MMS lunch orders due September 19: A delicious tradition by students for students!

MMS Lunch Program One of Mountaineer Montessori School’s most delicious traditions continues this year with our special lunch service presented by students for students.

Through this program, upper elementary students survey and negotiate with area restaurants, caterers and other food vendors to offer a menu of options that students in first through sixth year may order for lunch. Our students are responsible for all aspects.

(Please see the wonderful feature article below for a complete description of the program.)

Orders and payments for the fall 2014 program are due Friday, September 19.

An order form can be found here: MMS Fall 2014 Lunch Order Form





Lunch lessons: Montessori students run own food program


The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)

May 22, 2010 | Sara Busse

Don’t mess with the lunch staff at Mountaineer Montessori School.

The program is run, profitably, by the fifth- and sixth-grade students at the school.

One student met a habitually tardy delivery person at the front door of the Kanawha City school.

“She said, ‘This is not acceptable,'” teacher Darlene Spangler said, smiling. “They are serious about this. They fired the vendor because they got tired of calling to remind them.”

The food comes from area restaurants – chosen by the students with prices and contracts negotiated by the students as well.

“The fifth- and sixth-graders survey the other students to decide what types of food are wanted,” lead teacher Mary McKown said. “They listen to the comments, and they change the vendors or the choices from favorite vendors three times a year.”

Elena Pomponio, 11, and Lillian Maxwell, 11, described the offerings.

“Monday, we get Creperi Cafe. Tuesday, it’s Main Kwong. Wednesdays and Fridays are Husson’s Pizza, and on Thursdays we serve ‘Annie’s Homemade Mac and Cheese,'” Pomponio said.

“It’s made here at school by our teacher, Mary McKown,” Maxwell added.

Cheese pizza is the most popular, with 50 to 70 students ordering the item each Wednesday and Friday.

Sixth-graders Joe Anderson and Sam Jenkins help with the program.

“We deliver the food to the classrooms,” Anderson said. “It goes to the juniors and the primaries,” he said, describing the different age groups who eat the hot meals. Students who do not order from the lunch program pack lunches. There is no cafeteria – students eat in their classrooms or in an outdoor picnic area.

The students who run the program send out a reminder to the parents to get the monthly order forms in on time.

“When we tell them we’re not accepting any more, that’s usually when all of them come in,” student Cora Dunlap said. She said the experience has taught her the consequences to others when she’s not on time.

Ask the students, “How many slices are in a pizza?” The entire class will answer, “Twelve!” They add 25 to 50 cents to each meal, making the program into a fundraiser.

The food business alone has garnered $1,700 this year, which will be donated to UNICEF’s Haiti relief efforts. And, like everything else in this democratic classroom, the students researched charities and voted on their favorite.

They made a list, including Save the Children, Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross and more. Student Anne Frances Melton suggested UNICEF.

“We looked at what percentage of the money will go to Haiti and how much goes to management. One hundred percent of the money goes directly to Haiti,” Deema Kahwash said. Another student pointed out that the school will donate a total of $5,500 to UNICEF this year, thanks to a walk-a-thon and “Houses for Haiti,” decorative pins created by the students under the direction of art teacher Nancy Johnston.

When asked what UNICEF stood for, the students quickly answered “United Nation International Children’s Emergency Fund.” One student added, “That’s an acronym!”

Robby Thaw added that they collect “Pennies for Peace,” which is donated to charity as well. The students do other tasks at the school, in addition to managing the lunch program.

“We clean carpets and the floor, help with the younger kids, collect the ‘Pennies for Peace,'” Thaw said.

In addition to the charitable giving to UNICEF, the students work once a month at Manna Meal and have done cleanup and restoration at Celebration Station playground on Charleston’s East End.

Chip Ellis / Saturday Gazette-Mail photos Tuesdays are Main Kwong days at Montessori. Students (left to right) Joe Anderson, Sam Jenkins, Deema Kahwash, Elena Pomponio and others organize the lunches in the schools kitchen before delivering to different classrooms.

Jay Sheth balances fried rice with chicken as he delivers to his schoolmates at Mountaineer Montessori.

Lillian Maxwell dashes up the stairs to deliver the hot lunches to students on the second floor of Mountaineer Montessori School.

Students in the fifth and sixth level at Mountaineer Montessori organize the schools lunch program, with profits going to charity.

Reach Sara Busse at or 304-348-1249.

Sara Busse

Copyright The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)



MMS announces new faculty appointments


MMS Faculty and Staff 2014-15

Mountaineer Montessori School is pleased to announce several new faculty and staff appointments as part of a major program expansion for the 2014-15 academic year.

Dana Gilliland MMS Head of School

Dana Gilliland
MMS Head of School

“We are delighted to welcome several new educators and congratulate many returning faculty members on their new positions at our school,” said Head of School Dana Gilliland.

The appointments were made in response to a 50 percent enrollment increase in the past three years and specific program needs.  To accommodate these changes, MMS has opened a middle school program, added a second lower elementary class and implemented enhancements in foreign language, after-school and specialized learning services starting with the new school term.

(Please refer to the MMS Faculty section of our website for additional  information on all faculty and staff members.)



Core Program Staff


Jason Winesburg Upper Elementary Lead Guide

Jason Winesburg
Upper Elementary
Lead Guide

Jason Winesburg has been named the new Upper Elementary (grades 4-6) Lead Guide. He brings five years of experience at Montessori schools in Memphis and upstate New York and holds a B.A. in English from Hood College in Frederick, Md., and M.Ed from Loyola University in Baltimore, Md.  Winesburg is certified in 6-12 education from the AMI Washington Montessori Institute.






