Students, alumni, win state chess championship, regional spelling bee & math counts competition–on the same day!

March 21, 2015, was a day for the record books at Mountaineer Montessori School. Our students and alumni racked up three very impressive victories that reflect their commitment to education and pursuit of excellence. We take great pride on congratulating:

Sohan Kukkillaya, far right, is the state chess champion in the K-3 division, and the MMS Gilliland Knights won the state team championship.

Sohan Kukkillaya, far right, is the state chess champion in the K-3 division, and the MMS Gilliland Knights won the state team championship.

MMS alumnus Varun Kukkakillaya is the regional spelling bee champion for the second year in a row. He is the brother of chess champion Sohan Kukkillaya.

MMS alumnus Varun Kukkillaya is the regional spelling bee champion for the second year in a row. He is the brother of chess champion Sohan Kukkillaya. (Photo by Chris Dorst, Charleston Gazette)

MMS alumnus Nikolas Milhailidis, far left, is one of four students chosen to represent West Virginia in the national MATHCOUNTS competition. His sister, Vera, is a fourth year student at MMS.

MMS alumnus Nikolas Milhailidis, far left, is one of four students chosen to represent West Virginia in the national MATHCOUNTS competition. His sister, Vera, is a fourth year student at MMS.





















































Shadow Night is March 17

MMSShadow NightMarch 17-1One of Mountaineer Montessori School’s  most cherished traditions returns! “Shadow Night” will be held for lower and upper elementary students and their parents on Tuesday, March 17. On Shadow Night, students are the teachers, sharing Montessori lessons and favorite activities with their parents. Two sessions will be held: 5:30-6:15 and 6:15-7:00 p.m. Parents should refer to their students’ schedules that were provided by the MMS office. Look for your personal invitation and get ready for a very special evening of learning and sharing with your child and our school community.

Middle school ‘cultivating a culture of cooking’ with Thaibilly Kitchen

by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

“You guys ready to start chopping?”

Raj Pongsugree asks her cooking class. The eager eyes of Jamie Coleman, Zahra Khan and Julia Carriger look back at their instructor as plates of ingredients color a large white counter top in the center of the kitchen.


Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

On a recent Wednesday morning, Pongsugree is leading the first cooking class in a brand new middle school program for three of the four seventh graders enrolled in Mountaineer Montessori Middle School.

“So today, in honor of Chinese New Year, we’re going to do long noodles. You don’t cut them when you cook them. They are supposed to stay long in representation of life.”

“Long life,” Jamie chimes in.

“Right. Long noodles, long life,” Pongsugree responds.

She begins holding up ingredients. “It’s going to be a noodle stir fry with chives, a couple pieces of carrots and this,” she tells the students as she holds up a nondescript, shriveled black object. “It looks like seaweed but it’s not. This is called black fungus.”

Instead of receiving boos or signs of disgust, the three 12-year-olds look impressed.

Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

Someone says, “That’s amazing.”

“It’s really textural and very chewy.” Pongsugree explains that in some Asian countries the fungus is used as a meat replacement, but lacks protein.

Quickly the trio are chatting and chopping as Pongsugree makes her rounds to ensure that Jamie is cutting the tofu thin enough for veggie dumplings, which are also on the menu. Zahra carefully chops up the slimly black fungi and Julia takes on the carrots.

Student Jasmine Phillips was absent that day.

In addition to catering, serving authentic Thai cuisine at The Empty Glass on Charleston’s East End every Tuesday, and fixing food at festivals, Thaibilly Kitchen offers a variety of cooking classes.

Co-owners of Thaibilly, Pongsugree and her husband, Michael Seeburger, instruct the classes, which are normally held at the Manna Meal kitchen located at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Suzanne Sanders, lead guide for Mountaineer Montessori’s adolescent program, said she was looking for a way to offer an enjoyable, hands-on learning experience for the students to get acquainted with a variety of cuisines and ingredients.



Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

“I just thought it would a perfect pairing,” Sanders said. “She’s bringing in all kinds of new things that they are discovering.”

