Ann Lewin-Benham Photo
Staff meeting at the Model Early Learning Center with Ann Lewin-Benham, Genet Astatke, Jennifer Azzariti, Wendy Baldwin, and Sonya Shoptaugh

In the 1960s Ann helped to grow a Montessori school for 3- to 6-year-olds into an elementary school. As the children approached 7th grade, she founded Parkmont Junior High, an alternative school where students engaged in projects as a significant part of the curriculum. In the 1970s she launched 8 public school Montessori classes in the poverty pockets of Arlington County, and in inner city Washington, DC ran one of the early corporate-sponsored day care centers established as a benefit to try to cut employee turnover. In the 1980s she founded a computer-based center to prepare out-of-school, out-of-work youth for the GED, and structured numerous government-funded teacher-education programs in the arts, humanities, and sciences.  in January 1990 she opened Options School under contract to the DC Public Schools.  The school was a one-year drop-out prevention program for 100 14- to 17-year-olds, nominally 7th graders. Options became a safety-net for the public schools and was a harbinger of the charter school movement soon to begin, as was the Model Early Learning Center.

The Model Early Learning Center (MELC), the subject of Ann’s first 2 books, served Head Start-eligible 3- to 6-year-olds. There Ann adapted the practices of the renowned preschools of Reggio Emilia, Italy as described in her books Possible Schools:and Powerful Children. Book summaries are on this web site along with excerpts. In Howard Gardner’s words from the Foreword to Possible Schools: “The Model Early Learning Center is ... proof that schools in the Reggio tradition can be created even in the most challenging urban disadvantaged areas.” The MELC was the only school outside Reggio Emilia ever accredited by the Italian educators.

Staff Meeting, MELC, Washington, DC. L to R: Ann Lewin-Benham, Genet Astatke, Jennifer Azzariti, Wendy Baldwin, Sonya Shoptaugh

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