Rooted in Faith: Pacelli to offer full-day Montessori for Austin community

Published 10:30 am Saturday, July 13, 2019

Looking to offer more childcare options in Austin, Pacelli Catholic Schools is stepping up to the plate with a new option for families with young children.

For the last six months, Pacelli has held serious conversations about offering a new preschool option for the community. Hearing about the need for childcare, the school decided to expand their offerings by adding its first all-day Montessori program that will start on Sept. 3.

Montessori will be held five days a week for children between the ages 3 to 5 from Monday through Friday. The classes start at 8 a.m. and ends at 2:30 p.m.

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Much of the education that the children will be receiving is similar to traditional preschool, but also has some faith-based learning as well, focusing on the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

Deidre Smith explains the foundations of Montessori preschool education in a classroom that will be used for the instruction at Pacelli Elementary. Eric Johnson/

Those who want to enroll for Montessori do not have to be students attending Pacelli Catholic School, opening up the early childhood development program for everyone who wants a faith-based experience for their child, or to simply learn about other faiths.

“This program is open to the whole community,” said Principal Jean McDermott. “Anyone who wants a faith-based education and to deepen their children’s relationship with Jesus can find it here at Pacelli.”

The doors are open for anyone in Austin who needs a preschool option for their children. They do not have to be enrolled in Pacelli Catholic Schools in order to receive childcare services. Other preschool options at Pacelli, such as Shamrock Zone, Tiny Shamrocks and Kindergarten-Prep, will continue to be offered.

McDermott shared that because of high demand for childcare in Austin, spaces have been filling up quickly at the Montessori and would like interested parents to register their child by Aug 1. Tuition for the entire school year at Pacelli is $4,355, with financial aid options made available for those who require assistance.

Knowing that many families from low-income backgrounds struggle to afford childcare for their children, Pacelli wanted to notify parents about opportunities for financial aid through the Hiawatha Education Foundation for full-day Montessori programs. The foundation will offer grants to help parents offset the cost of tuition.

Qualifying preschools and kindergarten Montessori programs must be located in the state and must provide IRS certification for nonprofit status.

Those interested in the grants and qualify should apply for the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) through Mower County Health and Human Services. Each student who receives CCAP funding gets a $1,200 grant per quarter. For each student not receiving CCAP funding nor are they on a CCAP waiting list, but qualify for free or reduced lunch, or meet the income guidelines of earning less than 185 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines, the grant is $1,400 per quarter.

“We teach them about the Catholic faith,” McDermott said. “Whether they are Catholic or from another faith, we hope that this will maybe lead to positive dialogue and conversations with their parents when they go home.”

Pacelli Principal Jean McDermott explains the difference between preschool education and Montessori education, which will both be available at the school. Eric Johnson/

‘We are the sheep, God is the shepherd’

After finishing her certification classes and receiving licenses from the state, Deidre Smith has been preparing for her new role as a preschool teacher for Pacelli’s Montessori program.

“I am extremely excited,” Smith said about the new opportunity. “My desire to provide more early childcare options because there’s such a shortage, really drove me forward to move ahead with this experience. I’m excited to help expand the program and help kids get ready for kindergarten.”

Having a background in early childhood education helped Smith formulate a plan for the new preschool option being offered at Pacelli. She serves as co-owner for Discovery Learning Center in Austin during the last 13 years, and stated that her role with the Montessorsi will not affect anything over at her childcare center.

Montessori focuses on a prepared environment, where the class would maximize independent learning and exploration while offering children the freedom to choose and work on activities at their own pace. Smith explained that there were generally six principles to montessori: freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature and reality, social environment, and intellectual environment.

For about six and a half hours, the children will experience regular preschool. Then for an hour and a half, students will head off into the Atrium, where they will visit once a week to learn more about Catholicism through faith-based learning materials that guide the children through the Bible and prayer, and eventually be able to apply those skills in the classroom.

From this Montessori option, Smith hopes that the children would learn more about Jesus Christ and from what their faith is based.

“We want to educate children on how to build this relationship with God,” Smith said. “We move it into the classroom and tie it all together. By the end, they will hopefully figure out that we are the sheep and God is the shepherd.”

Want to register?

For those interested in enrolling their children at Pacelli Catholic Schools Montessori program or any of the

other preschool options, please visit the main office at 311 4th St. NW.

Deidre Smith shows off a mock-up of the altar area where preschoolers will learn what goes into preparing elements of it for Mass. Eric Johnson/