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First Class Montessori stages final graduation after 31 years

Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends watched eight excited youngsters graduate from pre-K and kindergarten at 1st Class Montessori School on Monday (May 22).

It was the last of 31 graduation ceremonies for the Midtown school. The doors will close for good at the month’s end.

“After graduation was over on Monday, we asked parents to please let the children stay at school,” said Evelyn Hibbler, 1st Class Montessori founder. “We had all kinds of goodies for all the children and special events planned for the rest of the week. I just need to spend a little more time with my children.”

Evelyn Hibbler, 1st Class Montessori School founder, said, “It was my dream to build a multi-racial student body that would reflect the cultural array of faculty. The Lord really answered my prayer concerning the success of this school.” (Courtesy photo)

Graduates brought down the house with their big song finale:

“Education is my brain power, Graduation is my shining hour…”

Commencement speaker Dr. Jeffrey Futrell congratulated the “young kings and queens.” 

“I’ve spoken at a lot of places,” said Futrell. “But this ranks right up there at the top.”

Futrell is the founder of Memphis’ Young Man University, a non-profit organization committed to the spiritual, intellectual and physical development of boys and teens.

Dr. Jeffrey Futrell was the commencement speaker. (Courtesy photo)

“Dr. Futrell was the perfect speaker for this final graduation ceremony,” said Hibbler. “He does such phenomenal work with young boys in the community. I gave him three minutes, and he was great. The children were interacting with him and taking in those wonderful words of encouragement.”

Hibbler, who will turn 70 in late October, has enjoyed the satisfaction of multiple generations of little ones coming through 1st Class Montessori.

“Children who came to us in those early years returned and brought their children to 1st Class Montessori,” said Hibbler. “It is so gratifying to see first-hand some of the fruit of your labor. It was my dream to build a multi-racial student body that would reflect the cultural array of faculty. The Lord really answered my prayer concerning the success of this school.”

After the May 22 ceremony, Hibbler was reflective about the years and how quickly they passed for her.

“I can still remember a teacher and I going door-to-door on Peabody to introduce ourselves and tell neighbors about our school,” said Hibbler.

“It was an all-white community, and no one was happy about us coming there. I particularly remember this one elderly lady saying, ‘Why are you coming here? We don’t want you here, and you know what I’m talking about.’

“Then she slammed the door, and I went right on to the next house.”

According to Hibbler, challenges in those early days were plentiful, including “never enough money to do everything” and city codes for private schools to keep the doors open.

Those rough, early years became prosperous and rewarding. At a point, every academic level offered from pre-K through grade 5 had waiting lists.

In between, there were a few lean years. And, then came the pandemic.

“It was only by God’s grace that we survived the total shutdown of a global pandemic,” said Hibbler. “That was a crippling blow, and it came from nowhere, out of left field. But the Lord helped us through.

“When everything opened back up, our students returned, and things were great.”

The last graduating class of 1st Class Montessori School. (Courtesy photo)

Shuttering the school’s doors is “bittersweet for me. I’ll miss being in the classroom,” said Hibbler. “However, I am ready for the next chapter.”

There are numerous possibilities for Hibbler with her multiple gifts and interests.

“I created a character called, ‘Miss Classy,’ said Hibbler. I released a CD of learning-based music. I want to see Miss Classy developed a bit more, and I want to write new music for children. 

“And, of course, I have been an ordained minister for about 10 years. Who knows what’s about to unfold? Only God and I am excited about that.”

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