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As Montessori teacher, Rhoe had an 'amazing ride'
POULSBO — It's taken some time for Barbara Rhoe to decide to call it quits.
After a few personal events in her life, Rhoe, 70, decided to keep running The Farm Montessori preschool and kindergarten. She would know when it would be time to retire. "I thought, well, it will sort of come to me organically," she said.
Following the retirement of her business partner, Marie Elizabeth Cable, in 2008, she continued to run the Montessori school. As the school year wrapped up, though, Rhoe decided it was time to start a new chapter in her life.
She will retire and move to downtown Seattle. "My life is going to change dramatically," she said.
Rhoe lived and worked on Clear Creek Road for more than 30 years. The property she and her late husband lived on is adjacent to the school.
During her time at The Farm, Rhoe has taught multiple generations of students. She is now teaching the children of former students.
Linda Robinson, whose three children attended The Farm and are now in their 30s, said Rhoe thrives on being around children and being a part of their education. The methods of teaching Rhoe uses is effective, she said.
"Her compassion for young people is overwhelming," Robinson said.
The Farm is fittingly named for its location: a farm. The school was originally located in the back of Rhoe's farmhouse until the school's current building came onto the market.
Rhoe, her husband, and business partners bought the building and fixed it up themselves. Since then, the building received an additional room, but it's still the same building it’s always been.
Rhoe and her husband tended livestock, and the school's curriculum incorporated farm culture.
Though actual livestock and farming are not as much of a component now, visitors can still get the feel of a farm when they walk through the farm-style fencing to get to the school.
The school was originally run by three people. After about seven years, it was down to Rhoe and Cable.
Rhoe now runs the nonprofit school and teaches with a teaching partner.
Though the school's address is Poulsbo, it is located within the Central Kitsap School District's boundaries. The student population is evenly split between those living in North Kitsap and those in Central Kitsap, Rhoe said. The school has become popular with families being transferred to the area by the Navy, as well; Rhoe said she receives calls from people on the other side of the world preparing for their move.
The school enrolls 30 students per year. Students can enroll at age 3, and stay through kindergarten.
Rhoe said it is the Montessori teacher’s job to get students excited about learning, by allowing those students to choose what they learn. Montessori schools help develop "natural" learning tools for the future. Because classes are multi-aged, younger students are often drawn into what their older peers are doing. Rhoe said she typically doesn't have a kindergartener who is not reading; they are also writing and doing mathematics. The early learning allows them to get a jump ahead into whatever school they go to next.
The Farm has seen a lot of families grow over the past 35 years. Most students enroll for two to three years, which allowed Rhoe to see the children "bloom" and for her to get to know the families.
"You really feel like you're doing something that is helping out," she said.
Having taught for so long also made Rhoe a type of local celebrity. If she has a busy day, Rhoe has to time her visits to Central Market, otherwise she will be talking to people for a while. If she's not in a rush "it’s great, I love talking to people," she said.
The connections she's built within the community have made her time as a Montessori teacher "an amazing ride," she said.
With her retirement on the horizon, Rhoe's also going to see a change in her everyday life. She will no longer be farming, and instead will enjoy the sights and sounds of Seattle on a daily basis. But she won't be unknown. Rhoe has friends already excited to stay with her in Seattle; she has season tickets to the ballet and is a member of the art museum. She's also a member of a church in Seattle. And she will have the opportunity to continue visiting with her daughter, who moved back to the area about three years ago.
Next fall will be the first in decades that Rhoe will have free. She's headed to Costa Rica. "As a teacher, you're always thinking about fall," she said. "It's going to be kind of weird."
Before she takes off to spend time in a warm climate, however, friends and supporters of The Farm are organizing one last hurrah. On June 8 at 2 p.m., a celebration will be held for Rhoe at Island Lake Park. It's a celebration for a teacher of whom former students continue to "sing praises."
"She's a lovely human being and a great teacher," Robinson said. "I think she's had such an impact on all of her students. Nobody forgets Miss Barbara."
Leith Alayba uses an abacus to work out solutions to math questions at The Farm Montessori on May 12. Photo: Kipp Robertson