Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

February 9, 2006

Alumni invite NIU College of Education representatives
to attend U.N reception for American Montessori Society

DeKalb — The owners and founders of four Montessori campuses in the northern Chicago suburbs have invited representatives of the Northern Illinois University College of Education to attend a United Nations reception honoring the American Montessori Society.

NIU alums Anthony and Carolyn Kambich, who graduated in 1959 and 1960 respectively, also are working to arrange a meeting to connect the ambassadors of Kenya and Uganda with two members of the NIU early childhood education faculty. NIU professors Moses Mutuku and Maylan Dunn are leaders of a project to narrow the education gap between rural and urban Kenya, focusing on the small village of Mwala.

The evening U.N. reception takes place Wednesday, Feb. 15, in New York City. NIU's delegation also includes Chris Sorensen, dean of the College of Education, and Deborah Fransen, the college's development officer.

“NIU, our school and many other organizations all have been doing their part, somewhere throughout the world, to expand knowledge and make it available, to open up opportunities for people to become empowered, to live peaceful lives and encourage others to do the same,” Tony Kambich said.

“We are hoping that the forces that are putting this reception together can contact the delegations from Kenya, including the ambassador, to meet with us and hopefully become more informed about what NIU is doing right on their doorstep,” added Kambich, who has a degree in physical education. “I'm hoping the ambassador gains an intimate knowledge of the work NIU is doing unselfishly in his country and, with that awareness, he would use his influence in his country to get whatever is needed to move the NIU project further and use it as a model.”

“The Kambichs have been supporters of our work in Kenya, and we're very pleased they are inviting us to attend this event with them,” Sorensen said. “We'd like to make people more aware of what we're doing here at NIU.”

Mutuku, who will return to his homeland in June and July, said he also hopes the reception will create more links between his project and the American Montessori Society.

“We just want to learn what opportunities might be out there so we can continue to build the partnership and develop different kinds of strategies that would probably enhance what we are doing in the Kenya Literacy Project,” he said, “and give our students here an opportunity to be part of that.”

Mutuku's project began during a 2000 visit to Kenya. He discovered children in Mwala were spending as many as five hours a day fetching water rather than learning. Their test scores showed little progress and paled in comparison to those of students in urban areas, where the water supply is not a concern.

Since then, he and others from NIU's Department of Teaching and Learning have worked to help the villagers by building a dam, erecting water tanks and constructing a library and stocking its shelves. They also work to empower the villagers to do things for themselves, and to share in decision-making.

One NIU professor has trained Mwala's teachers in the latest research on early childhood and elementary education and how to apply it in the classroom. Another has worked with parents to understand how family connections can help children communicate and learn.

Some aspects of Montessori education have been incorporated in the project.

“We are educating parents and working with the community. We are trying to put up a pre-school classroom for the children,” Mutuku said. “We continue to hold workshops with teachers so we know how to work from their cultural perspective, and to share with them the most contemporary research in early childhood education.”

Tony Kambich understands Mutuku's work well.

“I had my own project through Rotary International in Uganda,” he said. “It started out as something different – the empowerment of women in one of the poorest places in Africa, perhaps the world – and it had ripple effects. We met many people interested in education, and better education, for their children.”

Eventually, Tony and Carolyn made arrangements for some of the teachers they met overseas in Africa and Slovenia to come to the United States for training in the Montessori method. Those teachers later returned to their home countries to establish Montessori schools.

The Kambichs, who last year were honored by the NIU Alumni Association, founded the Deerfield Montessori Schools in 1966. Carolyn, whose degree is in elementary education, is executive director; Tony is president of the board of directors. Their schools enroll infants through sixth-graders from 350 families.

Tony, who also serves on the NIU College of Education's development committee, already has raised money for Mutuku's project through his local Rotary Club in Winnetka.

“As alums of the school, we're big rooters for the College of Education and the outreach being done by the university,” he said. “When I became involved with the college's development committee, I began learning that what the college does is not necessarily confined to the NIU campus.”

Similarly, he said, the century-old American Montessori Society accomplishes much through cooperation.

“We're not only celebrating the Montessori movement in the world under Dr. Maria Montessori, but giving it a face throughout the world, showing what it's doing and who it's doing it with,” Kambich said. “We are working with other organizations that are trying to bring peace to the world, much of it through education.”

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