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In praise of our learning communities 2015-2016



Board of Directors Kris Boucher, Chairperson Mona Nixon, Head of School KC Dickman Stephen Graham Maureen McGowan Ernie Ryles Carolyn Linke Administration Head of School Mona Nixon Business Manager Rose DiNinno Marketing Coordinator Elaine Glier Advancement Coordinator Misty Brown Administrative Coordinator Meg DeMato Adminstration Assistant Jessica Kuzmick Locations Main Campus 155 Biggs Drive Front Royal, VA 22630 Junior High Campus 23 Sunny Slope Lane Flint Hill, VA 22627 Phone (540) 636-4257 Website Email Mountain Laurel Montessori School does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion or ethnic or national origin in the administration of its educational program, admissions policy, or other school administered programs. 2

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Message from Head of School

Head of School’s Welcome. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Letter from Board Chairperson. . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Board of Directors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Our Sister School in Kenya. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Annual Giving Campaign Information. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6 Annual Giving Campaign Donors. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 2014-2015 Income and Expense Report. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Annual Traditions at MLMS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Montessori Model UN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Favorite Things About MLMS (by Elementary Students). . 12 Junior High School Experiences. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Alumni Reflections On Their Education at MLMS. . . . . . . . 20 Summer Camp at MLMS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Jr. High “Kindess Tree” installed in Washington, DC. . . . . . . 28 Frequently Asked Questions About Montessori. . . . . . . . . . 30

Dear Friends of Mountain Laurel,

We decided to open the creation of this publication up to the students this year. Being the number-one experts on their school, they can offer you the best windows into their everyday world at Mountain Laurel.  

As the students started working on their writing, I kept being reminded of the beauty of each day in the classroom and of the myriad rituals that fill the years of our Mona Nixon students. Early on in the project, Eme and Lexi, who are now college students, came in to Head of School be interviewed by sixth graders. For a couple of hours, they joined in with us, reviewing cubing lessons with students, chatting with us about their memories, and laughing with the children about their shared experiences, including quilting, writing for the Holiday Writing Contest, performing Shakespeare at the Folger, trips to Williamsburg and Philadelphia, and so on. Before they left, we were all full to the brim.    

The weeks followed with students interviewing staff members and pondering their favorite parts of their experience, which led to learning much of the school’s history, thus deepening their love for Mountain Laurel. Collaborating to produce this publication has given the children an opportunity to express their deep gratitude to their parents for choosing to give them such a rich school experience.  We hope you enjoy their gift. Sincerely,

Mona Nixon

Message from Chairperson of the Board Dear MLMS Community,

I am extremely pleased to report that our 2015-2016 enrollment is at an all-time high.

We attribute this success to MLMS’s steadfast adherence to traditional Montessori principals and to our exceptionally dedicated staff members.

Mountain Laurel has touched the lives of hundreds of families over the last twentysix years, and with the implementation of our strategic plan two years ago, we intend to ensure our legacy for many years to come.

Kris Boucher

Chairperson, MLMS Board of Directors

The strategic planning process is ongoing, but already several key parts of the plan have been implemented, such as our forty-four week school year with a robust summer program to help families with two working parents; busing from Winchester, Stephens City, and Warrenton; and an ambitious marketing plan to raise awareness of Montessori education in general, and to Mountain Laurel in particular.

Of course, all of these initiatives come with a price tag, and, I urge you to show your support for this unique community by donating to the MLMS’s Annual Campaign. Tuition covers approximately 85% of our operating expenses. The Annual Giving Campaign monies are used for need-based scholarships, staff development, materials for the classroom, transportation, grounds and building maintenance, and other important areas that directly benefit our students. Sincerely,

Kris Boucher Mountain LAURELS




MLMS Board of Directors Kris Boucher is a former MLMS parent whose daughter started in Ms. Irre’s primary classroom and graduated from the Junior High Program in 2011. She is the CEO of Hope Advanced Veterinary Center; which has two locations in Virginia and Maryland for emergency and specialty care for pets. Ms. Boucher is passionate about Montessori education and devoted to the Mountain Laurel Montessori School community. Since graduating from George Mason University in 1993 she has lived in Fauquier County, where she currently resides with her husband and daughter.

Kris Boucher Chairperson

Steve and Charlene are parents of Meghan Durfor (Graham) who was a student of Mountain Laurel the very first year of existence. Meghan went on to become a school teacher and currently teaches in Charlotte, North Carolina. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, Steve’s expertise in international trade led him to successful positions in several companies over the years. In 2009, Steve joined U.S. Customs and Border Protections as an International Trade Steven Graham Liaison. Steve is an active member in his church and enjoys singing and playing the electric bass guitar with the band New Day. He currently resides in Reston, Virginia. Carolyn Linke graduated from the University of Maryland in 1976. Her education training came from Washington Montessori Institute, with an AMI Primary Diploma. Carolyn has eighteen hours of Special Education from George Washington University and is currently Head of School and Primary classroom Director at the Montessori School of Oakton.

KC Dickman


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Carolyn Linke

KC earned her AMI elementary certification at the Washington Montessori Institute. She also holds a Master of Education degree from Loyola University. KC comes with years of experience as an educator and parent of 6 children (now all adults). KC was head of school, teacher, and founder of Salem Community Montessori that merged with MLMS in 2009. She comes with experience in many areas from driving a bus to teaching adults with disabilities. KC uses her creative and communications skills to enrich the Mountain Laurel community.

Mona Nixon founded Mountain Laurel in 1989 and has worked fulltime as a teacher while guiding the school administratively for the past 25 years. She is trained as both a primary and elementary teacher through the Association Montessori Internationale, Mona taught in Atlanta as a primary teacher for seven years before her work at Mountain Laurel began. It is her greatest delight that her two grandsons, Byron and Gage, are now reaping the benefits of the loving environment that the entire staff has created.