Becca Moore Lower Elementary Lead Guide

Becca Moore
Lower Elementary
Lead Guide

Becca Moore will serve as the Lead Guide for MMS’s second Lower Elementary (grades 1-3) classroom. Moore is training at the rigorous AMI 6-12 program at the Milwaukee Montessori Institute. A graduate of Marshall University, Becca brings 10 years of experience in Kanawha County Schools to MMS.  Her Montessori mentor and classroom assistant this year will be MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland, an educator and administrator with more than 25 years of experience in premier Montessori schools in Ohio and Indonesia.






Samantha Den Berghe Primary Lead Guide

Samantha Den Berghe
Primary Lead Guide

Samantha Van Den Berghe has been promoted to Lead Guide for the school’s second Primary (ages 3-6) classroom. Experienced in early childhood education, Van Den Berghe holds a B.A. in psychology, with a minor in child and family, from Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, and trained at the AMS-affiliated Virginia Center for Montessori Education in Richmond. Her in-class Montessori mentor will be Susie Newhouse, a former primary lead guide at MMS.






Suzanne Sanders Middle School Lead Guide

Suzanne Sanders
Middle School
Lead Guide

Leading the new MMS Middle School program is Suzanne Sanders. Sanders has more than 15 years of Montessori experience in schools in Costa Rica, Colorado and Pennsylvania and most recently was the MMS Upper Elementary Lead Guide. A graduate of Penn State University, she is one of only two educators in West Virginia certified in Montessori 6-18 education, having trained at the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies, the Center for Montessori Education in New York and the AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies program.







Gloria Lopez Primary Classroom Assistant

Gloria Lopez
Primary Classroom

Gloria Lopez has been named a Primary Classroom Assistant and will be working in the classroom of Lead Guide Kathryn Rhoads. Lopez attended West Virginia State University and brings a rich and diverse business background to MMS. This is her second year at the school.








Julianna Phillips Primary Classroom Assistant

Julianna Phillips
Primary Classroom

Julianna Phillips has also been named a Primary Classroom Assistant, and will be working with Samantha Van Den Berghe and Montessori mentor Susie Newhouse. Phillips holds bachelor’s degrees in history and philosophy from Concord University and in psychology from WVSU and is pursuing a master’s degree in early modern European history from Marshall University. She trained at the AMS-affiliated Greater Cincinnati Center for Montessori Education.







Rachel Scarpelli Middle School Classroom Assistant

Rachel Scarpelli
Middle School
Classroom Assistant

Rachel Scarpelli has been appointed the Middle School Classroom Assistant. She holds a B.A. in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University, and is in her second her at MMS.









Special Program Staff


Jennifer Carriger Learning Specialist

Jennifer Carriger
Learning Specialist

Jennifer Carriger has been named a full-time reading and learning consultant. The co-founder of the Appalachian Reading Center, Carriger holds a B.A. in international studies, a B.S. in secondary education and M.S. in special education from West Virginia University.








Maria León Kersher Foreign Language Specialist/Plus Program Assistant

Maria León Kersher
Foreign Language Specialist/Plus Program Assistant

Maria León Kershner has been appointed foreign language specialist to implement an expanded Spanish language program and will also serve as a Plus Program Assistant. She earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in her native Costa Rica and trained at the Midwest Center for Montessori Teacher Training. This is her sixth year at MMS.








Susie Newhouse Plus Program Guide

Susie Newhouse
Plus Program Guide

After a distinguished 22-year career as a Primary Lead Guide, Program Director and Montessori mentor and educator, Susie Newhouse has been named a Guide for the MMS After-School Plus Program. She is certified by the National Center for Montessori Education in Atlanta. Newhouse will be working with Plus Director Karen Kelly to implement an enhanced Montessori approach to our after-school programming.






Michelle Scarbrough Plus Program Assistant

Michelle Scarbrough
Plus Program Assistant

Michelle Scarbrough has been named a Plus Program Assistant. Scarbrough holds a B.S. in communications from WVU.








All MMS faculty train at programs affiliated with Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS), the two most recognized Montessori teacher training programs worldwide.


About Mountaineer Montessori School: 

MMS is the largest, oldest and most established Montessori school in West Virginia, serving an estimated 1,000 students since its founding in 1976 by the education pioneer Mary McKown. MMS provides a rich academic and cultural program to 120 students ages 3-14 at its Kanawha City/University of Charleston (308 20th Street) and South Hills (804 Myrtle Road) campuses in Charleston.

A comprehensive tuition assistance program is available to MMS families based upon financial need.



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Babylonia, constellations and sexigesimal system lessons kick off year for Upper Elementary students

Ancient Babylonia, constellations and the sexigesimal number system are just a few of lessons that have engaged MMS Upper Elementary students during their first two weeks of school. Lead Guide Jason Winesburg and student class photographers share this report on their work thus far:

MMS Upper Elementary students are excited about the year ahead!

MMS Upper Elementary students are excited about the year ahead!

“‘We began the year, as is tradition, with a story of the beginning of the universe. We begin with this topic as the foundation for the children’s own narrative, into which they can weave each new bit of knowledge they acquire. These larger-scale stories are called the great lessons, and there are five of them throughout the year. Afterwards, the children came up with ideas for follow-up work to demonstrate their understanding of the story.

The lesson spawned many interesting projects, including mobiles, a comic, posters, and board games.  Nancy Johnston was invaluable in helping to bring the children’s’ visions to life. We also began work on the constellations in this area.


 On a more prosaic note, we began daily writing prompts and math facts work to keep everyone’s skills sharp.

