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Montessori students taking care of business to fund Costa Rica trip

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 8:52 p.m.
Montessori Children's Community students, from left, Hadley and Caroline Driscoll of Sewickley, Ben McLemore of McCandless and Josh Holland of Sewickley stand with Amy Kofmehl-Sobkowiak, who runs a fair-trade business in East Liberty. Submitted photo.

When Montessori Children's Community sixth-graders open their own business Saturday in Sewickley, they will be doing more than raising money to help pay for their eight-day trip in May to Costa Rica.

Part of the money also will be donated to Women of the Cloud Forest to help with the fair-trade business run by Amy Kofmehl-Sobkowiak in East Liberty, who assisted the students with setting up the business. Another part will be donated to a local charity, but students still are deciding which one, and a third part will be donated back to Montessori for use in the lower grades.

The store, named Reaching for the Clouds, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 1, 8 and 15 at 430 Beaver St.

It also will be open Wednesday nights and tentatively at other times if parents can help staff the store. The owner of the space, Tom McCargo, has donated it for the temporary store.

Josh Holland and twins Caroline and Hadley Driscoll, all of Sewickley, and Ben McLemore of McCandless also organized a car-wash fundraiser on Labor Day weekend at Citgo in Sewickley to raise $1,300 for the trip. The goal is to raise $12,000.

Montessori Children's Community also gave the students a loan so that they could buy fair-trade items to sell at the store. Students had to sign a promissory note to pay back the loan.

They also opened a bank account for the store and will determine the cost of and price each item in the store.

Women of the Cloud Forest items will include bracelets, necklaces, masks, crocheted balls, ornaments that look like animals, intricately-designed vases and other products.

Costa Rican women not only make the products, but they also collect various beans and seeds in the forest to be used in some of their creations, such as the bracelets.

Scarves, hats, gloves and other items from other fair-trade organizations WorldFind and Illuminating Nations Through Offering an Opportunity, also will be on sale at the store.

In addition, students also decided what other items to sell, such as the Eye on U Friendship bracelets, packaged with a letter from Santa.

When a child wears the bracelet, Santa and his elves can keep a close “eye” on them.

Also available will be Beardo and Beardski products, which feature fake beards attached to winter hats, cityscape puzzles and handmade wooden educational, toys for creative play.

Hadley said the group also sold Montessori gear, such as clothes, hats, jackets and shirts, to parents, who will pick up their purchases at the store and then have a chance to shop for other items. Profits from the sale of the gear will be donated to the younger grades.

Terri Modic, head of school, said Marie Montessori, creator of the philosophy of education that bears her name, thought students should be learning how to run their own business, become global citizens and interact peacefully with those in other cultures to understand them better.

When students travel to Costa Rica, Modic said it will not be like a vacation. They will visit and help the 18 women who make the bracelets, vases, necklaces and other items.

The women travel sometimes 45 minutes to a home, owned by Kofmehl-Sobkowiak, to make the items.

“The people came from poverty, and this really helps them make a life for themselves,” Hadley said.

“It's a cool organization. We're really inspired by what Amy is doing and putting herself out there.”

While in Costa Rica, in addition to meeting and helping Women of the Cloud Forest, students will have a chance to visit the rain forest and will paint and do other physical work at the Del Mar Montessori Academy in Nosara.

The trip also will help to improve the students' Spanish, which they have been learning since kindergarten.

Modic said some adults who are fluent in Spanish will accompany her and the children to help, when needed.

“It will be a whole different vision of what we can see here. You would never get to see a rain forest in Sewickley,” Hadley said.

“We'll want to really experience the Costa Rican culture and their way of life.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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