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Montessori High School offers new architectural model for education

Montessori High School offers new architectural model for education

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Located at 1101 Autrey, just west of Montrose Boulevard, the new school will maintain close ties to the Museum District. Courtesy of Jackson & Ryan Architects
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Currently housing a linen rental company, the Autrey building will be tailored to the needs of Montessori's educational model. Courtesy of Jackson & Ryan Architects
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Starting this December, the interior will be redeisgned to maintain a large common area, 3 workspaces, a small lab, and a multupurpose "tinkerer's space." Courtesy of Jackson & Ryan Architects
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The Post Oak School recently announced the location for its innovative new Montessori high school at 1102 Autrey, just west of Montrose Boulevard in the heart of the Museum District.

Set to open in fall 2012, Post Oak High School sees itself as a launchpad for students to follow interests beyond the classroom and connect with experts from cultural institutions throughout the school’s neighborhood.

Currently housing the linen rental company Party Cloths – which plans to relocate to 5201 Michelldale in northwest Houston – the 6,000-square-foot Aubrey building will undergo a $5-million-dollar renovation starting this December.

“The ‘city as a campus’ idea came first,” says architect Janann Pittman from the design team at Jackson & Ryan Architects. “Knowing the new building was going to be in the Museum District, the administration’s goal was to use as many neighborhood resources as possible.”

 “The ‘city as a campus’ idea came first,” says architect Janann Pittman from the design team at Jackson & Ryan Architects.

 “We knew there was no need for a 500-seat theatre, when we can use a stage right around the corner,” explains Post Oak High School director James Moudry. “We plan to have our science labs at the Museum of Natural Science and art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.”

Science labs and studio space are still planned for the new building, but at a much smaller scale than those typically found in high schools – a means to best utilize the school’s relatively small footprint. Private spaces like conference rooms and teacher offices have been traded for a large common area and open work space to maximize teacher-student interaction.

Developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori during the early 20th century, the Montessori model centers on a student’s freedom to select activities from a prepared educational environment. Classroom ages are mixed and students learn from working with materials themselves, rather than receiving direct instruction.

"Sitting at a desk is a foreign idea to a lot of our students," laughs Moudry. "Movement and self-direction are key elements to Montessori. In the new building, we want students to move throughout the space, building independence and the ability to make their own educational choices.

“The administration’s goal wa s to use as many neighborhood resources as possible.”

“Specific areas will be established throughout the school to serve as gateways to different fields of study,” Moudry explains. “For example, a history area might have antiques and a globe, as well as books.

“In many ways, high school culture is a subset of the adult world. With the Museum District as our actual campus, teachers can help students maintain relationships outside the classroom to gain exposure to adult issues and help to solve them.”

“High school should be about understanding the gifts of our culture,” says Post Oak head of school John Long. “It’s a time for students to find out where they stand in that culture and what their future work will be.”

Starting with 20 initial students in the ninth and tenth grades, the school soon hopes to maintain enrollment around 80 in the building’s current phase. Future expansion plans can bring enrollment as high as 120.

The Post Oak School will offer an information session on the new high school program on Nov. 29 at its Bellaire campus (4600 Bissonnet). Call the school for details at 713-661-6688.