MMS offering free children’s art activities at FestivALL Fall

Event headerJoin MMS for free seasonal art activities for children at the second annual FestivALL Fall Harvest Gift Boutique of Fine Art and Fine Craft, to be held Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Woman’s Club of Charleston, 1600 Virginia Street East.  Facilitated by MMS faculty and art volunteers, we will facilitate creative make-and-take projects as part of our ongoing educational outreach and community service initiatives. For more information, please go to 

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Creating paths of learning in lower elementary

Students create their own paths of learning at Mountaineer Montessori School.  Enjoy this week’s  update from David and Amanda’s lower elementary classroom:

A foul weather day inspires indoor recess discovery.

A foul weather day inspires indoor recess discovery.

“The first few weeks of autumn bring exciting changes to our environment.

Students have enjoyed removing all of the weeds and old growth from our garden. They are turning the soil in preparation for planting seeds in the spring.

We are proud of our Montessori environment. We have all the materials we need to learn math, language, geometry, science, geology, geography, history and biology.  We also have each other as learning partners.

Each day, your child is responsible for her/his learning path as well as contributing to the learning environment of others.

All paths in the classroom will lead to discovery and learning in the fields listed above as well

Lower elementary students study vines in the MMS playground area.

Lower elementary students study vines in the MMS playground area.

as in the world around us.

This week we are taking a closer look at volcanoes and the effect that they have on land and water forms.  How were the continents formed? Who lives on different continents? What kind of plants and animals do they have?

Thank you to all of the drivers who helped transport students to the Children’s Theatre of Charleston performance of “School House Rock.” We look forward to seeing you next week at Parents Night.


David and Amanda”

October 15, 2014

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After 20 years as college professor, MMS faculty member giving back to community that shaped him

We are so proud that our “sanctuary of learning” includes David Pushkin, who after 20 years as a college professor is giving back to Charleston as member of the the Mountaineer Montesori faculty. Our teachers’ rich and varied backgrounds and depth of expertise contribute to a unique educational experience for students and parents alike — and also enrich the entire Charleston community. Welcome back, David!

Below is a wonderful “Innerviews” profile by Sandy Wells that appeared the Charleston Gazette on October 13, 2014:

Innerviews: Montessori guide giving back to city that shaped him

MMS lower elementary lead guide David Pushkin. Photo by Chris Dorst, Charleston Gazette

MMS lower elementary lead guide David Pushkin. Photo by Chris Dorst, Charleston Gazette

When he returned to Charleston two years ago, he brought back a lot more than the familiar surname. David Pushkin, son of the late Jack Pushkin, a prominent orthopedic surgeon, spent 30 years away, mainly in New York, establishing himself as an artist, filmmaker and college professor.

He took with him all the creative lessons he learned growing up in Charleston’s arts-rich community. He brought back a wealth of experience, a reputation in international art circles and many awards and positions recognizing his multifacteted talents.

A Montessori student as a small boy in Morgantown, he kicked off his homecoming here as an artist-in-residence and intern at the Mountaineer Montessori School. Now he’s a full-time faculty member, a “lower elementary guide,” Montessori’s version of a grade-school teacher.

He still produces art, still works diligently on his documentary film about the Hawks Nest Tunnel, a construction project that killed hundreds of black laborers unprotected from the ravages of silica.

Although still lured by the creative nourishment of New York, he loves it here and welcomes the chance to give back to the city that gave so much to him.

Like the proverbial old shoe, Charleston fits.

He’s 51.

David Pushkin as a five-year-old Montessori student.

David Pushkin as a five-year-old Montessori student.

“I was born in Morgantown. My dad was in medical school at WVU. I lived there from 1962 until 1968. I went through kindergarten in Morgantown and went to a Montessori school where I would make things out of clay and wood. I remember that as my first real creative time.

“There is an emphasis in Montessori education on direct experiences. You don’t just talk about the stars; you find some way to show the stars.

“When we moved here, Charleston didn’t have a Montessori school, so I went to Holz.

“What I loved about growing up in Charleston was the Sunrise Children’s Museum and the art gallery on the hill and Kanawha State Forest. I could be involved in as many creative outlets as I wanted because there was so much going on all the time. I took some classes with Sherry Lovett at the Art Store and did some children’s programming at Sunrise.

“My dad started working with an orthopedic practice here in town, Sunday and Miyakawa. Later, Tony Majestro joined them. He was in practice 35 years.

“I have a sister, Lesli, and a brother, Michael. All three of us went into creative fields. I think that was a reflection of Charleston at the time. There was so much support. Lesli is winding down a career as an actress in LA. Michael is a musician and is running for the Legislature.