Mountain Laurel becomes sister school to Kenyan’s Insoisuk School

Mona Nixon

Head of School

Maureen McGowan has been involved with Mountain Laurel Montessori School since 1999. Her two sons attended Mountain Laurel from ages two and four through 9th grade. For 10 of those years Maureen worked in various roles at MLMS before returning to her career as a clinical social worker. She is fond of saying that together with family and the Mountain Laurel community she joyfully Maureen McGowan raised two sons! As a Clinical Social Worker Maureen has over 20 years of experience working with youth, adults and families in various mental health practices and agencies. Maureen recently joined Dr. Sherri Yoder at Crown Behavior Services, in Front Royal, providing services to support, enhance and promote mental health and wellness for individuals, families and community. Ernie has worked as an educator for most of his adult life. He has been a classroom teacher, Program Coordinator and has been named as Teacher of the Year. In addition to the supervision of teacher and parent training, Ernie also facilitated curriculum development and use of teaching methodologies. He cofounded and was the CEO of a national publishing company which created materials for education leaders to distribute to approximately eight Ernie Ryles million US households. The company is one of the nation’s fastest growing small businesses.

Following a highly successful school-supply drive for the Inkoisuk School in Kenya, Africa last spring, Mountain Laurel Montessori School has decided to become a sister school to the wonderful staff and students at Inkoisuk. When presented with the writing books, school supplies, soccer balls and jump ropes from our drive, their school community was so very excited. Mrs. Irre met with Margot Laimbeer (the young lady who delivered the goods to the school) upon her return from Kenya and was presented with the personalized thank you banner designed with the children’s names and artwork. Margot told many stories of her time with the children and mentioned that the children are excellent soccer players, despite their very poor shoes. She mentioned that many kids’ toes are protruding from the front of their shoes because they are too small or ill-fitting. Hence began the notion of a shoe drive for the students of the Inkoisuk School.

In speaking with the contact person in Kenya, Samar Ntalamia from The Big Life Foundation, the ideal scenario would be to fit each of their 362 students with a pair of leather boot-style school shoes and a pair of sneakers. We When presented with are hopeful to send the writing books, new and/or gentlyschool supplies, used shoes.

soccer balls and jump ropes from our [school supply drive last spring] drive, their school community was so very excited.

MLMS is collecting shoes and we are hopeful to form partnerships with volunteers to plan for this wonderful project. It is our wish to get individual contributions, involve other groups such as churches and community organizations, contact shoe manufacturers in the hopes they will send shoes directly to the school, ask for corporate sponsorship, and outfit the children with shoes by the end of April 2016.

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Your gift is an investment in Mountain Laurel’s mission—to nurture future citizens empowered to make a difference as responsible and compassionate caretakers of our society and world.

What does tuition cover?

While tuition funds contribute to the school’s annual operating budget, maintaining our beautiful environments and excellent quality depends on the support of our community. Even with tuition, we still need your gift to provide this quality education to those who seek it. There is an approximate 15-20% gap in the amount of tuition paid and the annual operating costs of the school.

How are the funds used?

The Annual Giving Campaign at MLMS supports all programs. Your gift to the fund goes where it is most needed, unless you note the specific area you would like to support. Most funds contribute to replacing well-loved and used materials in the


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I can’t afford a big gift. Is there any point in me giving?

Annual gifts—no matter the size—add up and are an important income stream that ensures the school’s fiscal health and continued excellence. Your participation also plays a major role in encouraging large donors, corporations, and foundations to support the school. When participation rates are strong, foundations and corporations are more likely to award grants and funding to MLMS. Each individual’s contribution also inspires giving from other Mountain Laurel families as we join together to support the school in whose mission we believe and whose community we cherish.

When will my support be needed?

The Annual Giving Campaign runs from year to year beginning on July 1st and ending on June 30th. You have the opportunity to give anytime by mailing a check or by giving online. We send a direct mail appeal each year to alumni, current families and friends of Mountain Laurel.




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Our Annual Giving Campaign supplements student tuition. By frugal fiscal management and hard work, Mountain Laurel is thriving on a very lean budget. Your donation to our Annual Giving Campaign is quite literally an investment in our school, ensuring a legacy of quality Montessori education.

classroom, improving our grounds, building upkeep and maintenance, financial aid assistance, staff development, and maintenance of our beautiful environments. Through your Annual Fund gift, our dedicated teachers can continue to offer the best programs to children.

Margaret Hogan Martha F. Langdon Mary Patricia & Patrick Ahern Matt & Katie Bradley Misty Brown Mr. and Mrs. Robert Sloan, Jr. Mr. and Mrs. Norman J. Lesko Mr. and Mrs. T. Lawrie Jackson Nancy T. Hencken Nancy W. Slattery Patricia A. Christian & R.D. Bailey Patricia G. Veitenthal Prisca Crettier Weems Ramon & Frances Cubelo Jock & Pam Owens Rev. Michael & Linda Kasevich Robert Det. Lawrence, IV & Blair W. Lawrence (David Semmes) Robert J. Branco, Trustee Martina F. Branco, Trustee Robert Seaman & Holly Okell Ruth Younk Sandra Baumgart Sarah Veitenthal Shawn & Laura Lawson The Adams Family The DeMato Family The DiNinno Family The Duke Family The Kuzmick Family Wendy Wilson William Weems

Anonymous Gift Beth Irwin Beverly G. Farmelo (in honor of the Draper family) Camilla Jones Corn Carol K. Holmes (Galaxy’s grandparents) Carolyn Hathaway Carolyn Linke Carrie Irre David & Susan Kahn David Thomas (Abi & Lexi Hathaway) Donald & Julianna Kelso Dr. Bennett G. Miller Dr. Carol Holmes OD and Dr. Stephen A. Holmes Frederic & Alice Catlin Grace M. Sutter Harold & Roseann Schliesske Jack Kominek Janet Jewell Jason Beauge & Cathleen Noel Joshua & Jacqueine Kasevich Julianne Clifford Kara Draper Katerina Bradley KC Dickman Kristal R. Wines Lawrence Ott Lori & Scott Warrender

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What is the annual fund drive?