Ancient civilizations

 Our focus for history this year is the ancient civilizations, and we studied the Mesopotamian groups this week, primarily the Sumerians and the Babylonians. Our first read-aloud book has been Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean, an exciting (and somewhat more child-friendly) retelling of the first great work of literature, the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh.

Mountaineer August 202Constellations

 We discussed the geography of the Mesopotamian region and its historical significance. I gave a lesson on the sexigesimal (base 60) number system and showed how it was the basis of our measurements of time and angles, which led into older students working creating addition tables for different number bases. This work will continue next week.

Finally, the students’ interest in board games sparked a group lesson on an ancient Sumerian game called the Royal Game of Ur, of which only the barest outline of the rules have ever been discovered. The children were then challenged to create their own rule sets for the game, while a group of older students chose to create a model of the board with wooden tiles.



 Mountaineer August 208In class, we will be tracking work with individual work journals that students keep themselves. They will set deadlines for their projects with teacher guidance, and hold themselves to their choices. The children will meet with me one-on-one bi-weekly (more often if needed) to discuss their choices of work and address any individual concerns. Students will prepare for their conference with a self-reflection. We will also continue with community meetings on Monday and Wednesday mornings to address group concerns and ideas.



Community rules

In addition to all the work we accomplished this week, the upper elementary students also chose their own community rules and developed a list of chores to maintain the environment. We also somehow found time to engage in active play outside, with Capture the Flag and Pirate Ball!Mountaineer August 184

 Looking ahead, preparations continue for the annual trip to The Mountain Institute on September 7-9.  We also will be reading excerpts of the Code of Hammurabi and translating them into modern language. We will begin work with fractions and geometry, and continue with non-decimal bases.”

Watch for more interesting updates from our Upper Elementary and other classes in the weeks ahead!


MMS Glass Classroom: A New Vision for Education in WV


Dr. Maria Montessori and students at the “glass classroom” held at the 1915 Pacific Panama International Exposition.

A century ago, tens of thousands of visitors to the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco got their first look at Montessori education when Dr. Maria Montessori organized the “glass classroom,” an actual Montessori school held at the Palace of Education and Social Economy.

Thousands of children applied to be students at this demonstration school; Helen Parkhurst, Dr. Montessori’s star teacher, was selected to lead the program (she later went on to found the prestigious Dalton School, which incorporated many Montessori principles, in New York.) The Glass Classroom was a powerful public education tool and raised awareness around the world of the benefits of this scientific approach to education.

As the centennial of the “Glass Classroom” approaches, Mountaineer Montessori School is launching a comprehensive campaign that will bring Montessori education into the community and the community into our school.  We’re planning experiential town halls and other events to raise awareness of the benefits of Montessori education among parents, educators, policy makers and business and community leaders. Our goal is to contribute to state-wide efforts to create “A New Vision for Education in West Virginia” and showcase the many ways the Montessori approach supports excellence and innovation in education.

Please watch for details and invitations to get involved in this history-making celebration and support transformation of education in West Virginia.


A New Vision for Education in West Virginia Public Schools


Senator Dan Foster, from left, MMS Co-Director Julie Margolis, MMS Board Member Jack Rogers, Newt Thomas, WV Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, Charles McElwee and MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland tour our school and share ideas for promoting innovation in education.

An exciting movement is underway to revitalize public education in West Virginia. S pearheaded by Charles McElwee, an attorney with Robinson & McElwee, a group of committed leaders and citizens from the spheres of education, politics, government, business, non-profit and philanthropy has been gathering and studying to review our education system from top to bottom and identify and implement changes to create learning environments that promote success for all students.

MMS is excited to be a part of these important efforts.

In November 2013, WV State School Board President Gayle Manchin and other leaders toured our school to experience Montessori firsthand. Since then, Head of School Dana Gilliland and Board Vice President JoEllen Zacks have actively participated in ongoing discussions designed to create a state-wide movement for transforming West Virginia Schools.  The MMS Glass Classroom campaign is a concurrent effort to demonstrate the role Montessori can play in elevating education to this state-wide group and the community at large.




Recent media coverage:

West Virginia Public Broadcasting: Can the Structure of Public Education Be Changed?

By Clark Davis, August 11, 204
Mapping a new vision for education in West Virginia.

Mapping a new vision for education in West Virginia.

Members of the state’s education community met Monday at Marshall University to discuss how to take the next step in public education in the state.

Can West Virginia’s public education system be fixed? That was the question that was asked Monday on Marshall’s campus. Charleston attorney Charles McElwee called together administrators and policy makers to discuss how change can be made in the public education realm. McElwee said the current system which follows old outdated standard  isn’t working.

“The goal is to try to mobilize citizen support and getting an ever widening number of citizens involved, because if we don’t get citizen support, I think our efforts will be for not,” McElwee said.

The meeting yesterday was the second organized by McElwee, the first was held in Morgantown. McElwee said he hopes that by hosting the forums around the state that more people will get involved and take a closer look at the current K-12 system.

Marshall University President Dr.Stephen Kopp told the group of 30 gathered for the forum that a new action plan needs to be developed to take into account how today’s public school student learns.

“Much of what needs to take place is aligning the scientific foundations and examining the practices that are being followed and ask the question are there other practices that have yet to be fully developed that would have not only a greater impact in terms of the outcomes we’re trying to achieve with the student, but would actually foster deeper learning for our students,” Kopp said.

Kopp went on to say that under the old model a professor in the case of Marshall or a teacher in the case of K-12 was there to profess knowledge on a subject, but in today’s world knowledge can be obtained anywhere, so a professor or teacher needs to do more.

“In this day and age, if professing knowledge is all we’re doing, that learning process can happen just about anywhere,” Kopp said. “The critical question in my opinion is how do we make the transition from being professors to being designers and architects of powerful learning experiences for our students.”

