History & Philosophy

The Earth School was founded in 1977 by two members of the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist (FSE), Mother Francine Cardew and Mother Mary Michael Costello. Our school represents just one “mission” of the worldwide network of Life Centers operated by the FSE and dedicated to educational, health, business and counseling issues. There are ten local Franciscan Sisters residing in Bridal Veil, Oregon who play an active role with the School. The Franciscan Life Center Network, Incorporated has legal oversight for the Earth School, which is a 501(c) (3) religious, non-profit corporation.

The FSE opened their first Earth School classroom in a rented facility in Northeast Portland with 17 students. The school was originally established for children ages 6 to 12 years in response to many families desiring a continuation of their very positive Montessori Pre-School. In September 1981, FMES opened its first Children’s House to accommodate children three to six years of age. The school has grown over the last 32 years with current enrollment at approximately 305 students. The lower school, which includes the primary and elementary programs, enrolls students from 2 ½ to 12 years old. The upper school, called St. Francis Academy, is the adolescent level or middle school program ages 12-15.

Preparation for the upper school began in 1982, as the oldest group of students approached the end of their elementary work and several of them, with the support of their parents, wanted to continue their Montessori education. Coupled with this interest was the enthusiasm generated by a number of experiments in Montessori adolescent education, new programs, that were springing up across the United States. After thoroughly researching the possibilities, the school community decided to open a junior high or middle school program. Like most other adolescent level Montessori experiments then underway, this one was to be an “urban compromise”—that is, a middle school program guided as much as possible by Dr. Montessori’s insights into adolescence, but not a true rural, residential “Erdkinder,” as she termed it.

The Middle School program opened in September 1985, with 17 seventh and eighth year students. From the beginning, it has offered a broad spectrum of experiential activities—all developed as a response to the skills internalized in the course of the Montessori elementary curriculum. Each year, a career exploration “apprenticeship”, an intensive drama workshop, as well as a variety of camping, cultural and travel opportunities complement the classroom learning experience.

The Earth School’s educational philosophy is based on the work of Dr. Maria Montessori, world-renowned educator and nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and on the theology of the Roman Catholic Church, as lived through Franciscan spirituality. Dr. Montessori’s method embodies the theory that children learn best through self-directed work, adapted to their personal interests and life experiences. At FMES, children are guided to assume responsibility for their own moral, intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual growth. The Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist adopted the Montessori method because of its compatibility with St. Francis of Assisi’s challenge to respect and protect all life.

The School is committed to fostering in students a deep respect for the interdependence of the earth and its people. Nearly every classroom has its own garden to tend and every student participates in “Earth Experience.” For the youngest student, this is time spent working in the garden. The next step could be a day trip to a natural area off campus. Older students participate in “Earth Experience” camp-outs to study natural history, biology and botany. SFA students take part in two lengthy outdoor study programs.