Haley Gustafson is not only a firm believer in the confidence and skills students gain from Montessori schooling, she credits it for putting her on her current career path.
The Belvidere native is currently pursuing a degree in public relations with a minor in political science at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She serves as a Peer Mentor at the school, is an accomplished public speaker and manages to occasionally find time for travel, flying and hiking. She plans to pursue a law degree “out West,” but feels her journey of learning really began the first time she entered a Montessori Private Academy classroom.
“My older sister Hannah and I were enrolled in public schools and it wasn't quite the right fit,” she says. At the time, Haley was a first grader. During a tour of MPA, she and her family entered the classroom for her age group—Elementary I—and saw advanced multiplication problems written on the board. These problems were well beyond her ability at the time and, she says, “I immediately began freaking out.” Her mother explained that she wouldn't have to do that work at first, and would work at her own level and pace.
Haley was soon sold. “It didn't take me long to recognize that the individual focus and the ability to work at one's own pace was the true beauty of the Montessori method. I spent my public school's spring break at Montessori to try it out and see if it was the right fit. I loved my time at MPA so much that I ended up completing the rest of that academic year at MPA and never returned to my public elementary school.” She attended from then until she completed the 8th grade in 2010.
Haley credits MPA with giving her the “time management skills, organization skills and ability to be self motivated and independent” that have helped her succeed in later studies and daily life. But the most significant skill she gained was public speaking, which forms the core of her current and future plans.
“Public speaking is the number one fear of Americans, with death being the second. That means people would rather be the person in the casket than the person standing giving the eulogy,” Haley jokes. She believes this fear results because most students don't practice public speaking regularly until high school, while Montessori schools begin teaching public communication at an early age. “I remember giving presentations in Elementary I and II on a consistent basis,” she says. “It is built into the Middle School curriculum to give a presentation almost every week. I think it was because of Montessori's emphasis on learning to speak publicly at a young age and continuing to practice this discipline consistently that has made me love public speaking so much. I have had the opportunity to speak in front of state governors, city halls, high school gymnasiums with thousands of students and packed convention centers. I cannot emphasize enough how beneficial MPA has been on my ability and confidence in public speaking. It has really driven me to find my passion in communication, advocacy and representing a person or organization.”
Her passion is so strong, in fact, that she is already holding an executive position at a strategic communications agency, despite still being an undergraduate. She also credits the Montessori method's approach to reading and writing with allowing her to excel in a “reading and writing-intensive field.”
“In Elementary I, I struggled greatly with reading,” Haley says. “Because I was at Montessori I was able to have one on one assistance from my teacher at the time, Linda Kiefer. Not only were Linda's one on one tutoring sessions instrumental in improving my reading ability, but the entire Montessori curriculum really places an emphasis on reading and writing.” She also points out that employers are constantly searching for employees who have excellent written communication skills.
Haley hopes to work for herself or be a partner in a law firm within the next ten years, and plans “to start a family while living in the Western United States.” If she were wealthy, she says, she would “travel the world to broaden my horizons and understanding of different cultures and have the ability to donate to others to provide some of the opportunities I have been fortunate to have.”
Montessori schooling is something of a family affair for Haley, as her sister, Hannah (who also attended MPA) has worked at the school during college summer breaks, and her father, Dave (a retired air traffic controller), currently teaches math part-time to MPA Upper Elementary and Middle School students. Haley expects Montessori to continue to be part of her life in the future.
“I definitely foresee myself sending my children to Montessori,” she says. “After personally experiencing various types of educational institutions and teaching styles, I truly recognize how effective the Montessori method is. I have also seen what an impact it has had on me in both my personal life and education...We are so thankful for everything that Montessori has provided us as I truly believe it has made me the person I am today.”