Pongsugree started the cooking classes in January by teaching the students how to make sushi. She will teach a class at the Charleston school one Wednesday of every month until the end of the school year.

“I like it because I really enjoy trying new foods. Any new food is really, really super exciting for me,” Julia said. “I also think that it is a really great experience because then you are going to be able to get more freedom and you are going to be able to cook for yourself.”

Even when Pongsugree is not around to teach an exotic dish, the students always cook together on Wednesdays.

“One of the things in this program is for them to start learning how to do adult-like things,” Sanders said.

“Every Wednesday of every week, two of the students choose something that they would like to cook for the whole group. They give me a list, and they have to stay within a budget. We go out and get things and they are responsible for cooking for the whole group. The other two clean, and, then, the next week we switch.”

After the Wednesday meal is prepared the students sit down family style with Sanders and fellow instructor Rachel Scarpelli to enjoy their meal.

Before the group enjoyed their Chinese New Year meal, Pongsugree taught the girls how eat with chop sticks. She said she’s already planning to fix an Irish meal in March to honor St. Patrick’s Day.

“She gives us a little history along with each food,” Julia said. “She’s a really good teacher and she’s really fun.”

Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

Photo by Anna Patrick, Charleston Gazette

“We’ve gotten rave, rave reviews from the students and the parents,” Sanders said. “They’re being exposed to foods that they might not have been exposed to before … . What we can do is put that into our curriculum.”

The girls were happy to share some of Pongsugree’s teachings.

“I learned that not all fungus is bad,” Jamie said.

Julia added, “To make black fungus edible you have to soak it in water.”

“Never lift the knife from the cutting board,” Zahra said.

And reciting Pongsugree’s words from earlier on how to properly fill a dumpling, Zahra said, “Everything in moderation.” Call Pongsugree at 304-206-4527 to learn more about Thaibilly Kitchen’s cooking class and catering offerings.

Reach Anna Patrick at or 304-348-4881.

See more here

Memorial service for Dana Gilliland planned for February 26

Dana Gilliland (photo by Chip Ellis, Charleston Gazette)

Dana Gilliland (photo by Chip Ellis, Charleston Gazette)

Mountaineer Montessori School will celebrate the life and legacy of Head of School Dana Gilliland with a memorial service scheduled for Thursday, February 26, at 6:00 p.m. The service will be held at the South Ruffner Presbyterian Church, located down the block from our main campus at the corner of 20th Street and Kanawha Avenue SE in Charleston.

Dana sadly passed away earlier this month, and leaves behind three daughters, a large extended family and legions of friends, education colleagues and current and former students in Charleston around the world who mourn her loss. MMS will celebrate her life and her extraordinary service to our school and children everywhere at this special gathering. We invite our school families and the community to join us in honoring a loving mother, gifted educator, inspiring leader and very dear friend to all.

A memorial fund has been established to sustain Dana’s Montessori legacy. Contributions may be sent to: Dana Gilliland Fund, c/o Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street SE, Charleston, WV, 25304, or made online.  For more information, please contact our office at 304-342-7870.

As a reminder, no classes will be held on Monday, February 23, as MMS observes a day of mourning and reflection in honor of Dana.

MMS mourns passing of Head of School Dana Gilliland

Among Dana's many accomplishments at MMS was the opening of a middle school.

Among Dana’s many accomplishments at MMS was the opening of a middle school.

Dana Gilliland

Dana Gilliland: mother, educator, community leader and friend.


Dana Gilliland dedicated her life in service of the child.









It is  with heavy hearts that we share sad news. Dana Gilliland, Mountaineer Montessori School’s dynamic Head of School, passed away earlier this week. MMS is shocked and saddened by Dana’s untimely passing, and extend our deepest sympathies to her three daughters, one of whom is an MMS student, and the many, many family members and friends who loved her dearly.

Dana dedicated her life to children and the Montessori principle that “the child is both the hope and promise of mankind.” Her long and distinguished Montessori career was marked by achievement and purpose. Under Dana’s leadership, MMS started a middle school, enhanced several programs and experienced strong enrollment growth. More importantly, Dana’s warm and genuine commitment to our school inspired our students, faculty and our entire school family.