Cabell County Superintendent William Smith realizes changes are the key to improving, but they aren’t always easy.

“Education is very very tough to change, because everyone has done it and they all know what it’s supposed to look like,” Smith said. “When you start talking about change, your biggest opponents is usually your total community because school is the way it was when I was going there in the 50’s, why does it need to be changing now. We need to look at what assessments need to be put in place to determine achievement.”

Smith noted that Cabell County Schools is embracing the idea of a different learning environment. An older middle school is being remodeled into a consolidated elementary school. There, an incubator school will be formed  – one of just a few schools in the country to take part in expeditionary learning, where kids become much more involved in their day-to-day instruction. Marshall University’s June Harless Center will help train teachers in the new learning techniques.

“I think student engagement is a major issue for schools, we need to think about how we engage our students and how do we measure that, that tells me whether a school is going to be successful or not,” Smith said. “But when you’re talking about student engagement, it’s not just what they know, but what they can do, so assessment is going to have to be more I guess in terms of what a student can do.”

McElwee hopes the ideas from the meeting lead to change in the state’s education system.



Herald-Dispatch: New Approaches for Education Explored, August 12, 2014

New approaches for education explored

Aug. 12, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

About 30 people attended the session titled “Creating a New Vision for Public Education in West Virginia,” taking on topics including college preparedness and even changing the traditional teaching model that has dominated in the United States since the 1800s.


MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland, Charlie McElwee and education leaders share ideas for advancing education with WVU President E. Gordon Gee.

The forum was the second of its kind to be hosted by Charles R. McElwee, an attorney from Charleston who has researched and written about the public school system for many years.

McElwee hosted a similar forum at the home of West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee in Morgantown in June.

The goal of the forums has been to help mobilize citizen support for an improved public education system in West Virginia, McElwee said.

McElwee believes the state should focus on how students best learn and what it is they should learn.


WV Board of Education President Gayle Manchin and Nelle Chilton

“We need to determine that,” he said. “We also need to determine whether our age-old learning model, which is derived from Prussia in the early 1800s, should continue.”

That model, he said involves breaking up the school day by subject, teaching all students at the same pace and advancing students through the educational system by age.

McElwee questioned if that learning model has kept up with societal advances.

“Does it make any sense to teach all kids at the same pace?” he asked. “Should we have student-centered learning and let kids advance at their own pace? Those are some of the things we need to examine in the traditional learning model.”


Becky Ceperley, president, Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, from left, JoEllen Zacks, MMS Board of Directors, Gayle Manchin, Charlie McElwee, and Ryan White, Kanawha County School Board.

Cabell County Schools Superintendent Bill Smith was one of the contributors to the forum.

He pointed out the school district’s foray into the Expeditionary Learning model that is being used in two of the district’s schools. Those schools, Geneva Kent and Peyton elementary schools, will be consolidated at the end of the school year to create the first Expeditionary Learning school in West Virginia.

In Expeditionary Learning, students learn by conducting learning expeditions rather than by sitting in a classroom being taught one subject at a time. The school district has partnered with Marshall University’s June Harless Center to offer teachers in Cabell County and throughout the state training on that type of learning approach.

Smith said the model will play more into focusing on what students can do as opposed to what they know.

“I think student engagement is a a major issue for schools,” Smith said. “We need to think about how we engage our students and measure that. … When you talk about student engagement, it’s not about what they know, it’s what they can do. Assessment in the future is going to be more about what they can do.”

Marshall University President Stephen Kopp echoed that sentiment of student ability when he noted recent statistics from the National College Board that indicated only 26 percent of high school graduates entering college were prepared for college-level math and English courses.

“I think when you look nationally at the preparedness of high school seniors to go into college and do college-level work, we’ve seen an erosion of preparedness,” Kopp said. “It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause, but I think what we’re going to accomplish today is to start asking very important questions and explore potential solutions.”

Kopp also said a university’s role is just as important in K-12 public education because universities educate the teachers who will be tasked with helping students meet educational standards.

In his opening remarks for the forum, Kopp pointed out the importance of looking for solutions and not looking for someone or something to blame.

West Virginia Board of Education President Gayle Manchin supported Kopp’s philosophy and stated it is one that needs to be used broadly in the educational system today.

“I think in the past it’s been easy for people in the community to say it’s the teachers’ fault because they don’t teach kids today the way they used to,” Manchin said. “Teachers say it’s the parents fault because students don’t come to school with basic instruction, and the business leaders say it’s everyone’s fault because they don’t have enough qualified people to hire and do the jobs they need done.

“It truly is about coming together today independently, each and every one of us has a responsibility to the education of the children of West Virginia and across this country.”

Follow Reporter Lacie Pierson on Twitter @LaciePiersonHD.


‘Write stuff’ part of curriculum at Mountaineer Montessori School

Elizabeth Zacks Cursive

Is the writing on the wall for cursive?  In many states, they answer is increasingly yes, as schools limit or eliminate cursive education in favor of keyboard proficiency and computer literacy for students. Time constraints and new curriculum demands presented by the Common Core State Standards, adopted in West Virginia and 44 other states, are also forcing educators to rethink the value of penmanship instruction.

In Kanawha County Schools, however, cursive remains a part of the third grade curriculum.