“For our parents, it was the first generation of divorce. The early ’70s were hard for a lot of couples. People were exploring their own identities. Dad and mom (Marsha) divorced, and dad married Pam and had two more children.

David Pushkin graduated from George Washington High School in 1981.

David Pushkin graduated from George Washington High School in 1981.

I graduated from George Washington in ’81. I had been given a lot of support in the arts, and I wanted to be an artist, whatever that meant. I went to art school and became a teacher.

“On the college level, I taught artists how to teach in public schools. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and then the San Francisco Art Institute and studied experimental film. Then I moved to New York and lived there for 30 years and worked as a college professor in a school of education.

“Coming home, I feel a little like Rip Van Winkle. I grew up the same way these children are still growing up. Charleston is almost like in a time capsule.

“The curriculum in Montessori hasn’t changed. The other night, (we) arranged a junior elementary program at Kanawha State Forest. I hadn’t done anything like that since I was that age, right in that spot. I feel like I am giving back to the community that nurtured me.

“I was working at Hofstra University on Long Island for 15 years as a fine arts and film professor in an interdisciplinary division. They shut that down, and I worked in a couple of areas making paintings, teaching painting and drawing and doing films with students.

“I had been through the tenure process and my dean retired and about 27 of us were let go. I was out of work.

“I was working on a documentary about the Hawks Nest Tunnel. I told a friend, a film critic for the Village Voice, the story of Hawks Nest. People had started putting up plaques about what happened there in the ’30s. I helped Charlotte Yeager Neilan of the Nicholas Chronicle discover the graves. My film critic friend said we should make it a documentary film.

“That’s one of the reasons I moved here. Friends said I didn’t have anything tying me to New York, so I should move to Charleston and work on the film. I ended up getting divorced and staying here.

“I came to Mountaineer Montessori as a guest artist two years ago, and they offered me the licensing and a position. They paid for the training. So instead of trying to find another college teaching job, I just started working here.

“When my dad died — 20 years ago this December — I had just finished grad school at Columbia. That’s when I really discovered about Hawks Nest. He had liver cancer for three years. He went to Pittsburgh and had a liver transplant and bought himself three years. He saw my sister married and his youngest daughter’s bat mitzvah. He was really a fighter.

“I was talking to the rabbi about the mourning process. He said the cemetery isn’t the place to mourn because that’s just where the body is. He said to find a place to mourn him that meant something to the two of us, some symbolic place.

“We used to take the boat to Summersville Lake all the time. I decided I was going to mourn him at Summersville Lake. I got up at 4 a.m. It  was snowy and icy. I was driving up Route 60, and the sun started to come up, and I pulled over. It was right at Hawks Nest.

MMS faculty members David Pushkin and Barrie Kaufman with students who created art inspired by the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster. Photo by Craig Cunningham, Charleston Daily Mail

MMS faculty members David Pushkin, Nancy Johnston and Barrie Kaufman with students who created art inspired by the Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster. Photo by Craig Cunningham, Charleston Daily Mail

“He was a photography bug. Hawks Nest was one of his favorite places to shoot. So I made Hawks Nest this sort of mourning spot, and that’s when I started the project.

“The film was supposed to be finished a year ago, but I started working a little more personally on it. I had a partner on it, but she ended up making a different film.

“I’m the lower elementary guide here. I teach the same things as a regular elementary school teacher, but we aren’t called teachers because we just sort of guide students through the day. We give them as many short lessons as we can and then let them work on their own. Mary McKown, the founder, built a sanctuary of education here.

“What I’m bringing to it most is my experience of growing up in Charleston, because I know a lot of resources and people here. I remember what it felt like to sit outside on a day like this in Charleston. Last year, we did a lot of writing projects where the kids came out and wrote about how it felt to be in the environment they were in.

“This summer, I took a class on watershed testing at the Mountain Institute and a course on how to teach these children to go to Kanawha State Forest and test the water for its acid content.

“We love to take the students to Dolly Sods because we’re talking about when the earth was one continent and dinosaurs were here. Finding oceanic fossils on the mountaintops fascinates the children.

“I’d call myself artist, filmmaker and teacher in that order. My wife and daughter live in New York, so I have a lot of time to paint and work on the documentary. And I’m pretty active at B’Nai Jacob. We’re bringing more creative projects into the Sunday school classroom.

“I would like to go back and forth between Charleston and New York. They feel like separate worlds, but they really aren’t. I always feel refreshed when I come back here from a trip to New York, and when I go to New York, people say, ‘Oh, you look so rested.’

