By Max Goodwin
In the middle of a former church building being renovated into a new school, Sarah Vore described the last few years of work that went into what will open in September as Steeplechase Academy.
Vore, program director at Steeplechase, has been involved in the process of developing more than a dozen Montessori schools around Missouri and Kansas. She studied child psychology at Yale before her 25-year career in Montessori education.
The academy, at 92nd and Wornall, is a private Montessori school that will accept all ages from infants through elementary school.
Steeplechase is based on a modified Montessori program. The idea is to educate through self-direction so that children work on activities that appeal to them.
“The idea of self correction is huge. Every activity will have a series of pieces, parts and structures that the child will simply handle until he figures it out, one way or another,” Vore said.
Much like Steeplechase Academy has come together, one way or another. “It’s life skills,” Vore said. “That’s practical life.”
Between developing a curriculum for multiple age groups, hiring teachers and enrolling students, the biggest challenge is just making sure the construction moves along before the first day of school, which is firmly set as Sept. 6.
It’s been a long road for Steeplechase Academy to reach this point. The school was the third plan for what to build on the site of what was All Saints Episcopal Church.
Initially, Coach’s Bar and Grill was set to move to the location, but plans changed. Then developers requested the land be rezoned for an apartment complex until neighbors protested.
Looking for something that would suit the neighborhood’s needs and requests and having young kids of his own, Mike Crist, who owns the property, decided a school would be the best fit.
In 2020 he applied for a permit to operate a school at the site of the old church, and about a year ago a contractor was hired. Now the project is being pieced together with the first day of school on the horizon.
“We were doing the City Council meetings and neighborhood meetings and we’re doing them all via Zoom,” he said. “It was just extremely challenging to move through the administrative process in the middle of COVID. That definitely made everything much, much slower.”
“Finally we’re going to get this open,” Vore said amidst the construction with Eric Nellis, Steeplechase Academy’s head of school, and Lindsey Moehlman, preschool director, at her side.
They stand in front of what will eventually be the front doorway of the school. Nellis has 40 years as an educator on four continents, but Steeplechase presents a new challenge.
“Here, what excited me was to start from scratch,” Nellis said.
Moehlman handles enrollment and said that right now Steeplechase has 32 children signed up for this fall, most of them under the age of three. The plan is to eventually have an enrollment of about 300 kids, with 70 grade school students.
There’s a lot of work left to be done in the next month, and construction will likely continue in some parts of the building into the fall, but the team said they are committed to opening on Sept. 6.
“Hardhats this morning, but we’re committed to it,” Vore said.