Announcing the AMS 2020 Living Legacy: Ana María García Blanco
April 2, 2019.
An educator who has transformed the future of public Montessori in Puerto Rico.
Every year, the American Montessori Society bestows a Living Legacy Award on an individual whose commitment and leadership has made an extraordinary impact on the AMS community. Our 2020 honoree is Ana María García Blanco.
Ana María’s first introduction to Montessori was as a parent in 1994. She was quickly drawn toward Montessori’s emphasis on peace education, which would later become instrumental in her own Montessori journey.
Upon earning her EdD in Education from Harvard University, Ana María returned to Puerto Rico to become principal of an elementary public school, Escuela Juan Ponce de León, which had been closed by the government three years before because low enrollment and academic achievements. The community resisted this closing and together with Ana Maria organized parents and brought their voices forward in protest of such deed; the community prevailed and the school was opened in 1990. Determined to change the school’s environment and inspired by Montessori’s emphasis on peace education, she and her faculty transformed it into the first public Montessori school in Puerto Rico.
Over the years, Escuela Juan Ponce de León has evolved into a safe haven for the entire community. With assistance from 2 AMS-affiliated teacher education programs, CMTE/NY and CMStep, Ana María converted the entire school into a Montessori program serving toddlers to middle school students. Today, Escuela Juan Ponce de León is a model Montessori school. It is a place where students excel, parents are involved, and where the surrounding community has become an island of peace—united by her school.
Expanding the Movement
As news of her school’s success rapidly spread through the public education community, the need and desire for more Montessori trained teachers became apparent. Eventually, Ana María stepped down as principal, and she became founder, executive director, and principal fundraiser of the Instituto Nueva Escuela (INE), an AMS-affiliated training center in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico Over the years, INE has credentialed more than 500 teachers in over 50 public schools.
Ana María went on to launch “Escuelas Para la Paz” (Schools for Peace)— a program, currently in 12 schools, that provides creative therapies and psychological services for students who are victims of trauma. These programs, in some of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Puerto Rico, boast of accomplishments like significantly higher attendance and test scores than before their implementation, near zero dropouts, and infrequent incidents of violence, drug use, and teenage pregnancy.
Activism in Practice
Additionally, Ana María has worked tirelessly with the Department of Education of Puerto Rico to expand access to public Montessori education. For example, in 2014 she successfully lobbied for the creation of the position of Assistant Secretary of Education for Montessori within the Public School Department.
After Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, Ana María helped communities recover and reopen schools more quickly than the government had predicted. The Department of Education had scheduled permanent closings for 14 schools with Montessori programs, but Ana María's community managed to save all of them.
As a fearless community organizer, peace education activist, and true exemplar of grace and courtesy, Ana María has changed thousands of lives and transformed the future of public Montessori education in Puerto Rico.
Donations in honor of each year’s Living Legacy support the awarding of scholarships to aspiring Montessori educators at AMS-affiliated teacher education programs.