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We would also like to express our deepest appreciation to parents, grandparents, alumni, and special friends who donated time, talent, energy, and funding by their volunteer work on both campuses. Your names and stories are too numerous to list… we cannot express enough our thanks to the MLMS community for each and every hour of volunteer work that you gave and every additional dollar you contributed to support the children and our mission of providing “an education for life.”

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Donors are an important part of the Mountain Laurel Montessori School community. Each of you who have contributed, whether financially or with time and talent, have had a positive effect in the lives of our children and families. We would especially like to thank our top donors this year for leading the way by making significant financial contributions to our Annual Giving Campaign.



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2014-15 Annual Giving Donors


Provide ideal learning environments for each stage of a child’s development, adhering to the highest standards of Montessori education.


Each Gift Supports Our Mission:

$500 to $999 Judith A Almquist Intervivos Rev Tr Judith A Almquist & R Scott Van Woerkom TTEES David & Constance & Wilson Kathleen Crettier McKay Mr. and Mrs. T. Lawrie and Jackson Ruth Swenson Sarah & Roel Lascano The Schliesske Family

Lead Donors $1,000+

C. Faye Richardson Elaine Glier Ernie D. Ryles and Victoria E. Ryles Helen Wilkes Maureen McGowan & Jeff Bussells Monica & Jon Nixon Robert Crawford The Boucher Family

2014-2015 School Year Income and Expenses Grant Income Planned Giving & Other Income Auction and Other Fundraisers




Financial Aid


Annual Giving


Extracurricular Programs


Facilities & Maintenance

Faculty & Staff



Tui$on and  Fees   Extracurricular  Programs  

Tuition and Fees

Auc$on &  Other  Fundraisers  


Annual Giving   Grant  Income   Other    

Operations & Programs



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Annual Traditions


Primary students look forward to endless outdoor fun at Hartland’s orchard.

Holidays Around The World introduces young students to annual festivities in various cultures.

Students at the Jr. High enjoy playing instruments and preparing for their “Coffee House”.

The toddler community visits Stribling’s apple orchard in the fall each year.

1st-3rd graders perform a Greek play for parents, friends and classmates.

The Jr. High students work together to help care for the animals.

Performing Shakespeare plays has become a favorite of the elementary students.

Elementary students enjoy sharing their musical talents at the winter concert.

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“MMUN is a powerful experience for our Montessori young people to come together to listen, negotiate, collaborate and then offer solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems. This program is an important step toward achieving our vision of educating for world peace.” Richard Ungerer, Executive Director of AMS

Sixth graders travel to New York for Annual Montessori Model UN What is MMUN? Our goal is to inspire youth. MMUN students formulate, present, debate, and revise positions on current issues that are affecting people of the world. By assuming the perspectives of a citizen of their selected countries, MMUN students not only develop an understanding of the needs and rights of others, but also learn to respect the cultures, the political views, and the belief system of others.

Taking on their ambassadorial roles in a Model UN simultation, students research the issue that their UN committees will address. Model UN participants learn how the international community acts on its concerns about topics including peace and security, human rights, the rights of the child, child labor, the environment, food and hunger, economic development and globalization.

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Mrs. Nixon has always been there for us! and always teaches us 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 lessons! And she is a very good drawer and is very fun! She is also very good at doing cannonballs!

I like reading the books about animals. One of my favorite books is about all kinds of mammals. Another one of my favorites is a book all about dinosaurs. I love being at this school. ~ Meridith Clifford ~

~ Mary Sophia ~


One thing I like about my school is freedom. What I mean about freedom is that we get the opportunity to choose where we want to sit or pick out a work and do it whenever we want to. You can even talk to your friends without getting into trouble. Sometimes you can get in trouble if you are not working, but I love my school anyway. ~ Sabrina ~

About Our School

~ Rayleigh Ford ~

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* Paul-Mykal Washington *

I like MLMS because they let you learn at your own pace. They let you have the freedom to learn what you want to learn. Basically, MLMS gives you a great education. It comes at a price but it’s entirely worth it. * David Fox-Wyrick *

according to elementary students

I like my friends at school because they help me at math. My friends are good at math and spelling. I love school and seeing my friends.

My favorite thing to do in school is write. I like to write about cool stories, like my chase story that I finished recently. I have a lot of fun writing every single story I make so that is why I love writing.

The bus ride is my favorite thing about school. When I first got on the bus, I was scared because I had no idea who I’d meet. I got on the bus finally and I would never go back and change it because I think that bus is a part of me. Today I love the bus because of the people.

I was rather surprised to learn, at the age of 5-ish, that Mountain Laurel had a library. My previous experience with libraries had involved large brick buildings with library cards, librarians, and rows upon rows of books. It didn’t seem possible that that could all fit. But there it was. No library cards and no brick building, but there it is.

~ Emma Veitenthal ~

~ Brooke Owens ~

~ Nathalie ~

I like to ride down on my belly, on the hill, and it is fast. Crash! Oops! I landed in the mud. That was Jason. He hurt his leg. Look, it’s line up! That was fun! Let’s write. The end.

I love the fish tank! I love the fish inside. I love the decorations. I even love the water. And it may sound a little bit funny but I love the filter. I especially love Slurpy, our sucker fish. I even love the buckets under our fish tank. Oh those buckets! So many beautiful colors. I just love it!

* Jason*

~ Lela Masters ~

I love to do music. I sometimes do music myself and sometimes do it with friends. I do music with Rayleigh and Nathalie, who knows a lot about music. I do music with a xylophone. Me and Rayleigh have little ones and Nathalie has a big one. I do music a lot. I like music.