“I like living in Charleston. I would like to keep contributing to the culture here and in West Virginia. It’s awfully pretty in Pocahontas County. I wouldn’t mind having a little place to go to up there in the woods.

“I’ve been given a lot of gifts. First is all the support I got as a child for anything I wanted to do creatively. I was the first child board member of Children’s Theater. I was in charge of the makeup. We stored all the costumes at our house. My mom was involved in Kanawha Players.

Watercolor by David Pushkin, 2012.

Watercolor by David Pushkin, 2012.

“What I love about Charleston is that the civic organizations are still very strong. The population has decreased, but you still have those theater groups, the churches, the schools and organizations like the Junior League and Manna Meals. There are lots of ways for families to get involved in real life situations with their children.

“That all benefited me in the 30 years I lived away from Charleston. To come back here and teach children how real that is, it’s like coming full circle.

“It would be nice if we could bring back more people who grew up and have this place in their hearts. It would nice to draw new young people from Europe looking for this kind of nurturing.

“I wish we could clean it up more. There are places like New York City that have made a big industry out of cleaning up the Hudson. When Bush became president, he deregulated what he called surface mining. What we’ve had to put up with, I think we need to repair it. Bringing people in to make new filters and water systems would be a whole industry, its own economic boost.

“I think I am spiritually an activist, less politically and more spiritual.

“I wanted time to work on my art and a safe place to live and entertain my children and grandchildren. I have that here. I’m just enjoying living it every day.

“The first year, I didn’t have any money or a car. I was riding my bike from Bradford Street over here, and it was really putting me in touch with a sense of place. I feel very much connected to the Kanawha Valley. I like the way it feels.”

Reach Sandy Wells at 304-348-5173 or

– See more at:


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Experientia docet: history through lens of shared experience

Metaphysics, Latin lessons and Ancient Egypt: enjoy this Upper Elementary update from Lead Guide Jason Winesburg:

EgyptRecently in the upper elementary, we have been delving into the Ancient Egyptian culture, with paired research projects centering on the concept of fundamental needs.

Montessori projects history through a lens of shared experience. Every culture throughout history met many of the same challenges—housing, nutrition, transportation, defense—and came up with its own strategies to meet those challenges. On an individual level, we share the same challenges, and struggle to come up with our own win-win strategies to meet our needs. To that end, we began Non-Violent Communication (NVC) last week with Sky Kershner to support peaceful conflict resolution.

In our study of the Ancient Egyptians, we told the story of the Papyrus of Ani, an artifact known colloquially as “The Book to the Dead”, though it is only one of many such scrolls. The beautiful, mysterious illustrations of Ani’s papyrus enticed us to explore the colorful mythology that guided the Ancient Egyptians.

We began our discussion of physics with an introduction to the concepts of force and work.

We made force diagrams for the beleaguered workers, hauling two-ton stone blocks to the summit of the pyramids in the hot desert sun.

We will continue our physics work on Wednesday, with MMS dad Randy Melton, an engineer, visiting to give assistance in creating our pumpkin drop projects.

As a class, we went on Thursday to see the presentation of Schoolhouse Rock Live at the Civic Center. MMS Middle School student Julia Carriger gave a wonderful performance and the students loved the many musical numbers! Several heroic parents volunteered to drive at short notice, and we had a great trip.

I began a weekly peer editing workshop on Thursday afternoon, to give interested students a chance to hone their work and get advice before the final presentation. Over half the class participated and shared some great writing!

On Friday, we went from physics to metaphysics as we talked about the branches of philosophy and brainstormed philosophical questions. Gordon Kelly is visiting on Monday to discuss the development of philosophy by the Ancient Greeks. This should also tie in nicely to the Myth-o-Mania books we have been reading for novel study.

Regarding individual lessons, sentence analysis has continued, with direct and indirect objects. Older students have been working on identifying phrases and dependent/independent clauses. We have had many lessons on area and volume, and the students have been introduced to the idea of mathematical formulas in connection with their geometry work. We have begun our in-depth work with decimal fractions, though many students are working on other topics. Some have taken up the study of Latin, and are practicing daily. There has been an interest in garment making, and many students are working on Egyptian tunics. The sixth-years are busily working on their research projects and the food program.

Posted October 13, 2014

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An exciting ride of self-discovery: Middle school students report on first weeks of new program

“We have started an exciting ride of self-discovery and mental and spiritual adventure,” writes seventh year student Zahra Kahn about her work  at the new Mountaineer Montessori Middle School.

