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Jill Carmody, Former Staff 1975-1976

Prior to the 1975-76 school year (48 years ago) Sussex School was an idea shared by a few University of Montana families that had children of a similar age. The green house on Sussex Street was a simple home; one bathroom, living room with a fireplace, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, back porch, and front porch. The Winston’s had purchased the green house for the elementary and the nearby corner white house for the preschool.

It was our job to make this house into a school. Bente, with a skill-saw in hand, started transforming the kitchen into a science room, eventually building a student-size lab table that went along the wall. The dining room became the math room, filled with piles of colorful Cuisenaire rods in the middle of a large, round table. In the living room a hanging lamp was on a hook in the ceiling, we replaced it with a full human skeleton. That room was where we started everyday with a group meeting; checking in with the kids and sharing announcements for the day. It was also where Nancy (*) taught art and students worked on projects. It was also where our monthly parent meetings took place.

I taught reading individually with each student. The reading room and library were one and the same. It had a couple of overstuffed large pillows on a carpeted floor and a long low bookcase filled with books. We tried to weave language arts, math, and science together, so one thing reinforced and related to another.

Bente had a friend build the actual greenhouse that adorned the front porch and Nancy taught children how to grow plants. Funny what you remember, the back porch was where students left their bags, lunches and coats, as this was before backpacks. There were pegs along the wall to hang things on. It was an old screened in porch that was always cool, so the coats and lunches were always cold.

Thanks to the UM family of professors we had a real microscope and countless visitors who shared their unique knowledge of study. We went on lots of field trips. We were a small group and could easily travel with parent volunteers around Missoula and beyond.

Nancy and I loved the teacher meetings at the Lucy house with Bente. She served magical and exotic faire, slices of Havarti cheese, chunks of Toblerone chocolate and cups of hot black tea. We brainstormed without limitations thinking of positive possibilities and beneficial outcomes for the kids, their families, and the school.

It seems to me that as a team, Bente, Nancy (McIver) Kreitner and myself, one of our major objectives for the year was demonstrating that Sussex could be a valuable, viable alternative to public education. So we tried to “market” Sussex in any way we could. Remember this was 1975, we were lucky to have a house phone; invitation to visit, word of mouth and the local newspaper was how we sold Sussex. I remember we invited the Public School Board of Education for a morning at Sussex. We were featured in the local newspaper several times during the school year.

For such a fledgling group we really were bold and fully invested in our belief that Sussex was a grand and safe place to explore, develop, establish community, grow and flourish. We also convinced the local folks at the Montana Historical Museum to let our students dress up in period attire and ride in a horse drawn wagon in the bicentennial parade. In the spring we had the first of many student-teachers come to Sussex. It was Peter Hughsby and he had a degree in wildlife biology which added another dimension to our curriculum.

Immense thanks to Jill for reaching out to us this Spring. We are grateful for this historical peek at such a magical time in the early years of our amazing school.

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