The MONTESSORI SCHOOLS in Cleveland offer an alternative education to children ages 3-14. Cleveland was one of the first cities in the U.S. to have a Montessori school, which is based on teaching concepts developed by Dr. Maria Montessori of Italy. In 1907 she established a school for disadvantaged (mostly poor) children in Rome, believing that they could learn more effectively through self-motivation. The first Montessori school in Cleveland was founded by Mary Ruffing and a group of parents in 1959 with 40 preschoolers in a rented room in the basement of St. Patrick's Church. One of the first such schools in the U.S., it is now Ruffing West in ROCKY RIVER and Ruffing East in CLEVELAND HTS.. Other schools, such as Marotta Montessori, established in 1979, also expanded to become multi-campus, city-wide organizations. Marotta Montessori received journalistic praise for its high quality educational program, although it closed after over 20 years in operation due to financial instability related to participation in the controversial Cleveland school voucher program. By 1995 there were 35 private and 6 public Montessori schools throughout the Cleveland area, with a combined enrollment of approx. 1,450 preschoolers and 2,000 elementary students. They all featured individual instruction with less formal student-teacher relationships. Classrooms also mixed pupils of different ages to foster interaction. The Cleveland Montessori schools, like all others, are nonprofit and frequently parent-owned. In the early 1980s, David Kahn, then principal of Ruffing East, applied to the Assn. Montessori Internationale in Holland for approval to institute a series of summer training sessions in Cleveland in the Montessori method. This eventually led to establishment of the Cleveland Montessori Ctr. on Bellflower Rd., which houses a teacher-training program, teacher resource center, and the national offices of the North American Montessori Teachers' Assn. Cleveland is one of the most established Montessori areas in the U.S., with infant, preschool, elementary, and middle school levels.