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Ukrainian Refugees Revitalize Jersey City Montessori Garden

by Sarah Boyle
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The war in Ukraine has had an immeasurable impact on so many Ukrainians, including countless displaced families who were forced to flee the country. In the wake of such dark news, the Hamilton Park Montessori School — located at 1 McWilliams Place #206 in Jersey City — is emblematic of hope. The school has taken in three Ukrainian refugee students all on need-based scholarships, and two current students— along with their father — volunteered to revive the school’s rooftop garden and apiary, a space that suffered immensely during the height of the pandemic. Ihor Kondyra, the father, has a love of nature and beekeeping expertise, which he wanted to bring to Jersey City to revitalize the local ecosystem. Read on to learn more about the Hamilton Park Montessori School’s garden revitalization project and the Ukrainian family who is taking the lead. 

bee keeping montessori ukrainian refugees jersey city


The Hamilton Park Montessori School in Jersey City has come a long way since it first opened its doors 16 years ago with only 10 students. It is now one of the largest Montessori schools in New Jersey, according to the press release, and is committed to fostering a love of learning for children from different backgrounds.

Most recently, HPMS has welcomed Ukrainian families who are now living in Jersey City for the time being. One such family, the Kondyra family, has been here since only March of 2022 but has volunteered to revive the school’s rooftop garden and apiary. The Kondyras have two 8th grade daughters currently attending HPMS named Tanya and Olha. Ihor Kondyra, the girls’ father, is bringing his knowledge of beekeeping to the local rooftop.

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“We are so happy to welcome Tanya and Olha Kondyra into our 8 the grade and to see them settling in,” Samantha Trice, Founder of the school and Montessori educator said. “Recently, they were translating for their father, Ihor Kondyra, who is gearing up to revive our school apiary, and they remarked how the lavender and grapevines growing on our roof reminded them of time spent in their gardens back at home in Ukraine. We are delighted that our school garden can bring a restorative effect to this family and it certainly has the same effect for us.”

The Hoboken Girl sat down with Alexa Huxel, the HPMS Head of School, and Andreea Cimoca, the Director of Communication, to learn more about this initiative.

Hoboken Girl: How long have you both worked at The Hamilton Park Montessori School? What are your official roles?

Alexa Huxel, 11 Years, Head of School.
Andreea Cimoca, 6 years, Director of Communication.

HG: What drew you both to work there? What do you love about it?

Andreea: I started at the school as a parent when my son entered 1st grade. He had gone to a Montessori preschool in the suburbs and I was excited for him to continue with a Montessori Lower Elementary education. We had two schools within driving distance to choose from: one in the suburbs with a spectacular campus, and Hamilton Park Montessori School in JC. We chose HPMS thanks to the diversity of its student body and the passion of the teachers. We were able to see a lesson being taught during our visit and we were blown away by this lesson.

Alexa: I was born and raised in Jersey City. Although I moved away to raise my own family, I was drawn back to Jersey City because it is one of the nation’s most diverse cities. As the demand for high-quality early and elementary education increases in our community, I am personally excited to work in a school that believes that diversity in all forms strengthens our community. I’m here because I am confident we can empower an entire generation of children to achieve their maximum potential — regardless of their socioeconomic status — and do our part to contribute to Jersey City’s rich social fabric.

(Photo credits: @hamiltonparkmontessori)

HG: How many Ukrainian refugees do you currently have at HPMS?

Andreea + Alexa: We currently have three refugees at HPMS.

HG: Tell us more about how HPMS came to take in Ukrainian refugees. How did this connection come to be? Do you foresee accepting more refugees in the future?

Andreea + Alexa: We have a family here whose son is at our school. The Mom’s name is Oksana and she is a JC resident. Her two half-sisters fled Ukraine on March 1st with their mom and joined our school on March 8th. Oksana’s organization, Ukrainian-JC, is helping families who land here in JC. She asked us if our school could welcome her half-sisters in addition to a younger Ukrainian girl who had previously gone to a Montessori school in Ukraine. You can watch Oksana’s family story here.

HG: How have the Ukrainian students adapted to life at HPMS?

Andreea + Alexa: Very well. You can hear in the news segment above how they mention, “Now we have friends here.”

HG: How long had the rooftop garden been run down before Ihor decided to revive it? What gave him the idea?

Andreea + Alexa: The rooftop garden and apiary took a fast turn towards decay after the pandemic hit. The bees died once we were in lockdown (March-June of 2020).

HG: What was the best part about this project?

Andreea+ Alexa: Coming together as a community to (literally and figuratively) plant the seeds of hope and peace.

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HG: What would you say was the goal of this project? Was it achieved?

Andreea+ Alexa: The goal to revive our gardens and apiary is long-term… meaning that both will have to be maintained once they are back up and running. So the work is still in progress. We teach Environmental Science here, so having the gardens and apiary available for students to experience botany and agriculture firsthand is vital to learning. Students will cultivate the honey to make products for sale within our community and learn all types of “business” skills along the way like product, packaging, pricing, marketing. The hope is that what the students raise from selling products harvested from the garden can be used to re-invest in seeds and needed equipment, etc.

HG: Do you predict there will be more initiatives like this one in the future?

Andreea + Alexa: Right now, we are trying to raise money for our Scholarship Fund. Our main goal today is to partner with local businesses and organizations to help us expand our Scholarship Fund.

The garden project was a really fortuitous coming together of members of our community that share a love of nature and see how nature can have a calming, peaceful benefit— especially to a family that has been displaced by war and has had to find a new life here.

HG: What else do you think readers should know about HPMS and this garden project?

Andreea + Alexa: Gardens represent healing and growth. These past two years, we have faced global and social crises which threatened to upend the landscape of education… we have all had to flex new muscles, adapt, and accept so much that was out of our control. At HPMS, we always turn to the children for inspiration… children are always growing. They are resilient. We feel like planning a garden, and planting the literal seeds, is like sowing the seeds of love and hope. When you get your community involved in something like this, you can come together with nature and with each other. This garden is a story of hope and resilience. It is truly analogous to what we want to do with our Scholarship Fund… take the seeds we have for is and grow it so that more students and families can reap the benefits of a high-quality education…. And with that, the whole community benefits.

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