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Meet Blair Messina of Wildflower Montessori

Today we’d like to introduce you to Blair Messina. Them and their team share their story with us below:

After ten years of working together for a locally owned group of private Montessori-influenced schools Blair Messina and Sarah Jordan made the decision with the support of their family and friends to create their own space. A space where their creative abilities, love for education and passion for teaching young children would thrive. In addition to wanting a space for families and children to grow, they wanted the freedom to provide a work environment for other educators who had the same passion. They wanted teachers to enjoy coming to work each day and grow with them. After searching for the perfect space to start this journey, they came upon a space located in Burlington Creek Shopping Center. After a short walk through Blair and Sarah both knew this would be the place their vision would become a reality.

In June 2017, Blair and Sarah officially signed the lease for their new space and began the remodel process. With only income from their husbands since quitting their full-time jobs, they would also have three little helpers with them each day. To say it was a challenge to remodel a 3000 square foot building with a four years old, two years old and three mo. old as helpers is an understatement. Each day brought a new challenge that they did not expect, and their helpers made sure there was not a quiet or dull moment during the process. They learned to paint, replace trim and hang drywall all while balancing naps, feedings, meltdowns and all the duties that come along with being a parent. But after three months, the task was complete and it was time to license the space and in October 2017 Wildflower Montessori was officially open.

In less than three months, Wildflower grew and was at full capacity. So now the question was “How do we fit in more families in the community with no physical space to add on?”. Serendipitously, the business adjacent to their playground became available and with the support of their current landlord, they jumped at the opportunity to expand. The space was 45oo square feet and would allow Wildflower to triple the amount of families in our community that we could provide for. With the new space being a blank canvas this allowed Blair and Sarah to build a space with large open rooms, windows for plenty of natural sunlight and all the things teachers want in a classroom. This process would take three months and in the end be the best decision they ever made.

In November 2017, Wildflower opened their West Building and within two months, all classrooms were full of laughter, artwork, songs, and happy children and teachers. Along with our team of amazing teachers who keep the well-oiled machine running Blair and Sarah couldn’t do it all with their supportive husbands who also double as an accountant and electrician. Everyone has a job and they all work together to make Wildflower flow.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
This last year with COVID-19 was completely uncharted territory for us. At the beginning of the pandemic, Blair was five months pregnant and looking forward to a quiet maternity leave…she was in for the total opposite. From the day Blair brought her new little one home from the hospital, she would be answering emails, making phone calls and creating new policies to ensure that all families and teachers at Wildflower were taken care of. With the help of Sarah and all the teachers at Wildflower she could work from home as they made sure things ran smoothly in the building. Together they each played an important part in keeping Wildflower intact.

In March, the “stay home” orders were issued and we scrambled to figure out do we stay open or do we close for a short time. After lots of discussions, we as a team decided to stay open and offer care to families with TWO essential employee parents. All other Wildflower families would be given the option to either disenroll and no longer pay tuition or pay 1/2 the normal monthly tuition and hold their child’s spot until the “stay home” order was lifted. We were blown away by the support of all families and teachers during this time of uncertainty for many.

As more and more restrictions were put into place, we worked together to come up with new policies that would meet the required guidelines but also keep Wildflower as normal for the kids and families as possible. We created our own “Wildflower QuarinTeam” and asked that all parents follow social distancing guidelines and plan play dates or anything social with children and families inside of Wildflower. Travel restrictions were put in place, new sick policy guidance and daily screenings were added to the list. Parents were allowed curbside drop off and pick up to limit the amount of contact with adults as possible. We created a bubble for our kids to live in and tried our best to make this past year as positive as possible.

With a shortage in qualified teachers looking for jobs there came another challenge as Fall classes started and we had to say goodbye to our part-time college teachers. Everyone came together to work a little longer some days, come in on the weekends to catch up on curriculum while also taking care of themselves and their families at home. The team of teachers we have at Wildflower really is one of a kind. We are more family than co-workers.

We’ve been impressed with Wildflower Montessori, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Miss Blair and Miss Sarah have been long-time friends and co-workers. Together they have over 25 years of experience in Montessori teaching and early education. With support from family and friends, they decided it was time to venture out and open their own school, Wildflower Montessori, in November 2017. They had full intentions of eventually growing their school over the course of a few years; but to their surprise, only six months later, they were presented with an opportunity to expand into an adjacent building west of their original one. In November 2018, only one year later, they are standing in their bright, beautiful, brand new building with over fifty new students and fifteen new employees who have recently joined the Wildflower Family. They could not be more excited and proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish in the first year and a half of their journey as business partners. None of this would be possible without the encouragement and support from their families, friends, students and dedicated employees.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
What matters most to myself and Sarah is that we create a space for children to grow, laugh, learn and love with one another. We want Wildflower to be more of a community where parents and teachers work together to help each student succeed and feel supported. We feel that creating an environment that teachers can feel heard, appreciated and supported is important so that they can focus on the children in their classrooms.

We want each parent who joins Wildflower to drop their children off at school and know their child is in the best possible hands. Going to work and leaving your child with a complete stranger for 8-10hrs a day is a weird feeling. We want to take away that anxiety and fear so that each parent can enjoy their day knowing that their child is having fun, learning, socializing and being given the love and support they need while away from their parents.

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Image Credits
Photos by Erin Woodworth

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