelanau County already visit LMPSA to observe teaching methods, classroom management, classroom design, and materials. This course is feeding a pipeline of future early childhood instructors to meet local demand.

“Our hope for the future is more Montessori for more children, and that this is the first of many years into the future for this program,” stated Wilson. She wants to see local training expand into other age ranges and the course eventually count toward college credits at NMC. Families will feel supported in raising their kids, and early childhood practitioners will have access to a powerful channel of professional development support.

There is already a growing demand in our region for more Montessori, an approach that offers an individualized education for every child. This method of education nurtures creative thinking and problem solving, with the goal of helping children to see their responsibility in making the world a better place. There are 16,000 Montessori schools in the world and 600 public Montessori schools in the United States. Leelanau County offers LMPSA, while Traverse City is home to three Montessori schools. TCAPS recently invested in a newly constructed Montessori campus to replace Glenn Loomis, opening its doors at the start of this school year and changing its name to TCAPS Montessori School (TMS) in the process. Northern Blooms Montessori (NBM), the newest Montessori in town, opened its doors for the first time in 2023. The Children’s House (TCH) is a popular, private Montessori academy that shares roots with LMPSA, both emerging from the same program that operated out of a farm house in Suttons Bay back in the 1980’s.

According to Custer, a firm involved in the TMS transformation, the school’s K-8 population increased from 20 students, 25 years ago, to more than 800 students today. Along with LMPSA, the only other public Montessori in our area, TMS offers a tuition-free K-6 Montessori program and a tuition-based preschool and toddler program. LMPSA is also growing in student population by the year and has its own plan to expand in the near future.

Nicole Zarafonetis, parent of two LMPSA students, shared, “Our family moved from France to Leelanau County and as parents, we were eager to continue our children’s education within a Montessori school. We were happily surprised to learn of LMPSA right in our own county. We chose Montessori for our children for a variety of reasons. We were drawn to how Montessori encourages independence and fosters a love of learning. The Montessori idea of ‘freedom within limits’ really spoke to us as parents, valuing the idea of children being treated in a respectful way, learning with intentional materials and guided by adults. I also liked how the classrooms are divided into mixed age groups (3-6, 6-9), where children can socialize, collaborate and learn from each other.”

Hope Rahn, Lead Toddler Guide at LMPSA, was nervous about returning from an AMI diploma course in Portland, Oregon with only a few weeks to set up her classroom before the school year began, but she found she had plenty of support. “I had a wonderful support system of colleagues, cohort members from across the country who are also in the same situation, and my personal friends and family to give advice. At the end of the day, I knew it would be a busy 13-month process but a necessary commitment to future students as this career is so captivating that I can’t see myself doing anything else.”

For more information, join a Zoom info session on March 20. To enroll in the course, contact WMI or visit