COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) – Monica Ralston didn’t grow up wanting to be a teacher, but now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“What I love most about kindergartners is they’re just here. They’re excited to be learning and they still love school. Watching those ‘ah-ha’ moments when something clicks and they show you in so many ways, whether it’s their facial expressions or their excitement for the story they’re telling, just helping them grow that passion for learning,” Ralston said.

It’s a passion Ralston is spreading by helping create and open a new school in Whitley County: Mary Raber Montessori School. This is the school’s first year and 66 kids are now learning in a different way.

“You’ll see a lot more one-on-one and the biggest difference behind Montessori is a multi-age level classroom,” Ralston explained.

Each class of 22 students is made up of three to six-year-olds.

“Think of it as two years of preschool and then kindergarten all together in one classroom,” she said. “As we continue to program, the school will eventually go from three-year-olds all the way through fifth grade. We didn’t want to displace the current students who were already here, so they get to finish out in the traditional classes through Mary Raber Elementary.”

The Montessori lesson plans still meet state requirements, but they are more individualized than in a traditional classroom.

“When a child is ready to move on, they get to move on. They’re not sitting through a whole group lesson that they maybe already know or they’re not quite ready for and they’re struggling.
We were amazed at the calmness and the work the students were doing so early on in the first year,” Ralston said.

Larissa Leach met Monica nearly ten years ago through a parent teacher group and they became fast friends.

“There is not a better person [to run the Montessori school],” Leach said. “She has all these things going on, but she takes the time out of a busy day and will help with anything you ask.”

Even if it’s getting muddy with farm animals.

“I never thought I’d be the one out there in the show ring with cattle, but here we are,” Ralston laughed.

Growing up in Columbia City, Ralston did 4-H as a kid, but it wasn’t her passion. Then when her own children showed interest, she jumped in with both feet.

“If I can help, let’s step up and do this and make this the best experience we can for the kids,” she said.

Her mentorship now extends beyond her own children and she helps Leach’s daughter, Elaina.

“I usually show poultry and I wanted to try something else, so her and her son and daughter helped me show feeder calves. You have to lead it in a certain pattern and then pose it correctly. It’s fun,” Elaina said.

Ralston is a true teacher at heart. That’s why Elaina came up with the idea to nominate her for WANE 15’s Remarkable Women of Northeast Indiana.

“I watched the previous winner last year and thought who could we nominate and then I saw the advertisement, I said, ‘That’s easy!’ She does so much for our community and still makes time for friends and family and does it all at the same time. It’s hard probably, but she does it without complaining,” Elaina said.

Leach sent in the nomination letter.

“She’s always helping or showing somebody how to do something. It’s her heart – her willingness to give. She’s really selfless. Our community is better for having her and her family,” Leach said.

To Monica, teaching and helping is just what she does.

“I just do my job the best I can. I try to love people around me. It’s a community I want to see thrive,” she said.

To everyone else, it makes her remarkable.

“I just didn’t think people saw what Larissa saw. It means that the things we’re doing are having an impact and it can help someone in the smallest way. I’m thankful that what we do has a positive impact,” Ralston said.

Ralston is also getting two more teaching certifications as part of her new role in the Montessori school.

Every Wednesday in March, WANE 15 will feature one of the four Remarkable Women of Northeast Indiana finalists on First News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. The winner will be announced on March 29 live on the news at noon.