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The Plants At School

The Franklin Institute

At my school there are a lot of potted plants. Most of the time Kelly waters them. But I got to do it a few times. I try to estimate how much water each plant needs by how green it is (Kelly just puts in the same amount of water in, no matter if it’s too much or not.) There is a plant by the window that I think will die from lack of moisture any second, and another plant that is so moist it is red, and another plant that sort of looks like a zebra. They are all unique. And that is what makes them great.

The walls were painted pink and a sign read, “Left Atrium”. This was the three-dimensional walk-through model of a heart at the Franklin Institute, the last stop on a three-day overnight trip to Philadelphia.

—Jack Kominek

After strolling through the rest of the exhibit we hurried to one of several classrooms within the Franklin Institute. We were greeted by a poster illustrating various types of simple machines and two boxes of Connects toys on each table. Our mission: to build a flag-raising device.

Elementary students get to know Head of School and Teacher Mrs. Nixon Why do you enjoy teaching? I enjoy teaching because the way children’s minds work fascinates me.

When did you first have the idea to be a teacher?

What do you do when you’re not teaching?

I was 5 years old and my big sister went to school organize school files, every day so I thought that Itake care of [grandsons] it must have been fun. Gage and Byron, When did you start Why did you build the sometimes I like to knit.

working here?

I started working here in 1989.

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Because there was no Montessori school in this area and I wanted to teach at a Montessori school.

The heart is just one of the attractions of the exhibit about the circulatory system. There are models of various animal hearts, a platform that tells you the amount of blood in your body, examples of healthy and unhealthy blood vessels that you can crawl through, and much more.

What did you do before you started teaching here?

I taught at a Montessori school in Georgia.

After constructing cams, gears, and pulleys we proceeded to an exhibit about the brain. We saw such things as a squid’s neuron (which are 1,000 times larger than a human’s, and therefore the object of much study), and then proceeded into a dim room with a web of glass plates suspended with wire netting. You could climb on the glass platforms, and it was quite like a jungle gym. It demonstrated how signals move through the brain. After exploring it for some time we headed to a lunchroom, received our lunches, headed to the bus, and began the long trip home. Our visit to the Franklin Institute was over. —Nathalie Schelin

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Coffee House Coffee House, oh goodness. It’s fun from the beginning, middle, and end. It could be described as a roller coaster; it’s a wild ride! From the outside our school seems like someone’s cozy little home. But then you enter through the door, and the energy changes. It’s unbelievable what talent people have: people who can sing or dance, who can play instruments – piano, drums, all kinds of guitars. Upstairs are the singers, solo or in a group, along with the piano players. And the people who can both sing and play… in a word, wow. Downstairs you have the drummers and guitar players, who are amazing especially when they just straight up jam out and play whatever they want. T hen there are those people with different talents: the trumpet player a couple years ago, the unicyclist last year. If you don’t want to perform, there are the masters of ceremonies who come up with jokes to tell while people are setting up the next act. Suddenly, BAM, the big night arrives, and it’s scary and fun at the same time. But I’m not excited for the next Coffee House. It will be my last one, my last time performing with my friends, who have become my second family over the years. I don’t know what it will be like without them, but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the memories that I have and wait for the roller coaster to begin again. — Laurel Moore

Twice a year at the Mountain Laurel Montessori Junior High is an event called “Cof fee House.” For a couple of hours everyone, on their own or in small groups, sing songs, play instruments, and, occasionally, perform other fun things like stand-up comedy or riding on a unicycle. T here are one or two MCs, masters of ceremonies. T heir job is not only to introduce the acts but also to entertain the audience with jokes, usually terrible ones (on purpose, of course). For example: “Why can’t you trust an atom? Because they make up everything!” and “I was wondering why the baseball was getting bigger, and then it hit me!” T hose are usually followed by groans and feeble applause (good-natured, of course, since most of the audience is our parents).


the Pig Manager Ever since seventh grade at the junior high, I really wanted to be the pig manager. T hat’s the ninth-grader who leads the chore group all year to take care of our pigs. During the summer and the beginning of ninth grade I was so nervous. We have to apply for the manager jobs, and the teachers get together to decide and then make the announcement. T he pig manager has much more to do than make sure the pigs have water and food and that their shelter is clean. He or she also sees to pork orders, keeps track of supplies, helps figure finances and resources to see when we can af ford new pigs, researches shelter options when our breeding pig becomes pregnant, and other responsibilities. I always saw this as fun, though. And yes – I became pig manager this year. I have to say that everyone who’s been in my pig group has been great. T hey love to play with the pigs, but they’re also good about feeding and watering and mucking out the shelter, which is a big help and very fun. Being a manager can be hard and frustrating at times, and it always requires lots of work and patience. But being in charge of such a big part of the farm is very interesting, and for every challenge I think there’s just as much reward. —Piper Jef ferson

T he songs are a mix of pop, classic rock, and (not-too-) hard rock/metal. Preparation usually follows four stages: thinking of songs, practicing/goofing of f, practicing, and finally, regretting we didn’t practice enough, a great Cof fee House nonetheless. Somehow we always end up amazing each other, our parents, and sometimes even ourselves. — Will Schmidt 16 Mountain LAURELS