“Students still have to sign contracts, checks, job applications and other documents in their lifetime,” says Superintendent Ron Duerring. “It (handwriting) is not as an essential skill as it once was due to technology, but still part of a well-rounded education. “

Many private schools, notably Catholic and Montessori institutions, maintain a strong classroom emphasis on cursive writing.  “The hand is the instrument of man’s intelligence,” said Dr. Maria Montessori, a devout Roman Catholic and founder of the eponymous educational method.

mms cursive

“Cursive handwriting is definitely not an outdated form of writing. It is still faster to write in cursive and we all still need to write quickly at times,” notes Mountaineer Montessori Head of School Dana Gilliland. “Cursive is also creative expression,” she says. “It’s a beautiful art form that is satisfying to do and pleasing to read.”

Story behind the script

Historically, the ability to write with a “fair hand” was recognized as a marker of the author’s educational attainment, social status and even occupation. John Hancock, for example, is known almost as much for his oversized signature as his contributions to the American Revolution. In fact, National Writing Day is celebrated each year on his birthday – January 23.

In attempt to democratize and bring handwriting to the American masses, the abolitionist Platt Rogers Spencer developed a standard cursive style in the mid-1800s that was taught in classrooms across the country. The ornate Spencer method – think the Coca-Cola logo— gave way to the simpler Palmer method around the turn of the century.  The Palmer style, famously practiced by generations of students who formed loopy letters between dotted lines, has been replaced by Zane-Bloser or D’Nealian cursive in many classrooms.

More than just a pretty face?

Regardless of the style taught, educators point to advantages of learning cursive beyond the ability to write quickly or in a visually pleasing way. “Several studies show there are cognitive benefits to students,” notes Duerring.

These include:

  •  Literacy: A 2012 Indiana University study showed that pre-literate children exhibited greater activity in the areas of the brain used in reading when they reproduced a letter in writing than by typing or tracing. Writing by hand involves planning and executing a specific result, said researcher Karin James.  “This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of the practice,” James noted in a New York Times article.  “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in  the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain,” Stanislas Dehaene,  a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris, explained in the same June 2, 2014, New York Times piece, “What’s Lost as     Handwriting Fades.”  “And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize. Learning is made easier.”
  •  Memory and comprehension:  According to a Princeton University/UCLA study published this year in “Psychological Science,” college students who took notes in longhand had better recall and comprehension of lecture content than those who used keyboards.  When taking notes rather than transcribing lectures on a laptop, students mentally interpret, process and organize information, leading to deeper learning, more actuate memory and richer understanding of material, the authors “The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard say.
  •  Reading: It may sound obvious, but learning cursive helps students read cursive, a skill still needed to understand both historic and everyday communication. Writing in the June 27, 2014 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Valerie Hotchkiss, a librarian at the University of Illinois-Champaign Rare Books and Manuscript Library, recounted a recent conversation with a college student who came to her for help in reading a clearly written 19th century letter. “I don’t ‘do’ cursive,” the student shrugged.
  •  Clear communication: Doctors’ poor handwriting contributes to an estimated 7,000 deaths annually according to a July 2006 report from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine.


As classroom time shrinks for cursive instruction, parents can help children develop an appreciation and mastery of handwriting. Vanessa Silver, author of “Handwriting without Tears,” suggests some fun activities to spark interest in penmanship:

  • Start a journal or find a pen pal
  • Play “movie star” to practice and develop a pleasing “autograph”
  • Help with family writing tasks, such as grocery lists, signing greeting cards, etc.
  • Share old family recipes and letters written by hand

 “We need to work hard to preserve cursive writing, in spite of all the available technology,” says Gilliland of Mountaineer Montessori School.  “Students should take pride in their handwriting, not only to make positive impressions and statements about themselves, but to advance themselves successfully in school and beyond.”

“People think we don’t need this anymore because we have technology, but we still want to able to write in cursive,” says Mary Cohen in an article appearing in the Denver Catholic Register.

“It’s polite to hand write a note because it’s a way of reverencing them,” Cohen, the associate superintendent of Denver Catholic Schools, said. “You leave your DNA on paper,” she said adding that cursive is “really an important part of our humanity.”

Article by JoEllen Zacks, an education advocate and vice president of the MMS Board of Directors, writing for the Charleston Gazette July 27, 2014, “Back-to-School” section. 

School’s in for the summer for MMS teachers attending Montessori training across U.S.


Maria Montessori prepares to lecture to Montessori teachers in India.

“The training of the teacher is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.” Dr. Maria Montessori

For nearly 40 years, Mountaineer Montessori School has demonstrated its commitment to providing a superior, authentic Montessori educational experience for our students by supporting high quality, on-campus training for our faculty members.

That tradition continues this summer. MMS is making a substantial investment in our faculty and academic programs by sending several staff members to some of the nation’s premier Montessori teacher training centers.

Rebecca Moore, who will lead our second lower elementary classroom, is spending the summer at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee, Inc. taking the demanding AMI 6-12 training program that provides international certification.

“It is only one of 10 centers to offer this level of rigorous training,” says Head of School Dana Gilliland. Rebecca, who has taught in Kanawha County Schools, will be mentored and assisted in the classroom by Dana this fall. (Dana has more than 25 years of experience in authentic Montessori classrooms.)

Suzanne Sanders, who will lead our middle school, is participating in the AMI Adolescent Course at Hershey Montessori Farm School in Ohio. “It is, by far, the leading adolescent program in the world, with students coming from many different countries. It is the only adolescent program in the world that is approved by AMI,” says Dana. (Suzanne also is AMS certified in 6-9 and 9-12 education.)

Samantha Van den Berghe, a former preschool teacher who served as a classroom assistant last year, is taking the primary training at the Virginia Center for Montessori Studies in Richmond, Va. Samantha will co-teach as a lead guide in our second primary classroom with Julianna Phillips. Julianna is participating in the primary training at the Greater Cincinnati Center for Montessori Studies. They each have highly experienced mentor teachers (Susie Newhouse and Kathryn Rhoads) at school who will mentor them on-site through their practicum year. They have already begun working with their mentors, in addition to their coursework.

