An engineering degree and MBA are not credentials typically held by those working in the early education field. For Vivian Cain, founder of three Indianapolis-area Maria Montessori International Academies, these achievements are testimonies to the value she places on learning.
“A good education gives you choices,” she said.
This belief is the foundation of her Academies’ goals.
“My desire for every student that attends our school is to move beyond high school. I want them to know they don’t have to accept what people give them.”
Cain learned the importance of education firsthand from her older sister Etta. After Cain’s parents died when she was 18 month olds, then-21-year-old Etta dropped out of college to raise Cain and their 13-year-old sister. To pay bills and Cain’s Catholic school tuition, Etta started her own cleaning business.
“We didn’t know we were poor, but in order to go to Catholic school [my 13-year-old sister and I]used to help [Etta] clean houses,” Cain said.
The lessons learned from Cain’s early employment and her older sister instilled a strong work ethic. Although she struggled with dyslexia, Cain managed to graduate high school in Arkansas and attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University where she obtained a degree in industrial and mechanical engineering.
Her first job as an industrial engineer in operations at Columbus’ Cummins Engineering brought her to Indiana. After three years at the company, Cain decided to make a career change. She enrolled in Indiana University’s MBA program and triple majored in Finance, International Business and New Venture and Business Development.
“For Vivian to have gone back to school dealing with the challenge of her dyslexia is very inspiring,” said Jose Lusende, Cain’s longtime friend and godfather of her son. “She’s a tenacious person and well-focused; once she sets a goal she does whatever it takes to go all the way to the end.”
Cain applied her tenacious work ethic to the realization of her business plan, which she created while pursuing her MBA, for the first Maria Montessori International Academy.
“When I looked at my skills, I realized I really valued education,” Cain said.
Her schooling had allowed her to achieve many of her goals and she said she wanted to help others have similar experiences. Montessori education helps students do this by providing them with a strong educational foundation based on hands-on experience, Cain said.
About Montessori: A method of learning developed in 1907 by Italian physician Maria Montessori that encourages autonomy and individual learning by allowing students to progress at their own pace.
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Her first school opened in Indianapolis in 2001 and later grew to include locations in Carmel, and now, Zionsville. The Academies teach students ranging in age from infancy to nine years the basics of science, math, history, reading, language and cultural studies in addition to practical life skills. The schools also incorporate international aspects: Spanish and Mandarin Chinese are offered; students come from diverse backgrounds; yoga, international art, world music and chess are taught; and teachers hail from the Middle East, Africa, India, the Philippines, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in addition to the United States.
Currently each location has about 70 students, but in the fall Cain plans to expand the Zionsville location by adding a full elementary program through sixth grade. She will also diversify the curriculum by adding two yearlong project-based STEM tracks: one emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, the other focusing on Strategic Thinking, Entrepreneurship and Marketing.
- Hometown: North Little Rock, Ark.
- Family: husband Cecil and 6-year-old son Sabien
- Favorite local restaurant: Noah Grant’s
- Favorite sports team: The Indianapolis Colts
- Favorite musical artist: Lionel Richie
- Person, alive or dead, she would most want to have dinner with: her mother
The science-based track will teach basic engineering principles through the use of LEGO robotics kits. Students in the business-based track will work either independently or in groups of three to create, broadcast and gather advertisement revenue for their own online radio stations. The Zionsville Academy will be the first and only Montessori school in the state to offer the STEM programs as major curriculum.
Through the expansion of her curriculum and schools, Cain has learned an important lesson.
“Not all children are alike,” she said. “They learn at their own pace.”
At the Maria Montessori International Academies, Cain strives to address the individual learning styles of her students to help them achieve their potential, just as she achieved hers.