Here’s  a wonderful report on the many enriching activities — including visiting The Mountain Institute, meeting with experts at the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), journaling, archery and even preparing their own meals — that have engaged Zahra and her classmates in recent weeks:


Experiences in the EnvironmentHello Everyone!

As you all are well aware, the first year of our new Montessori Middle School has commenced, and, as expected, has been met with considerable success. We students are developing academic and emotional skills that will help us as we progress, and grow older. Through our middle school curriculum the teachers have been able to act as guides and mentor us through our beautiful transformation into adulthood. In order to do this, we have been exposed to many of the current events and problems that are taking their toll on the world.

In science, we have been studying water, and what we must do to protect our most valuable resource. Each student was required to give a paper and oral presentation on the topic of their choice. I believe that all of our presentations went extremely well, delivering both creative and informative presentations. You could see that everyone was very interested in their subject, and came up with possible solutions, versus picking and blaming certain sides. Not only have we been able to give a presentation on the matter, but we were also able to take a hands-on approach. We have been doing many outside environmental projects with water, such as going to the Kanawha State Forest and testing Davis Creek with an environmental resource specialist supervisor with the DEP, Nick Murray and even visiting a sewage treatment plant.

In book group, we are being exposed to many different concepts, such as our impact on the environment and how characterour society shapes our principles and ways of life. We have completed a book called “The Little Prince” by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, and are in the middle of “Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn.

For the Little Prince, we were expected to do a final project of our choice. Everyone did a wonderful job making pictures, stories and analytical paragraphs about the characters and symbols of the book. These stories have ignited a spark inside each of us. We have begun journeying and questioning the meanings of life and the meaning of being a human. We have gained in-depth understandings of the concepts touched in the books and have started an exciting ride of self-discovery and mental and spiritual adventure.

In arithmetic, we are all doing many different mathematical exercises, ranging from reviewing fractions, decimals and percents to embarking on a journey through algebra. We have also been working with geometry, reviewing the formulas of area and perimeter for a multitude of different shapes.

Not only do we focus on the academic aspect of each individual’s transformation, we are also focusing on expression; creative and physical. We believe that each of us should be able to physically and creatively express ourselves during this beautiful time. To achieve this, we have been doing archery as a physical expression, and drumming as a creative expression. Not only do we do archery, but also on Wednesdays we will occasionally take a stroll on the Carriage Trail. It is a nice experience, allowing us to not only exercise, but also think and observe the beautiful nature surrounding us.

Elements of Self-Discovery (1)We are very thankful and excited about what the rest of the school year will have to offer. We will hopefully keep you updated on a weekly basis about the progress of our new, adolescent program.


Written by Zahra Khan

Edited by Jasmine Phillips


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Destination ImagiNation ready for lift off

Do you want to your children to learn the valuable skills of creativity, teamwork and problem-solving in a fun and exciting way? Then check out Destination ImagiNation!

Imagine FINAL FINALDestination ImagiNation (DI) is a process-based program grounded in sound creative problem solving theory.

Many MMS students have participated in this program for several years, which is spearheaded locally by MMS dad Dr. Ali Shams.  On Monday, Oct. 13, an information session for students, parents and volunteers will be held at the Advanced Research Center at the WV Regional Technology Park.  This flyer provides details. Destination ImagiNation

DI helps young people build essential skills in creative and critical thinking, teamwork, time management and problem solving. Up to seven participants work together as a team to create their solution to a Team Challenge, which can have a focus that is theatrical, structural, improvisational, scientific or technical. Teams also learn and practice creative quick-thinking skills for the Instant Challenge portion of the program. DI helps young people learn in a fun and supportive environment, and the valuable skills they’ve acquired will be with them for a lifetime.

Team members work together, after school, under the guidance of trained parent or community volunteer team managers. The members work together to brainstorm, develop, and refine their solutions to the complex Team Challenge of their choice,  and present their solutions at the WV DI State Competition, March 21, 2015.

MMS is #lovingmylibrary

Loving my LibraryA Kanawha County Public Library card is as an essential school supply as pencils and paper at MMS.  Elementary and middle school students rely on our library as a resource for research and education and our families enjoy the many enriching and activities it offers to the community.  In fact, the KCPL is so important to MMS  that we even have our own recommended reading section in the children’s area on the third floor. It was compiled for first through third grade students by Lower Elementary faculty members David Pushkin and Amanda Cox.