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A Good Day From the moment I get on the bus my day has of ficially started. As I stare out the bus window watching the sunrise, I quickly sweep my mind for any homework I may have due that day before I close my eyes and fall asleep. Just like how time seems to pass in an instant when sleeping, I wake up in Front Royal in what feels like only moments later. I watch as the rest of my classmates flood onto the bus, filling it with conversations and laughter. About fifteen minutes later we arrive at the farm; the sun rests right above the mountains now and the grass glitters with morning frost. We quickly go inside to put our belongings away before returning to the cold outside. I am garden manager, which is lucky for me in the winter: the warm greenhouse welcomes us for morning chores. A fter spending about an hour outside completing the chores, all of us come inside for snack, then classes. My favorite class is biology. Anything to do with science I love. T his term we’re learning about genetics, and we’re going to have a GMO (genetically modified organisms) debate. One side is for GMOs and one against. I am against GMOs both personally and for the debate. I walk into the math science room (we call it the “mad science room”) and put my stuf f down. Our teacher comes in and we start in. T his chapter is about polysaccharides, amino acids, sugars, and other food chemicals. We take notes and prepare for a lab about how the enzyme pectinase af fects the production of juice from apples. Next is geometry – I also love this class – and eventually lunchtime. A fter we eat we have free time or physical expression. People do anything from having a jam session with guitars to run outside to play soccer. We finish up the school day with creative expression, a class in which we usually get a choice between, say, yarn-bombing, drum circle, and woodblock printing. T his term we’re doing one project together: the Shakespeare play “Much Ado About Nothing.” We’ll be performing it at the Folger T heatre in Washington, DC. Some of us go through the scenes, while others get costumes and props together. About half an hour before the bus comes to pick us up at 3:20, we do our afternoon chores. T he ninth-graders head out to do the animal chores and turn of f the water in the greenhouse, while the rest of the students clean around the house. We gather on the back porch, the teachers give us Word of the Week, reminders, and final announcements, and we pile back on the bus to head home. Kiara Randhawa

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T he Canoe Trip T hat Wasn’t Every year the junior high goes on a canoe trip on the Shenandoah River. It’s three days long, so we camp each night along the way. Most everyone loves the canoe trip, except maybe those who flipped their canoe the first day and have to spend the next two being soggy. A nd there’s a lot of preparation before we go, from food to gear. Nonetheless, the canoe trip is a fun experience and usually an adventurous one. For some reason, there’s a tradition for it to rain, sometimes a lot. T his year looked to follow the tradition, and then some. T he day before we’re scheduled to go: “Wow, I have never seen it rain this hard!” T he whole day, flash-flood warnings are coming in. “Don’t get your hopes up – the river may flood,” the teachers caution us, but it always rains, doesn’t it? We pay no attention. We figure it’ll just be more fun. Departure day: T he first thing I hear after my relentless alarm clock is rain hitting the roof and windows. Out my window I can see only gray clouds and raindrops. It’s just dumping rain. I heft my dry bags down to the car and wonder sleepily whether it’ll be harder or easier to canoe the river if it’s overflowing. I finally begin to wonder if the trip will get canceled all together. T hen I remember that one year, they still went on the trip even though it was hailing. At school I realize I’m not alone in my curiosity. We start to pack up the bus anyway. I’m looking for somewhere to put the cooler I’m carrying, when… “Kaia! T he canoe trip! It’s been canceled!” My friend interrupts my search. “Ha ha. Very funny,” I reply. “No no, really! T he company just called and said it was unsafe!” She’s running out of breath as she speaks more quickly with each word. And that’s how the best “canoe” trip started: We went camping anyway for one of the nights, and the days we improvised as we went. We even went bowling. So if somebody ever asks you how to score a strike while canoeing, it’s probably one of us. —

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I was the first student to start from Beginnings class and go all the way up to 9th grade at the junior high. Whenever I think of the word “Montessori,” family always comes to my mind -- because at Mountain Laurel, everyone’s involved.

Alumni reflect on their education at MLMS I went to Mountain Laurel Montessori from 2000-2012. I’m currently at JMU, studying nursing.

Mountain Laurel was a great place for a physical learner like me, because there were so many hands-on activities, such as measuring the volume of a pig at the Jr. High. Mountain Laurel was a really welcoming community, with a lot of freedom. I want to tell current students to slow down and enjoy what is probably the best school experience they’ll get. Take advantage of the opportunity.

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Eme Boucher

When I think back on all my memories, one in particular stands out. I was in the junior high, and the soccer field then was also the pig pasture. So we would be playing soccer with these 400-pound pigs sitting all over the field and knocking over the goal posts. There are two main things that I learned at Mountain Laurel Montessori School. One was math, which was really important because there’s a lot of math when you get to public school. Also, being able to read freely definitely helped me because teachers at public schools expect you to be knowledgeable, even if it’s the newspaper. I would not be where I am, on the path that I’m on, without MLMS. It not only set me up for academic success, but life success. The strong community that is gained through everyone working together, supporting each other, and having fun together through taking care of the farm, class projects, overnights, class trips, and so much more gave me confidence in others as well as myself. Knowing that I held responsibility, and that I would be supported whether I made the right decision or the wrong one, helped me realize that making a bad decision is not the end of the world, but rather another learning opportunity. I wish that everyone could have the opportunity to learn in such an amazing place.

Emma Schmidt

If there was something I could say to students at Mountain Laurel now, it would be to take everything your teacher says to heart. They know what they’re doing, and I learned that once I graduated and went to public school. I would definitely send my child here. Mountain Laurel doesn’t just teach you how to do math and other works like that. It also teaches you how to be mature and make good choices.

Nicole Hughey

I know now and always have known that a large majority of what shaped me as a student, as a worker, as a community member, a friend, a global citizen, whatever it might be, can be traced back to my years at Mountain Laurel. To this day, I tell people that the best decision my parents ever made for me, and the one decision I would make for myself if re-living my life, was to send me to MLMS. Why? Because it gave me so much, shaped my development so positively, and inspires me constantly. For me, Mountain Laurel meant unlimited opportunities for creativity—like the insanely complex forts we built up in the woods, the xylophone jam sessions, becoming a costume designer for the next Shakespeare play, to art and movement classes. It meant not having to be constrained to the limits of a predetermined schedule, instead leaving room for some inspiration and flexibility. It meant engaged, hands-on, real-world learning—like the Junior High farmer’s market. It meant learning the tools to be a self-motivated, independent learner, but simultaneously learning them in an environment where group collaboration was encouraged. Mountain Laurel meant being a part of an active, engaged community filled with peers, staff, and teachers that were committed to creating an environment of positivity, growth, support, and mutual respect. It meant being surrounded by role models—both older students and teachers—that were accessible, involved, and caring. It meant making a lasting commitment to the values I learned there, and to the people I made meaningful relationships with—as evidenced by the fact that I have maintained many beautiful friendships with previous students and teachers from MLMS.

