Baan Dek Montessori to expand after decade of success

This piece is presented by The First National Bank in Sioux Falls.

Baan Dek Montessori marks a milestone anniversary this year with plans to expand and a renewed commitment to its unique approach to education.

The school is celebrating its 10-year anniversary as the first and only accredited Montessori school in South Dakota. It also is planning to add onto its building at 85th Street and Western Avenue to create another primary classroom for kids age 3 to 6. The hope is to add it next year, bringing the school’s total capacity to 100 students.

 Ten years ago, founders June and Bobby George sketched out their vision for Baan Dek over coffee and pancakes. They realized their goal was a simple one.

“June and I invested in Baan Dek and the Montessori method because we believe in it,” Bobby said.

The Georges passionately believe that a Montessori education is the only education that can truly prepare today’s children. Unlike memorizing state capitals or reciting the spelling words for the week, Montessori students are encouraged to “think through, understand and ultimately invent new questions for tasks yet to be determined.”

Maria Montessori, who developed the education method, sought to create an environment that would “accommodate and stimulate” the individual interests of her students. That’s also the foundation for the space at Baan Dek.

“Learn at your own pace” and “personalized learning for every child” were phrases June used to describe the curriculum. “It’s the opposite of standardization.”

This was a new concept for Sioux Falls.

“When we first started, we found ourselves stumbling everywhere we turned,” Bobby said. “But we’ve been very fortunate since in meeting extremely helpful and knowledgeable mentors, individuals and organizations who have helped guide us.”

The couple have taken their gratitude and business experience as a responsibility to lead today’s youth through education, whether it’s finding problems to solve rather than waiting for them to surface or always thinking innovatively and not just in the classroom.

Baan Dek offers two programs: toddler for 18 months to 3 years old and primary for children age 2 1/2 to 6.

“Children are the reason we do what we do. They’re the future of our society, and I try my best every day to be an integral part of guiding them,” June said.

As they’re preparing students for the future, they, too, are preparing themselves.

“The world is changing daily, and when you work with children, you need to continue to improve and stay current. Our job is ongoing, and we hope to continue what we do as best as we can,” June said.

“We’re fortunate to be able to work with the people we do: children, families, teachers, the community. We wish nothing more than to keep on serving them,” Bobby said.

Their innovation has not gone unnoticed – within the Sioux Falls community, the state of South Dakota and even in the heart of innovation in this country, Silicon Valley.

The late Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, sent them an email a few years back with a short but powerful message. “He said, ‘Don’t be discouraged by the traditionalists.’ It lit a fire in us,” Bobby said.

June agreed. “Definitely a motivating message for us,” she said.

As if founding a school wasn’t enough, June and Bobby have published several books on letters, numbers, shapes and maps following the Montessori method of “beginning with the concrete and moving to the abstract.” Their latest publication, My First Book of Patterns, comes out in September and focuses on deconstructed patterns made up of singular elements and colors. It has been hailed as a “vivid, artistic introduction to patterns.”

To facilitate constructive learning outside the classroom, the Georges developed Primary, a parenting app, that encourages parents to positively engage their children, support each other and stay empowered. They are launching a new version of the app in the coming months.

“We’re getting really excited for it,” Bobby said.

The duo’s partnership, both personally and professionally, is an integral part of Baan Dek.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my collaboration with June. It’s the greatest joy of my life. Each of us may have our individual talents – ‘I’m good at this; she’s good at that’ – but it’s only when we are working together, side-by-side, that we accomplish things we never thought possible,” Bobby said.

In the past couple of years, the couple has found themselves in a new position in the community. Once just two people with a dream, now they’ve achieved a notable level of success.

“We’re still the foolishly naive dreamers, but now we’re sharing some of the lessons we’ve learned to those who are interested,” Bobby said. “It’s a terrible and humbling responsibility and one we surely don’t take lightly.”

Although they find themselves in the spotlight often, whether on TV or in the newspaper, they say it’s not where they’re comfortable or meant to be.

“I keep getting calls from my mother,” Bobby laughed. “She calls to say she thought I was in the other room, only to discover that it was my voice on the television again.”

“I think that’s a cue we need to visit more often,” joked June.

The Georges were featured in a commercial for The First National Bank in Sioux Falls that initially aired last year. Since then, family, friends and peers have voiced their support of the couple and what they’re doing for the community of Sioux Falls.

“I think June and I are here, where we are, working in this space because we believe that if we can help provide a safe, nurturing and positive environment, there is limitless potential in childhood,” Bobby explained. “When the world is constantly turning their attention towards heads of state, we prefer to focus our attention on the hopes and promise of children.”

Possessing that innate drive and tenacity can propel you forward in any industry, but it’s the ability to confidently take risks that separates those entrepreneurs who succeed and those who don’t.

“Map your idea out on paper,” Bobby suggests. “Does it work? Dream about it at night. Do you see it happening? If so, go for it. If something doesn’t match up, map more, dream more. At the end of the day, you need to find a way to live your ambitions. You have to stay hungry.”

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Baan Dek Montessori to expand after decade of success

Baan Dek Montessori marks a milestone anniversary this year with plans to expand and a renewed commitment to its unique approach to education.

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