Hundreds of gala attendees dined with the dinosaurs at Orlando Science Center to support Innovation Montessori Ocoee and its brand-new campus.
Not many people can say they’ve dined in the presence of a Tyrannosaurus rex — except for those who attended Innovation Montessori Ocoee’s Share the Love gala.
Held at the Orlando Science Center this year on Saturday, Feb. 24, the annual gala is the biggest fundraiser of the year for Innovation Montessori and brings together hundreds of parents and supporters for a night where inspiration and innovation meet generosity.
But this year’s gala stands out because it’s the first to take place since students and faculty officially transitioned to the brand-new, 18-acre campus in Ocoee. Funds from last year’s gala largely aided in funding a high-quality and innovative playground on the site, as well as other innovations.
“With the big funding last year, we were able to purchase or primary playground, mostly with funds from this gala and other capital campaign things,” said Sherilyn Moore, president of the school’s board of directors. “…So pretty much all the proceeds from last year went into the site — which is the human hamster wheel and all the other bells and whistles that we have there, this help funded it.”
Although students and teachers are settled in and enjoying the new school site, there is still work to be done. Proceeds from this year’s gala will go toward funding a picnic pavilion and outdoor water fountains.
“The picnic pavilion is a big one, because we want to have an outdoor place where the kids can have lunch and sit by the pond and maybe have events there,” Moore said. “Then we have these outdoor water fountains with the water-bottle (fillers). …We’re so excited because we have this beautiful playground but (then) everybody gets thirsty. …The picnic pavilion is like $38,000, so that’s a big chunk for us. There’s lots of other needs but those are some of the top projects.”
Innovation Montessori’s goal is the educate the whole child, including cognitive, physical and social skills. Moore said students are encouraged to be stewards of both the environment and the future, and watching them experience everything the new campus has to offer has been both refreshing and magical.
“Here, they walk out back and they see four-and-a-half acres of the nature preserve behind them,” Moore said. “…The biggest thing for me is when I’m there and see these students just loving and enjoying the natural environment. They are making it their own. You’ll see a kid over there sitting on one of the tree benches reading a book at playtime.
“They’re walking this beautiful labyrinth and it’s just an extraordinary moment for them to be calm and peaceful in nature,” she said. “They’re really embracing this on their own: No one’s telling them, ‘Go appreciate that tree.’ They’re able to really walk the walk that we want them to walk.”
Also new to the gala this year was guest speaker Frans Johansson, author of “The Medici Effect,” which aligns in many ways with the Montessori method. In fact, Moore said, the school and community took a page from his book in taking disparate things and putting them together — in their case, combining nature and technology.
“It’s really important for us to always innovate and grow,” she said. “The reason why we are named Innovation Montessori is to honor the traditions of Montessori that works best for education, but also to keep innovating so the children are able to be inspired and they can continue to learn and continue to reach higher. It’s important for us to be able to share that magic of innovation.”