Mountain Laurel meant more than school to me. It was a mix of a home and a school—it is where I learned to love learning, where I was taught to feel comfortable in my own skin, to test boundaries, to excel, to work with others, and to care for my community. Ultimately, Mountain Laurel left such an impact on me that I one day hope to become a Montessori teacher myself. I can think of no better way to influence the world in a positive, meaningful, sustainable way.

Katie Brown

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When I think about my experience with MLMS, the first word that comes to my mind (and this may sound a little selfish!) is…easy.

Easy because the students are taught to be independent. They are shown at an early age what they can do instead of what they cannot do. For example, they can make their own lunches! Easy because the children are presented with “work” that they can be successful at on their own, typically during the school day. Although we support the kids when they need it, my husband and I don’t feel like we have to do homework or projects for them. Easy because there are few tests or grades, which means less stress and drama at home.

Easy because my kids have never argued about going to school. They like school!

Each year I am awed by the young alumni who speak at our annual alumni parent meeting. From my perspective, having known some of them since they were preschoolers, it is a delightful experience each time. We heard from a senior at Wakefield Country Day who began in primary and graduated from our ninth grade before transferring to WCD, a Warren County senior girl who had the full MLMS experience, a young woman attending Loudoun County Schools who attended our junior high, a male sophomore and female sophomore who transferred from a different Montessori school in fourth grade to finish out the junior high experience with us, one attending Fauquier County Schools the other Foxcroft, a freshman at JMU who drove to MLMS from Harrisonburg specifically for the evening’s events, and a Warren County senior boy. A parent commented how eloquent and confident these young adults are. They spoke freely about their experiences, both wonderful and troublesome, in all levels of Montessori, their transition experiences into their various schools: social aspects and academic aspects, and what they are doing now. Some highlights from their current activities included singing, sports, musical talents (including two boys who play in a band with a third MLMS friend who was not in attendance), local community service as well as a trip to Ecuador to teach English to orphans, a nursing career in the works for the college student and many, if not all kids taking advanced placement classes including Physics, Calculus, History, and some dual-enrollment opportunities in math for one young lady.

It was my pleasure to see these children and what they are accomplishing. And to say I knew them when...

I met and fell in love with Mt. Laurel Montessori School in 2000—it was a wild and wonderful time in our family—I was learning and growing as much as my 2 and 4 year old. When I found MLMS I jumped in, let go (as much as I could!) and lived MLMS with my boys until they graduated from the Junior High School (we all still call it ‘The Farm’) in 2010 and 2013. It was one of the wisest parenting choices I ever made.

And best of all…easy because, not only has MLMS provided my children with an outstanding education, but it has also provided me and my husband with a support system when we have needed it. Teachers, staff, and other Mountain Laurel families have been the village we need to raise two children in challenging times. Thank you Mountain Laurel!

­–Parent of MLMS alumni

Well, these boys are now currently in college and graduating high school this year. They are independent, resourceful and resilient; and they are really nice young men! Do I worry about them?...on my, I worry about plenty of little things (I’m a mom!); but the overall picture of who they are, the choices they make, their ability to take care of themselves...Not too much. I will always be grateful that Mt. Laurel was a part of their foundation building.

–Parent of MLMS alumni

–Carrie Irre, primary program teacher

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Food for Thought Young children are sensorial explorers. They thrill at the colors, aromas, textures and flavors of new and favorite foods. Cooking and tasting a wide variety of ingredients enable children to relate new experiences with what is already familiar. Mealtime not only nourishes young bodies, it feeds their minds. In our toddler community children (16 months–3 years) participate in food preparation every day. Individual snacks are prepared independently. The snack activity may be peeling and slicing a piece of fruit or a hard-boiled egg, or spreading nut butter on bread. The children place their carefully prepared food into a serving bowl and make the activity tray “ready for the next person” by cleaning and restocking necessary items.

Cooking and tasting a wide variety of ingredients enable children to relate new experiences with what is already familiar.

They set their own place at the dining table and use serving tongs to serve the amount they want to eat. They keep their cloth napkin on their lap to wipe sticky fingers. They use a pitcher to pour themselves a drink, watching the water level so they can stop before it reaches the brim of the cup. The tablecloth absorbs spills and provides information to the children as they watch the water being absorbed. It often prompts them to try again and to pour with more care. It sometimes prompts them to spill even more as they explore the properties of gravity and water - creating opportunities to use mops and sponges.

Children also work with adults to prepare a group meal that is eaten at the end of the morning. Selections include pasta with chopped tomatoes and freshly ground spices; couscous with chick peas and fresh vegetables; vegetable soup; a variety of sandwiches with fruit salad; or their favorite—pizza! This is an especially “hands-on” sensorial experience as they mix the pizza dough, knead it and spread it with sauce and toppings. A few children work with an adult to set the table, counting out and distributing the utensils and decorating the table with the flower arrangements children made that morning. We start our meal with a simple song of thanks and we chat about our day. When the meal is done, children put away their dirty dishes and wash their face and hands. Thus, a complete work cycle is experienced: starting with whole raw food—through the cooking and enjoyment of the meal—to clean-up.

It is hard to imagine such young children working both independently and collaboratively. The work is a process developed over time, and they learn as much from observing each other as from the teachers. They come to understand sequences of activities, and with daily repetition they selfcorrect and perfect their movements. Vocabularies expand as they learn names and characteristics of foods and the various preparation techniques. Conversational skills, cultural customs and manners, and consideration for others are modeled as we socialize around the dining table.

