Palm Harbor Montessori Academy observes 25th anniversary

Nadia Kirsch, left, and Maya Zafari document the removal of items from the time capsule, which was sealed a year after the school opened in 1983. The items included photos of students from that time and various mementos.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Nadia Kirsch, left, and Maya Zafari document the removal of items from the time capsule, which was sealed a year after the school opened in 1983. The items included photos of students from that time and various mementos.

PALM HARBOR — History lies within the walls of the Palm Harbor Montessori Academy.

Literally.

In August 1984, students buried a time capsule behind a plaque at the entrance of the main building.

On Saturday, students, family, teachers and alumni gathered to open the capsule as the academy celebrated its 25th anniversary.

"It has been my pleasure and privilege to serve children at PHMA for the past 25 years," said founder Christine Varkas, 57, of Tarpon Springs. "Still, I love my job. I love the children, and my greatest satisfaction is when something goes right and a child benefits. It really is that simple."

Students and alumni sat under canopies and enjoyed hot dogs, popcorn, drinks and a cake decorated with the academy logo. Kids slid down a superslide and bounced inside an inflatable train.

In Montessori's birthday celebration tradition, students walk around a paper sun for each year of their life. In this case, the students circled the sun 25 times, once for each year PHMA has been open. The inaugural class walked first. Successive class members joined in. By the 25th revolution, which represented 2009, there were so many walkers, legs eclipsed the sun.

At 5 p.m., everyone gathered for the time capsule opening. Screws were removed and mementos from another time tumbled from the hidden niche.

Class photographs. A Transformer. A cassette. A Cabbage Patch folder, starfish and notes from the founder, teachers and the children.

Alumna Christine Johansson, 31, of Palm Harbor watched as her class picture popped out.

"I loved the Montessori system," she said. "One-on-one attention helped me develop a love of learning and reading. I'm glad the school's flourishing."

Nadia Kirsch, 13, a seventh-grader from Dunedin, was excited to be part of the celebration.

"I love that all these people came back today," she said. "I think it shows what a good school we have. I like PHMA because I can have not just my teachers help me, but my friends, too. You get to be more of an individual."

Nadia's sister, Alexandra Kirsch, 16, a PHMA graduate and now a junior at Tampa Prep, was happy to have a reason to return to her old school.

"Going here was life-changing," she said. "PHMA taught me how to learn, and go about living life."

Marta Kellam, 44, of Dunedin celebrated both as someone who has worked at the school since day one and as a mother to an alumnus, James, 20, and students Finn, 4, and Ari, 2.

"I've taught elsewhere, and did the best I could with what I had," she said. "At PHMA, I had more than enough to create individualized plans for each child."

To continue to thrive, Varkas says the academy must "continually change, grow and improve to provide what's best" for children. She has fresh ideas, hopes and plans. The capsule has been refilled, and talk of a 50th celebration makes her smile.

"Our students are kind, considerate and caring of others, as well as bright, joyful scholars," Varkas said. "It is because of them I am dedicated. … I admire children even more today than when I started my career. They are my inspiration."

Palm Harbor Montessori Academy observes 25th anniversary 01/05/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 5, 2009 8:03pm]

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