Working in an after-school program, Emily Hayden noticed how some children struggle with academic, social, and emotional development. She did some research and discovered the Montessori Method, a century-old philosophy that encourages children to initiate learning in a supportive, thoughtfully prepared environment.

“I saw that the founder, Maria Montessori, opened her first school in a low-income area and served special-needs children, and that’s what I wanted to do,” Hayden says. “I wanted that origin story to shape my goals.”

So she cleared out her living-room and launched Grow Montessori, a nonprofit day-care center with four children. In 2013, she began enrolling three-year-olds for their first primary level classes.  Soon enough, she needed more space.

“I struggled at the outset to find a lender who would take on a nonprofit,” says Hayden, who holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Franklin and Marshall College, an M. D. from Emory University and an AMI Primary Diploma from the Montessori Institute of Atlanta. “I was getting nowhere with traditional lenders. Then I heard about ACE, which is itself a nonprofit, so I thought they might be more supportive. ACE was very affirming of our vision, and trusted us with capital.”

Hayden bought a new facility nearby in Ashview Heights. Today, she serves 35 kids with eight staffers, with plans to add on to her building and expand to secondary locations. Ultimately, she wants to offer classes in a comprehensive educational program for children from infancy through age five.

“We’re finding our niche in early education that is enriching but also therapeutic, especially for special-needs kids,” she says. “We see how critical those early years are in developing soft skills, especially language.”

Grow Montessori School offers year-round educational programming for children in Atlanta’s Historic Westside, which includes English Avenue, Vine City, West Lake, Grove Park and the West End/Atlanta University Center. However, the school also welcomes children from diverse backgrounds across the city to join its dynamic and inclusive learning community.

“ACE is what enabled us to grow,” Hayden says. “ACE has been our champion, giving us holistic support with their advisory services. ACE has given me a sense of ease, that we are in good hands.”


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