All MMS faculty train at programs approved by the American Montessori Society (AMS) or the Association Montessori Internationale, the two most established and recognized Montessori teacher training program worldwide. Currently, there are no Montessori training programs in West Virginia.

“A quality education for children starts with qualified teachers in the classroom. Our teachers will bring the highest level training and an international network of peers and mentors to further enhance our programs this fall,” says Dana.

“Authentic Montessori teacher training is not inexpensive and we thank our many supporters whose contributions help fund tuition and associated costs. Investing in education pays the highest returns,” added Harry Bell, president of the MMS Board of Directors.


About MMS:

Mountaineer Montessori School is the oldest, largest and most established Montessori school in West Virginia. MMS has served an estimated 1,000 Charleston students since its founding in 1976 by education pioneer Mary McKown. Starting in August, MMS will offer a full range of academic and cultural programs, including a full-time on-site learning specialist, to 120 students ages 3 to 14 at two campuses, located at 308 20th Street and 704 Myrtle Road in Charleston.
For more information, call 304/342-7870.


True grit: Largest donation in MMS history honors Julie Margolis and Darlene Spangler

MMS interim co-directors Darlene Spangler and Julie Margolis

MMS interim co-directors Darlene Spangler and Julie Margolis

A local family has taken the traditional end of year teacher gift to a whole new level with a $30,000 contribution to Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street. The donation marks the single largest gift to MMS in its 38-year-year history. 

Some $20,000 was given to the Mountaineer Montessori scholarship program in honor of Julie Margolis and Darlene Spangler, long-time MMS faculty members who served as interim directors in 2010-2013 during a leadership transition at the school.  The remaining $10,000 is earmarked for a faculty appreciation fund.

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous said, “Through sheer grit and determination Julie and Darlene managed to not only keep the school together, they were integral in making it what it is today. They worked countless hours for minimal rewards and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

“We hope our gift inspires others to dig a little deeper to help less privileged students enjoy the benefits of a Mountaineer Montessori education and to support the school’s dedicated faculty and staff,” the donor said.

Meeting the challenge through grit and determination

Margolis and Spangler are widely credited successfully with steering the school through a  leadership transition. The teachers volunteered as co-directors in May 2010 and worked as a tireless team to sustain and expand the school’s programs, faculty and enrollment.

“Without Julie and Darlene, our school might not be here today,” the donor said.

With their leadership, faculty, board members, students and parents came together to forge a new chapter in the school’s history, emerging from the transition with a new permanent Head of School, Dana Gilliland; the addition of a middle school; establishment of a scholarship fund; implementation of a powerful marketing and fundraising program; and a projected fall 2014 enrollment of 120, up from 82 in 2011.

Margolis, who continues in the role as co-director, has served on the MMS staff for 18 years, four in administration and 14 teaching in the areas of advanced mathematics and physical education.  She is a former public school teacher and computer programmer.  She earned a B.S. from the University of Vermont and M.S. from Penn State University. Julie and her husband, Jay Margolis, are the parents of four children, two of whom are MMS alumni.

Spangler has played many important roles in her 18 years at MMS, including teacher, administrator and leader.  She is currently an elementary specialist working with advanced students in novel studies. Previously, she spent 14 years as an assistant teacher in the advanced elementary class. She also served as the school’s assistant administrator for 13 years and interim co-director for three years. Spangler earned her B.A. in English from Duke University. Darlene and her husband, Reed Spangler, are the parents of two MMS alumni.

Julie Margolis, Darlene and Reed Spangler

Julie Margolis and Darlene and Reed Spangler

“This generous gift will open doors of opportunity to children in our community,” said Gilliland. “We are thrilled that more deserving students will have the opportunity to experience a Montessori education,” said Gilliland.

Gift honors “extraordinary service”

“On behalf of the MMS Board of Directors, I wish to express our deep appreciation for this generous gift. It is a wonderful way to honor Julie and Darlene for their extraordinary service to our school,” said Harry Bell. “As an independent school, we receive no government funding.  Without support from businesses, foundations and individual donors, we could not offer the quality and range of programs for which MMS is known.”

The donation comes at pivotal time for Mountaineer Montessori, which is finalizing “MMS@50,” a strategic plan that will guide the school to its 50th anniversary.  The plan, to be announced at the school’s annual meeting, lays out an inspiring agenda for expanding and enriching the school’s academic programs, faculty, facilities, enrollment and grade levels served in coming years.

“A strong financial base and partnerships with businesses and individuals committed to the future of West Virginia will enable MMS to lead as an education innovator for the next 50 years,” Bell said. “This donation will enhance two key strategies – expanding scholarships and supporting a high quality faculty – necessary to make our plan a reality.”

Julie Margolis and her family (even the dog!) get their "M" on.

Julie Margolis and her family (even the dog!) get their “M” on.

Elements of “MMS@50” are already being implemented, he noted.  Recruitment and training of faculty to serve its expanding enrollment, creation of a new MMS Middle School (the only one of its kind in West Virginia), site selection for a larger facility; development of an outdoor community classroom and environmental learning center; and formation of strategic collaborations with  Montessori schools in other parts of the state, are currently in process.

About MMS

Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street, is the oldest, largest and most established Montessori school in West Virginia. MMS has served an estimated 1,000 Charleston students since its founding in 1976 by education pioneer Mary McKown. Starting in August, MMS will offer a full range of academic and cultural programs, including a full-time on-site learning specialist, to 120 students ages 3 to 15.  All lead faculty members are certified by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS), the two most recognized Montessori training programs world-wide.