Vocabularies expand as they learn names and characteristics of foods and the various preparation techniques.

The daily life of our toddler community depends on this important work. It is definitely food for thought!

When they are finished with their snack they scrape food scraps into the “chicken bucket.” (They know these scraps go to Mrs. Bell’s chickens.) They take their dirty dishes to the “dirty dish rack”—a multi-tiered cart with areas designated for plates, cups and silverware. They wash their hands and off they go to choose new work.

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Primary Camp

Elementary Camp Relax




Every morning, we began our day in the beautiful mountains of Flint Hill, at the Jr. High Farm. The children were surrounded by animals, nature, and rolling mountains. Everyone had time to relax with fishing, climbing trees, or just playing with new friends. For students who are new to MLMS, or just getting ready to enter the Elementary grades, camp is the perfect setting to meet other students before the school year begins.

The weekly themes allowed for every subject to be included. Math, science, reading, geography, history and music were at the forefront of our weekly studies. Frequent trips to the library gave us the information we needed to complete research projects. This past summer, we read over 100 books! Quite a feat for only nine weeks!

We ended each day with a refreshing swim, either at the 4H Center, or in a local river or creek. Whether a beginning swimmer, or an expert, all of the children made great gains in their waterconfidence, as well as physical strength. Some students who could not swim in June, were jumping off the diving board by August.

Every Friday the students traveled to a city, museum, zoo, hiking trail, or park. One day we hiked in three different states! The adventures (and the fun) were limitless!!


Join the Fun! Don’t Miss it!

MLMS Jr. High “Kindess Tree” on permanent display at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. During the 2014-2015 school year, students at the Jr. High created the “Kindness Tree” as a yarn-bombed art installation. The idea was to transform sticks and stones from something that would hurt, into something graceful, gentle and loving. Students placed stones at the base of the soft tree with messages of kindness. The tree lived at Samuels Library for until early 2016.

The piece was re-installed at the Department of Education in Washington D.C. on permanent display. According to Maria Montessori, “establishing lasting peace is the work of education.” We are so proud of our students’ work, promoting world peace by starting with themselves.

Summer Camp 2016 Ages 2.5 to 12 years

Programs: Primary & Elementary Open to MLMS students and non-students

Discount for attending multiple weeks

Extended day option

Attend 1 week, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, as few or many as you like

Offered 9 weeks during summer months

Field Trip Fridays (Elementary age children)

Kindness tree blurb written by the students for the Department of Education intranet news:

(Top photo) Jr. High teacher Kara Draper (left) and _______ (right), (Above, left to right) Teah, Zoe and Gage Draper

Sticks and stones may break my bones… Our experience making the Kindness Tree, is a time I won’t forget, as I was with my friends, making memories. It all started with a few people coming together with many ideas, all ending with building something known as the Kindness Tree. We took the rough, raw materials, and wrapped them tenderly with yarn. We places messages of love at its base. As I look back at what we have done, and where the Kindness Tree is, I’m proud at how something so little is making kindness. This is something that resembles anti-bullying and trying to spread happiness and understanding… but names will never hurt me.

This series is available for all elementary age students. Parents can sign up for one field trip, all field trips, or any number in between. If your child will be home this summer, but would like to have the weekly opportunity to engage with peers, this is the perfect option! Field trips are subject to availability and change. Parents will be notified as early as possible if changes are necessary. Week 1 (6/17) US Botanical Gardens

Week 2 (6/24) Torpedo Factory Art Center Week 3 (7/1) Smithsonian Folk Life Festival Week 4 (7/8) Mt. Crawford Creamery & Showalter’s Cider Mill Week 5 (7/15) Three Falls Hike Week 6 (7/22) The Clay Center

Week 7 (7/29) Museum of Natural History Week 8 (8/5) Harper’s Ferry

Week 9 (8/12) The National Zoo

More info online:

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Montessori Education Frequently Asked Questions Many families come to us as a referral, having heard wonderful things about our school and community. There are often questions about Montessori as a method of teaching. Here are some of our most common questions. Q. Where did Montessori come from?

Q: What are the areas of study?

A. Montessori education was founded in 1907 by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first woman in Italy to become a physician. She based her educational methods on scientific observation of children’s learning processes. Guided by her discovery that children teach themselves, Dr. Montessori designed a “prepared environment” in which children could freely choose from a number of developmentally appropriate activities. Now, nearly a century after Maria Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini (“children’s house”) in Rome, Montessori education is found all over the world, spanning ages from birth to adolescence.

A: All subjects are interwoven, not taught in isolation, the teacher modeling a “Renaissance” person of broad interests for the children. A child can work on any material he understands at any time.

Q. What is the difference between Montessori and traditional education?

A. At the under age six level, Montessori emphasizes learning through all five senses, not just through listening, watching, or reading. Children in Montessori classes learn at their own, individual pace and according to their own choice of activities from hundreds of possibilities. The children are not required to sit and listen to a teacher talk to them as a group, but are engaged in individual or group activities of their own, with materials that have been introduced to them by the teacher who knows what each child is ready to do. Learning is an exciting process of discovery, leading to concentration, motivation, self-discipline, and a love of learning. Above age 6, children learn to do independent research, arrange field trips to gather information, interview specialists, create group presentation, dramas, art exhibits, musical productions, science projects, and so forth. There is no limit to what they create in this kind of intelligently guided freedom. There are no textbooks or adult-directed group lessons and daily schedule. There is great respect for the choices of the children, but they easily keep up with or surpass what they would be doing in a more traditional setting. There is no wasted time and children enjoy their work and study. The children ask each other for lessons and much of the learning comes from sharing and inspiring each other instead of competing with each other.