Library“Loving My Library” is a new initiative to build public support for the library. We encourage our families and friends to learn more and help ensure that the vital services it offers to our students and communities continue in the years ahead.  #lovingmylibrary

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Choosing to learn: Lessons from David and Amanda’s Lower Elementary Class

Students choose to learn in the Lower Elementary classroom of David Pushkin and Amanda Cox. Here’s their latest update:


“Dear Parents,

This past week was a very busy week for the students in our class. Some of the first year students began practicing simple multiplication in addition to some more complicated addition problems that require “carrying over” the tens. Everyone did very well on the spelling tests so we decided to create one unified spelling group for all first year students.

One of the wonderful things about the Montessori Lower Elementary curriculum is that the children will explore more advanced processes by their own choice. Everyday, they want to learn more. This begins by the act of seeing the older children learning more; however, the yearning to learn at Montessori is truly self motivated. Children know what they are capable of learning and the materials present unlimited opportunities for growth. We are so proud of our Lower Elementary students because of their desire to know and learn more everyday.”

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Bead board

Lower Elementary students ‘fall’ into learning

Here’s a wonderful update from Becca Moore and Dana Gilliland’s Lower Elementary Class:


apple_red_1_clipart“Hello Everyone!

It was an extremely productive week in our class. The students all got lots of lessons, made apple butter and had their first “going outs” (trips outside of school).

All of the students are really engaged in their math work which ranges from operations with fractions to memorizing addition facts. They will all be working on becoming more fluent in their math facts, starting with addition, this week.

There is also some exciting botany work going on as the students find seeds (in some interesting places!) to plant and watch grow. They are enjoying the work of learning about the different parts of plants and their functions. This week, we will begin to study leaves – a perfect time of year for this.

The students are also working on learning how to classify nouns (concrete/abstract, masculine/feminine, singular/plural, etc.) and they will be moving on to other parts of speech this week. They will also begin lessons on writing complete sentences and paragraphs.

Don’t forget that we have our field trip to the Children’s Theatre on Thursday. We are very excited to get to see our own Julia Carriger perform in School House Rocks! Please be sure to send your $6.00 in by Wednesday. Thank you!

Have a great week!

Dana and Becca”

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Dyed-in-the-wool history buffs enjoy great week in Upper Elementary

Upper elementarydyed in the woolhistory (2)Our Upper Elementary “dyed in the wool” history students have studied early cave paintings, presented puppet shows on the myth of Callisto and made a cuneiform alphabet in recent days.

Here’s an update on their work by Lead Guide Jason Winesburg. (Photos by MMS student photographers):

“Following the child was the theme last week in the upper elementary!

A lengthy report by Hayden and Yasin on the early hominids sparked an interest in the natural pigments utilized in cave painting. Plus Program Director Karen Kelly gave us a presentation on the natural dyes used both by neolithic man and by the ancient civilizations we have been studying. Jack donated black walnuts from his yard, and some of the children were able to create a natural brown dye from the walnut hulls to use in their own dyeing.

Several ongoing projects reached completion, including two puppet shows: the first depicted the myth of Callisto, transformed to become the constellation Ursa Major; the second was a showing of early Cenozoic rodents, followed by a quiz.

A pair of students completed their timeline of important events in Mesopotamian history and made a model of the clay ‘bulla’ envelope that Sumerians used as a receipt when conducting trade. Another student made a cuneiform alphabet. Two students presented a test for the others to show their knowledge of the Babylonian culture.

We completed our first round of novel study, learning more about the Greek myths. Our second book is a comedic take on the Greek myths, and the students will now be able to catch all the allusions to these foundational stories.

The sixth-year lunch program was a massive success, and they have been making calls, collecting order forms, distributing food, and tallying money all week. We had an unexpectedly large response, but the students kept their heads and all went well in the end. They also began their sixth-year research paper with Darlene Spangler, and will be visiting the library on Monday to collect sources.

In lessons, we began work on sentence analysis, refreshing our knowledge of subjects, objects, and predicates. Some students worked on geometric constructions, while others pursued knowledge of perimeter and area. We completed our first cycle of the Megawords spelling program.

In math, I continued to give lessons on fractions, and we played games to match equivalent fractions and convert improper fractions to proper fractions. We discussed the “fundamental needs” of human beings and assigned a research project in pairs to study the Ancient Egyptians.

Next week, we will continue our work on Ancient Egypt, with students convening to share their research. We are participating in the pumpkin drop at the end of the month, and I plan to give some lessons on physics to tie in with both this event and the monumental constructions of the Ancient Egyptians.

We will be reviewing the arithmetic operations (algorithms for multiplication and division, primarily), and hopefully most will be ready to move on to decimal fractions. Other students who have mastered this will be working with exponents, the formulas for volume, and circle geometry.

It should be another busy, exciting week!” Jason Winesburg