For more information, call 304/342-7870.

#   #   #



MEDIA CONTACT: Dana Gilliland, Head of School, 304/224-4552 (cell), 304/342-7870 (office),

West Virginia’s only Montessori middle school opens Aug. 18

Mountaineer Montessori Middle School:  A 21st century program built on old-school values

A new chapter in West Virginia education history will unfold when the state’s only Montessori middle school welcomes its charter class of students tomorrow, Monday, Aug 18.

The Mountaineer Montessori Middle School, located at Unity of Kanawha Valley at Myrtle and Bridge Roads in Charleston’s South Hills neighborhood, is a new concept based on old-school values: high academic standards, responsibility and real-life work for students.

Mountaineer Montessori Middle School 804 Mrytle Road, Charleston

Mountaineer Montessori Middle School
804 Myrtle Road, Charleston

The new program, serving seventh and eighth graders, was developed in response to an enrollment jump of nearly 50 percent at Mountaineer Montessori School (MMS) and increasing requests from the community for alternatives to one-size-fits-all education. The Montessori adolescent program is designed to help students develop academically, socially and emotionally in an environment that encourages their unique and great potential.

The Mountaineer Montessori Middle School program will offer a program of high expectations based on an academically rigorous, project-based curriculum emphasizing STEM, arts, entrepreneurship, environmental stewardship and community service. A farm-to-table agricultural program will be implemented the first year. Students will devote their mornings to classroom studies and apply those lessons in their “occupations” — gardening, cooking, beekeeping, trail builds, school maintenance and running their own businesses – in the afternoon.

The program is based upon Dr. Maria Montessori’s vision for a “school of experience in the elements of social life,” emphasizing work that is meaningful, collaborative and adult-like. Her plan for work and study offers adolescents true integration of knowledge and experience as well as opportunities for genuine contribution to their community. The result is intellectual independence, an awareness of human connections and the strengthening of moral character.

Learn more:

West Virginia’s Only Montessori Middle School Opens in Charleston, WCHS-TV, Eye on Education, 8/21/14

Students at new Montessori Middle School Shape Curriculum, Charleston Daily Mail, 8/19/14

Montessori Middle School Opens in Charleston this week, WOWK-TV, 8/20/14

State’s Only Montessori Middle School Opens, West Virginia Executive, 8/18/14


Open house

A community open house and official ribbon cutting ceremonies are planned for September 23.


Uniquely qualified leadership team

The MMS Middle School faculty team will be led by Suzanne Sanders.  Sanders, a graduate of Penn State University, has more than 15 years of experience in authentic Montessori classrooms in Costa Rica, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Charleston.  She trained this summer with educators from around the world at the AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies (ages 12-18) through the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association at Hershey Montessori School’s Huntsburg Farm Campus near Cleveland — the only Montessori adolescent teacher training of its kind offered in North America.

Rachel Scarpelli Middle School Assistant

Rachel Scarpelli
Middle School Assistant

Suzanne Sanders Middle School Lead Guide

Suzanne Sanders
Middle School Lead Guide

Dana Gilliland MMS Head of School

Dana Gilliland
MMS Head of School

MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland, whose more than 25 years of Montessori experience includes opening a  Montessori middle school program in Indonesia,  is offering overall guidance for the new program. Gilliland and Sanders are the only two educators in West Virginia certified in 6-18 year Montessori education.   Rachel Scarpelli, a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, will serve as the middle school classroom assistant. Scarpelli is in her second her at MMS.


Behind the Montessori Middle School Program
Thompson Farm small

The MMS 7th and 8th grade program was developed in partnership with two of the world’s leading Montessori adolescent education consultants:  Laurie Ewert-Krocker, the founding head teacher of the Hershey Montessori School Farm School, widely considered the premier Montessori adolescent program in the country, and David Kahn, executive director of the North American Montessori Teachers Association (NAMTA).  Their expert advice contributed to site selection and facilities, curriculum design and resource development.




About Mountaineer Montessori School

MMS is West Virginia’s largest, oldest and most established Montessori school, serving an estimated 1,000 students

Mountaineer Montessori School 308 20th Street Charleston

Mountaineer Montessori School
308 20th Street

since its founding in 1976 by education pioneer Mary McKown.  MMS provides a rich and rigorous academic and arts curriculum to 120 students ages 3-14 at locations in Kanawha City (308 20th Street) and South Hills (804 Myrtle Road). All MMS faculty train at programs certified by the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) or the American Montessori Society (AMS), the two most recognized Montessori teacher programs world wide.

MMS is an independent, non-sectarian 501(c)(3) organization governed by a board of directors elected from the community.


For more information

Enrollment and curriculum:  MMS Head of School Dana Gilliland at 304/342-7870;  email

MMS Middle School Prospectus_1

Mountaineer Montessori Middle School Launch-Planting the Seeds for the Future

Mountaineer Montessori launches middle school Charleston Daily Mail, 12/4/13





About the Montessori Adolescent Program

“The adolescent’s vital force has a special intensity. It can burn out of control — but if channeled, it can move mountains. The adolescent has an astonishing capacity for work and an unquenched thirst for adventure and self-discovery.”  Maria Montessori  MMS Middle School Prospectus

Maria Montessori understood that adolescence is a time of profound creative and social change,  identity formation and self-confidence building. Dr. Montessori laid out a plan for what she called a “school of experience in the elements of social life,” emphasizing work that is meaningful, collaborative and adult-like. Her plan for work and study offer adolescents true integration of knowledge and experience as well as opportunities for genuine contribution to their community. The result is intellectual independence, an awareness of human connections and the strengthening of moral character.