Teaching is accomplished by teaching, not by correcting. There are no papers turned back with red marks and corrections. Instead the child’s effort and work is respected as it is. The teacher, through extensive observation and record-keeping, plans individual projects to enable each child to learn what he needs in order to improve.

Q: How are students graded?

A: There are no grades, or other forms of reward or punishment, subtle or overt. Assessment is by portfolio and the teacher’s observation and record keeping. The test of whether or not the system is working lies in the accomplishment and behavior of the children, their happiness, maturity, kindness, love of learning, and level of work. Q. Is Montessori good for children with learning disabilities? What about gifted children?

A. Montessori is designed to help all children reach their fullest potential at their own unique pace. A classroom whose children have varying abilities is a community in which everyone learns from one another and everyone contributes. Moreover, multi-age grouping allows each child to find his or her own pace without feeling “ahead” or “behind” in relation to peers. Q. Are Montessori children successful later in life?

A. Research studies show that Montessori children are well prepared for later life academically, socially, and emotionally. In addition to scoring well on standardized tests, Montessori children are ranked above average on such criteria as following directions, turning in work on time, listening attentively, using basic skills, showing responsibility, asking provocative questions, showing enthusiasm for learning, and adapting to new situations.

The rigorous scope of intellectual, artistic and creative content supports children who succeed in the next stages of their academic journey. Q: What about discipline?

Q: Why does Montessori put so much stress on freedom and independence? A. Children touch and manipulate everything in their environment. In a sense, the human mind is handmade, because through movement and touch, the child explores, manipulates, and builds a storehouse of impressions about the physical world around her. Children learn best by doing, and this requires movement and spontaneous investigation. Montessori children are free to move about, working alone or with others at will. They may select any activity and work with it as long as they wish, so long as they do not disturb anyone or damage anything, and as long as they put it back where it belongs when they are finished.

Freedom is a second critical issue as children begin to explore. Our goal is less to teach them facts and concepts, but rather to help them to fall in love with the process of focusing their complete attention on something and mastering its challenge with enthusiasm. Work assigned by adults rarely results in such enthusiasm and interest as does work that children freely choose for themselves.

Q: How do Montessori graduates fare in the real world, where they don’t always set the agenda?

The prepared environment of the Montessori class is a learning laboratory in which children are allowed to explore, discover, and select their own work. The independence that the children gain is not only empowering on a social and emotional basis, but it is also intrinsically involved with helping them become comfortable and confident in their ability to master the environment, ask questions, puzzle out the answer, and learn without needing to be “spoon-fed” by an adult.

A. Increasingly, the world of modern education and business favors creative thinkers who combine personal initiative with strong collaborative skills: exactly the characteristics which Montessori education nurtures. Cultural movers and shakers from Julia Child to the founders of Google have spoken of how their childhood experiences in Montessori gave them not only the ability to work cooperatively in existing settings, but also the skills of confidence, creativity, and communication needed to make innovative and ground-breaking changes.

A. Current brain-based research is verifying Dr. Montessori’s original ideas about how the human develops and how to support a child’s learning to her highest potential. Current education theorists support the aspects and outcomes of a Montessori education where the goal is to (1) assist children in becoming independent and adaptable to the changing circumstances of modern life and to (2) contribute to the cultivation of human beings who would work towards a more peaceful world.

Q: Is this approach still relevant to contemporary education?

The qualities of a young person who has grown up in a Montessori environment include: creativity, adaptability, and independence in both thinking and in managing one’s life, and a strong concern for and dedication to the future of humanity.

A. Self-discipline develops through work that is motivated by interest, developmental need and community living. Montessori students engage in personally challenging and developmentally meaningful activity, through purposeful work. The child develops self-regulation through positive experiences, learning how to make choices, and to develop accountability for self, environment and community. From the very beginning, the child is given an appropriate amount of freedom within consistent and clearly defined limits. They are free to practice the skills of independence such as: social language, care of self and others, respect, supported by the nurturing guidance of trained adults when needed. The physical and temporal environments are also designed to support: order, respect, grace and courtesy, collaborative learning communities and positive attachments with their guides. Adaptation and independence naturally develop within the intentionally designed experience where joyful engagement is the goal. Montessori children demonstrate a strong ability to be self-directed, empathetic and responsible members of their community. Q: How do Montessori graduates do?

A. Because Montessori fosters the ability to pursue ones interests in great depth, and to have strong commitment to one’s environment and community, many students are publicly known for their accomplishments and contributions. Many others are leading successful, fulfilled, and happy lives as responsible citizens contributing to their communities on seven continents around the world. Some Montessori students who are publically recognized include: • Joshua Bell, American violinist

• Jeff Bezos, founder of

• Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google • George Clooney, Academy Award-winning actor • Julia Child, first world-famous television chef

• Katherine Graham, owner-editor of The Washington Post

• Prince William and Prince Harry, sons of Charles, Prince of Wales • Helen Hunt, Academy Award-winning actress

• Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, former editor, former first lady • Will Wright, designer of The Sims video games

Students in a Montessori environment learn to be resourceful, to find the information they need when they need it. They learn to collaborate with others to find the best solutions to problems. They learn to speak their opinions and listen openly to the views of others. They speak with confidence in public, they apply their skills creatively, and they understand diplomacy. They comfortably work side-by-side with people of all ages. 30 Mountain LAURELS

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David Semmes January 5, 1928-January 1, 2015 Father of MLMS 10-year veteran elementary teacher Deryn Semmes Winchester, Grandfather of MLMS graduates Brooke and Clayton Hatcher David was involved in Mountain Laurel Montessori School for the last 15 years of his life, not only as a grandparent but also as a regular donor. A well-loved equestrian in Rappahannock County, David worked many years as an attorney in the CIA before retirement. He always said he supported MLMS because the work of the school was the most important work in the world and the greatest contributor to world peace.

Mountain Laurel magazine  

Montessori school publication celebrating the learning communities (16 months-9th grade)

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