Women of Achievement
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:
After a decade of teaching in the Memphis City School system, Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler moved to Seattle, Washington, where she enrolled her young children in a Montessori school.
Inspired by the school’s effectiveness and philosophy, she decided to become a Montessori teacher and start her own school.
Upon returning to Memphis, certified by the American Montessori Society, she interned at Lamplighter School and taught at another Montessori school. Then in 1991, with her brother, Houston attorney Richard M. Cole III, as a business partner, Evelyn founded First Class Montessori, the first African-American-owned Montessori school in Tennessee.
Unaware of the rules regarding land use in the area, they bought a cozy house on the corner of Cleveland and Peabody, capturing the concerned attention of residents in two historic neighborhoods, Annesdale Park and Central Gardens. Evelyn says, “The neighborhood people did not want a school here. We had to hire an attorney and pursue it in spite of petitions against us and go before Land Use (Control Board) and the City Council.”
First Class Montessori is a day-care center and preschool for children ages 3-6. The Montessori philosophy, developed in 1907 by Italian physician Maria Montessori, is based on the idea of the child as an individual with spiritual worth and dignity and that the most important years for learning are from birth to age 6.
First Class Montessori is limited to 36 children due to limited parking. Six teachers, on site at various times of the day, teach Swahili, Spanish, Japanese, mathematics, geography, phonetics and reading.
In August 1993, Evelyn received an Ordinary People Award consisting of a proclamation by Rep. Harold Ford, a certificate of merit from the state of Tennessee, certificate of recognition from the city of Memphis and certificate of appreciation from the Shelby County government.
Evelyn, who attended high school in Memphis, earned her master’s degree in music education at the University of Memphis in 1985 and later obtained her administration/supervision endorsement. She earned her American Montessori Society certificate at Seattle University and speaks regularly at local schools.
Evelyn says, “Children should learn independence because it helps build positive self-esteem and responsibility. I feel that children should learn respect for self that would eventually evolve into respect for others.”
“The most exciting thing for me,” Evelyn adds, “is to see children who come filled with timidness and who leave with self-assertiveness.”