The Montessori adolescent program creates an environment that meets the needs of students at this pivotal time in their life:

  • They need to work.
  • They need to be challenged.
  • They need to be empowered.
  • They need the earth (land).
  • They need to build community.
  • They need to develop a personal vision.

middle school article



Ready, set, GROW! (published January 2014)

In response to our strong enrollment and demonstrated interest from our families, MMS will extend its unmatched educational program through the eighth grade in an environment that meets the unique need of adolescent students. “Planting the Seeds for the Future” lays the groundwork for expanding the school’s curriculum beginning in August 2014.  Through this campaign, we will engage business, community and educational leaders in this exciting program to build a new generation of leaders, innovators and thoughtful citizens who will shape the future of West Virginia.

The campaign was launched December 3, 2013, as Laurie Ewert-Krocker, who advises schools around the world on adolescent education, met with MMS parents and faculty and toured potential sites for the new program.  Laurie, the founding head teacher of the Hershey Farm School in Ohio, widely considered the premier Montessori adolescent program in the country, and David Kahn, executive director of the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association, comprise the world-class consulting team guiding Mountaineer Montessori’s middle school expansion activities, including site selection, curriculum design and resource development. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates on this exciting project that promises to be a model for the future of education in West Virginia.


Plant the Seeds for the Future with MMS

A resource campaign to  support the middle school site, curriculum development and transition is underway.  Your financial and/or real property contributions and participation on our fundraising team will help open a new era of excellence and innovation in education for adolescent students in West Virginia.  For more information, contact Dana Gilliland, Head of School, at 304/342-7870;

MMS students lend a ‘hand’ to light the way for education at ‘Prom Night’ on May 31

10409733_778872718814089_3298158111963270874_n“Prom Night” is the theme for the second annual “Luminaria Gala,” to be presented by Mountaineer Montessori School on May 31 at Berry Hills Country Club.  The event, presented by Bailey& Glasser LLP, benefits the school’s ”Lighting the Way for Education” scholarship and program funds.

The party begins at 6 p.m. with a festive cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception and an extensive auction, which includes several unique class-wide art projects facilitated by MMS faculty and local artists.

They include: “I Can Change the World with My Own Two Hands,” a 49-inch wide glass installation featuring primary students’ (3-6 years) handprints and a lighted globe; a set of Adirondack furniture decorated with whimsical creations painted under the direction of renowned artist Charly Hamilton; ancient civilization-inspired dinnerware created by junior elementary students under the direction of faculty member David Pushkin, MFA, a former professor of fine art at Columbia, American and Hofstra Universities; and a handmade cherry bookcase filled with books donated by advanced students.

Other auction items include: two orchestra seat tickets to the American Music
Awards, to be held November 23 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles; two grounds passes to the finals of the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.; a guitar autographed by Paul McCartney; seven romantic nights at the St. James Club, Morgan Bay, St. Lucia; deluxe vacation packages to Vail, Colo., Cancun and the Napa Valley; gift certificates to almost every restaurant in town; and more.

IMG_0224A gourmet seated dinner, remarks by Coach Huggins, live auction and dancing will follow.

Winners for two major raffles will also be drawn that evening.  The prize for the first raffle is free tuition for a year at MMS (subject to school admission policies) or $3,500 in cash; tickets are $100 and only 100 will be sold. The winner of the second raffle will take home a 50-bottle wine cellar; tickets are $25 each.

Tickets to “Prom Night” are $75 per person, and include a $35 tax-deductible contribution to MMS. Thanks to fundraiser such as the Luminaria Gala, MMS has tripled its scholarship support in the past three years. For more information, please call the MMS office at 304/342-7870.



Get ready for the “Best. Summer. Ever.” at Mountaineer Montessori School

Slide1Registration is now open for the “Best. Summer. Ever.,” a six week series of unique experiential learning and camp sessions for children ages 3-12 to be presented by Mountaineer Montessori School  from June 23-August.1.

A wide variety of high-quality specialty classes and theme-week programs, including upcycling, knitting and fiber arts and children’s cooking classes will be offered in two separate, but complementary camp programs led by fully-trained MMS faculty.  All sessions are open to MMS and non-MMS students. Discounted registration rates are effective through June 11.

“MMS Arts & Sciences Camp” is for children entering first through sixth grades. Campers can choose from a menu of activities, including: academic skills; arts and crafts; cooking; drama; fiber arts and knitting; fitness and games; music and dance; nature studies; scrapbooking; sports; science; Spanish; and track and field. Sessions run 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Prior to June 11, registration is $400 for each two-week session; $1100 for all 6 weeks.  After June 11, registration is $480 per session.  $1340 for all 6 weeks.  Full payment due at the time of registration.

“Summer to Grow On” is a special camp track created for children ages 3 to rising kindergartners. Focused indoor and outdoor exploration activities will be built upon a weekly theme, including: Art Week; Around the World; Cooking up a Storm; Fun with Water; Music Week; and World Olympics. Sessions run 9 a.m. to noon. Prior to June 11, registration is $240 for each two-week session; $600 for all 6 weeks.  After June 11, registration is $280 per session.  $750 for all 6 weeks.  Full payment due at the time of registration.

Before and After Care:

  • 8:00-9:00: $5 per day ($125 for all six weeks)
  • 12:00-5:30: $28/day ($660 for all six weeks)
  • 3:00-5:30: $12.50/day ($300 for all six weeks)

Registration is based upon three two-week sessions:

June 23-July 3; July 7-18; and July 21-Aug. 1.

For information about the “Best. Summer. Ever,” please call 304/342-7870.

Click here to download the double-sided Summer brochure.