Photos: Elle Danielle
Quick lesson “Nia” in Swahili means purpose and is also the Northstar for one of the city’s best schools. Nia House Montessori is a one of a kind, educational institution born 11 years ago in East Nashville, where students and their parents become family. Founded by three extraordinary women who shared a common mission to provide meaningful learning to their community. Sonceria Radford, Darlene Neely and MarQuita Holt are friends and co-founders who truly believe in the “it takes a village” mantra. I had a chance to sit down and get a bird’s eye view into this amazing space of learning and what they have created is pure excellence.
It Takes A Village
“Families feel the village once they enter the doors of Nia House” Darlene continues, “we all come from places where the village helped and poured into a child. I think that is one of the purest joys our families find at Nia House”. This truly is the summation of the intentional learning space this friendship trio is creating in Nashville. As the world continues to vacillate in so many different directions our youth are still growing and needing a nurturing environment outside of the home. This is why Nia House Montessori is so unique and an absolute breath of fresh air in education. Serving students from 2 – 10 years old, their curriculum is fueled by Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy, “do not tell them how to do it, show them how to do it and do not say a word.” From practical life and language to sensorial and the STEM Farm where students engage with educating forces in nature, students have an opportunity to learn through a hands-on, one-on-one environment at their own pace.
A Montessori Vision
Montessori is a worldwide philosophy created by Dr. Maria Montessori over 100 years ago. Sonceria was an educator in Math and during those times is where she received the initial inspiration to create Nia House. “Many times students would come in not fully confident in their intellectual ability. So, I began thinking, what if we were able to help students maintain a level of confidence and joy from a young age that would carry over into their adult life”, Sonceria remembers. For some even reading this right now, you are probably thinking back on your own learning experiences and how things could have been different with a nurture-first learning mantra. This is why Nia House is so cool because they are turning the whole approach to learning on its head. They are also making sure their purpose-driven learning is diverse and accessible for many parents. “As we were beginning to develop our Nia House vision, we were intentional about creating a community that looked like the world”, Darlene reflects back.
It’s Starts With Community
“The Black and Brown family unit is actually set up in a very Montessori way, where everyone is contributing to the family ecosystem”, Sonceria shares. It was actually revelatory (thinking back on my own childhood) when listening to each woman share how our communities were naturally steeped in the Montessori way. It was just never formalized with the tools and resources defined by Dr. Maria Montessori. “How we have experienced life as black and brown people, that’s Montessori. From the aunt that loved plants and was always in nature, to your cousin who needed a little more attention than the other students”, MarQuita shares.
Through the pandemic, Nia House has been able to maintain and flourish staying true to its mission. “We had a Radford as the visionary, I came on as a Montessorian, providing the curriculum and MarQuita provided the love for community and marketing to bring in our students, Darlene shares. As the saying goes, when women come together there is no stopping us. The founders of Nia House have definitely proven that and are continuing to push forward with grace to build a legacy in Nashville for the many generations that follow. As MarQuita perfectly encapsulates, “We are inspired to continue for something bigger than ourselves. Oftentimes people say that’s God’s work over there.”
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