It’s been more than a century since Maria Montessori developed her unique approach to education. Although anyone can teach her method, Baan Dek, founded by June and Bobby George, is the first and only accredited Montessori school in the state of South Dakota.
Ten years ago, June and Bobby 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,” said Bobby. The Georges passionately explained that a Montessori education is the only education that can truly prepare today’s children.
Unlike memorizing state capitols 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 sought to create an environment that would “accommodate and stimulate” the individual interests of her students. Such is 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,” said Bobby. “But, we’ve been very fortunate since in meeting extremely helpful and knowledgeable mentors, individuals and organizations who have helped guide us.”
The couple has 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, not just in the classroom.
Baan Dek offers two programs: Primary and Toddler for children 2.5-6 years of age and 18 months to 3 years of age, respectively. “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,” said June.
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,” said June.
“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,” said Bobby.
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,” said Bobby. June agreed. “Definitely a motivating message for us.”
As if founding a school wasn’t enough, June and Bobby have also 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, focuses on deconstructed patterns made up of singular elements and colors. It’s 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,” said Bobby.
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,” said Bobby.
In the last couple 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,” said Bobby. “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 paper, 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.
Since the commercial initially aired last year, 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. 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.”