When you walk into the Needham Montessori School, anticipation is in the air. A large, freshly painted mural of an underwater seascape facing the entrance plunges visitors into a realm of wonder and discovery. Colorful toys stacked on shelves wait for students to play with them. And Allen Douglas (17) and Christine Lachkey (17), the school’s co-directors, greet visitors with warm and friendly smiles. It is one week before the school will officially open and welcome new students into it’s inviting rooms for toddlers and preschoolers.
Douglas and Lachkey, both graduates of Eastern Nazarene College’s Adult and Graduate Studies, met when Douglas enrolled his daughter in a Montessori school back in 2009.
“I came across a school called the Victorian Montessori School in Newton, Mass., and that’s when I met Miss Christine [Lachkey],” said Douglas. “She took my child in and taught her, and she was very understanding about [my work] hours. They gave her a great education in Montessori and she has excelled at school.”
Douglas wanted to learn more about Montessori. At the time, he specialized in logistics, running outbound shipping operations in the northeast, from Canada to Mexico. The Montessori Method appealed to Douglas because he felt it taught students in accordance with the way a child naturally develops.
“Some people think that Montessori schools don’t offer any structure, that students are free to just do whatever they want,” Douglas stated, before expressing his desire to dispel such misconceptions. “Montessori schools are based on respecting staff and friends. Students are given freedom to perform tasks, but within limits. They’re taught ground rules for appropriate behavior.”
While he still worked his day job, he trained in the Montessori Method of early childhood education. At the same time, he attended Massasoit Community College and worked toward his associate’s degree in Elementary Education. In 2014, he left his job in logistics and a year later enrolled in Eastern Nazarene where he walked away with his Bachelor’s in Elementary Education.
Lachkey, a native of Sri Lanka, is the owner and visionary of the Needham Montessori School. Lachkey had earned her associate’s degree in early childhood education from Wheelock College before completing her bachelor’s degree at Eastern Nazarene.
Both credit the ENC professors with their academic success. Douglas said that his professors understood where he was at that point in his life, as an adult college student. They helped him change career paths as he transitioned from logistics to education.
“It was not easy, the courses were not easy, but the professors were always there to help and support,” Douglas said.
Lachkey said she was attracted to the fact that Eastern Nazarene is a religiously-based institution and was impressed by the Adult and Graduate Studies facilities. She was teaching and working in a spa while she took classes at night. Many nights, she worked into the early morning hours on coursework. There were times when she said she wanted to take a break, but kept going.
Douglas said he and Lachkey complement each other in their roles as educators.
“Christine visualizes what she wants, sees it in her head and makes plans to do it. I am the enforcer – I pay the bills, handle management issues,” said Douglas, as he described their division of labor in broad strokes.
Lachkey was scouting for locations for her school when she was drawn to an abandoned tile store in Needham. She peeked in the window and saw some of the original display tiles hanging on the walls. When she saw the site was available for lease, Lachkey said she knew it was perfect Being next to an office park, the location had a built-in market of working parents who needed convenient day care. There were also no other Montessori schools in Needham and it was easily accessible for commuters. In June 2016, construction began to turn the old tile store into the school Douglas and Lachkey envisioned.
In addition to being co-directors, Douglas and Lachkey are also the lead teachers. with Douglas specializing in infant and toddler education and Lachkey in infant, toddler, and preschool. The Needham school caters to students from 18-months to 6 years and can accommodate up to 60 students.