Montessori Preschool breathes new life into Manor House

by Nicole Rosselot

When Lydia Stephens and her family moved back home to Northeast Ohio from Washington state in 2018, one of the first things on her to-do list was finding the right Montessori preschool for her then three-year-old son.

Stephens “fell in love” with the Montessori approach to teaching when her daughter attended a Montessori preschool in Washington. “She was more independent, she was more empathetic and compassionate and she just wanted to learn everything,” Stephens said.

Stephens researched different Montessori schools in the area, but couldn’t find one that met her family’s needs.

“The Montessori schools in Ohio are just different,” she explained. “They are a little more exclusive, way more expensive and not as diverse.” Not to be deterred, Stephens decided to open her own Montessori preschool. “What does a mama do when she wants something and she can’t find it? She makes it,” Stephens said.

With encouragement from her husband, Gavin Stephens, and her pastor, Sheryse Henderson of Faith Fellowship Church in Macedonia, Stephens turned her vision of a Montessori preschool into reality. Stephens, who had been studying Montessori teaching and practicing it at home with her son, accepted Henderson’s offer to lease classroom space within Faith Fellowship Church. She opened the doors of Montessori Life Preschool in September 2020.

Despite opening her school at the height of the pandemic, Montessori Life Preschool finished its first school year with nine students and one lead teacher, in addition to Stephens. By June of this year, the school more than doubled its enrollment to 23 students. Staff increased to two lead teachers, a classroom assistant and Stephens, owner/director. Along with this rapid growth came the realization that Montessori Life Preschool needed more space.

“The whole point [of Montessori school] is for them to have the space to spread out and explore things and so I was desperately looking for another space,” Stephens explained.

Fortunately, Henderson offered a solution that benefited both Faith Fellowship Church and Montessori Life Preschool, which has always been independent of the church. Faith Fellowship Church offered to sell its Manor House to Stephens and parcel off the land so that the preschool would have its own address.

The Manor House is located on the Faith Fellowship Church property and currently shares the same street address of 10277 Valley View Rd.

After several months of soul-searching, Stephens said, “I surrendered to the journey. … I told the pastor that I would like to purchase the Manor House and she offered it at less than market value and at a price that my husband and I could afford to pay ourselves.”

Currently, Stephens is overseeing renovations to the building, and hopes to be moved in by fall of 2023. “It is a little bit daunting because the manor house has been empty since 2015,” she said. The building has some water damage and needs structural repairs before it can be transformed into a preschool.

While Stephens anticipates growing her student enrollment to 40 to 50 students, her new vision for the preschool now includes developing an early childhood resource center to benefit the whole Nordonia Hills community.

“My vision for Montessori Life Preschool is not necessarily to grow in number of students but to grow in impact,” Stephens said.

She explained that one of her goals is to lease space to businesses that serve families with young children, such as speech therapists, family counselors, and tutoring programs. She also plans to create a community children’s library and add a natural playground to the property. Stephens hopes that eventually, Montessori Life Preschool will become a place where families “can really get resources and connect with each other.”

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