There was a very visible indication that 1st Class Montessori School at Cleveland and Peabody was celebrating something special. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

“I can’t believe it’s been 31 years,” said Evelyn Hibbler, owner of Midtown’s 1st Class Montessori School.

The youthful 69-year-old took time away from a Friday afternoon celebration with students and parents. This year’s anniversary on Oct. 21 was conveniently set the day before Hibbler’s birthday.

“It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we went to each neighbor and told them we were opening our school in their community,” Hibbler said. “It was 1991, and today’s more harmonious racial climate was non-existent. We had doors slammed in our faces, but we just kept right on to the next house.”

Balloons and cupcakes could not sway Ayden Christopher to give up his place in the bouncy castle line. But it was tempting. (Courtesy photo)

Despite the challenges of “never enough money in the beginning” and the struggle to meet city codes for private schools, 1st Class Montessori opened with great fanfare and a nearly full roster. Students were excelling with the Montessori method, and more students came.

Hibbler chose to forego a banquet to mark the occasion and celebrated with a bouncy castle, cupcakes, hot dogs, chips, and soda.

For Hibbler and staff, it was good to celebrate outside. 

“The day is just perfect for the children to play outside,” said administrator Erin Parrish. “So many days during the pandemic, we weren’t in school, and the kids were home. I never thought I could miss the screams and laughter of children, running and playing outside, but I have.”

Although Hibbler opened the first African-American-owned Montessori school in Shelby County, she prides herself on having a multicultural student body and staff. 

“We wanted our son to be educated with children of all races,” said Evan Fields, mother of Ayden Christopher. That is an important part of his education, I feel. He loves coming to school, and he loves his friends. That’s all he talks about at home.”

How about an anniversary serenade? Montessori owner Evelyn Hibbler delighted parents and children with the song. (Courtesy photo)

Hibbler was a public-school teacher when she became interested in the Montessori teaching method. 

The Montessori teaching method is a nontraditional approach that focuses on “fostering a sense of independence and personal development in the classroom.”

The philosophy was created by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, while working in Rome in the late 1890s with developmentally delayed children.

After successfully running the school at 1336 Peabody Ave., Hibbler opened a Cordova location, hoping to duplicate the success of her Midtown school. 

“After 10 sessions in Cordova, we made the decision to close,” said Hibbler. “So much of my time was being consumed in operating two schools. We closed for good in Cordova after much prayer. There are some other dreams I want to pursue.”

Hibbler is an ordained minister and has recorded children’s songs that have been locally promoted.

She wants to continue writing learning-based songs for children.

“I created a character we call ‘Miss Classy,’” said Hibbler, “with a book and videos. 

“Our children love Miss Classy, and they love her songs. We want to share Miss Classy with other children as well. I know they will love her just as much as our children do.”

The school serves children from preschool to second grade.