Dana’s family has planned a memorial service on Saturday, February 21. Visitation will be held at the Dwayne R. Spence Funeral Home, 550 Hill Road North, Pickerington, Ohio, from 1:00-2:00 p.m., with service to follow at 2:00 p.m. Please see the link below for details.

MMS will celebrate Dana’s life and legacy at a memorial service  to be held Thursday, February 26, at 6:00 p.m., at South Ruffner Presbyterian Church.  No classes will be held on Monday, February 23, as we observe a day of mourning in Dana’s honor.

In December, Dana announced plans to move to Ohio at the end of the school year to be closer to her family, and MMS faculty members Jennifer Carriger and Suzanne Sanders were named co-directors. A transition plan, which was already in progress, will be updated to provide steady leadership during the months ahead.

At this time, however, our top priority remains offering our support and sympathy to Dana’s family and nurturing our students and school community at this very difficult time. The MMS board and faculty ask you to join us in honoring Dana by carrying her vision forward in the weeks and months to come.

(MMS families should refer to communication sent from our office yesterday for more information.)

As Dana signed each and every announcement, we dedicate this message “in service to the child.”…


Mountaineer Montessori Middle School to hold open house Feb. 10

OPEN HOUSE FEBRUARY 10 (1)Mountaineer Montessori Middle School will hold an open house and information session for prospective students and their families on Tuesday, February 10, from 5:00-6:00 p.m.

The school, serving seventh and eighth grade students, is located at Unity of Kanawha Valley, 804 Myrtle Road. It is among 400 Montessori middle schools in the United States and the only one of its kind in West Virginia.

The Mountaineer Montessori Middle School program was launched in August 2014 in response to a 50 percent enrollment increase at Mountaineer Montessori in the past three years and growing demand for a high-quality alternative to one-size-fits-all education. Research shows that the Montessori approach to adolescent education supports higher academic achievement, superior talent development and greater student interest and intrinsic motivation.

Based upon Maria Montessori’s vision for a “school of experience in the elements of life,” Mountaineer Montessori Middle School combines the best Montessori practices with the latest scientific research on adolescent education.  It offers an academically rigorous, individualized curriculum emphasizing STEM, arts, hands-on learning, entrepreneurship and community service.

Middle School Surveying Project 018During the open house, attendees will have the opportunity to meet the faculty and current students, who have prepared exhibits showcasing their academic and service projects.

The seventh and eighth 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).

Applications for admission to the 2015-16 Mountaineer Montessori Middle School program are now being accepted. The school considers students with Montessori and/or traditional school backgrounds. Financial aid is available.

The middle school program extends the curriculum offered by Mountaineer Montessori School, 308 20th Street. Founded in 1976, Mountaineer Montessori is the oldest, largest and most established Montessori school in West Virginia, providing a rich academic and arts curriculum in a child-centered environment to 120 students ages 3-14.  To RSVP for the open house or for other information, please call 304/342-7870.

MMS 2015-16 academic year registration forms due Friday, Feb. 6

IMG_7088Time to line up! Friday, February 6 is the deadline for current MMS families to submit completed registration forms, signed Letters of Intent and financial aid applications for the 2015-16 school year. We anticipate another year of full enrollment and may not be able to guarantee a place for your child after that date. Any available classrooms slots will be opened to applications from new families starting on February 9. Please call the office at 304/342-7870 if you have questions or would like to schedule a tour (new families).

For information on our admissions policy and procedures, please click here.

Lower elementary continental explorers

KirenThis week we began a large research project on the continents. Our class is divided into seven groups of three students. Each group is doing research on the topography, flora, fauna, religion, clothing, food, architecture, language and mythology of every continent. We look forward to sharing the work with you as it develops. Congratulations to the third year students for completing the standardized testing this week! Everyone is off the hook this week regarding the spelling test. We will resume the regular spelling tests next week.

David and Amanda

January 30, 2015

See more MMS news on our blog.

“It’s not book, paper, pencil. It’s ‘do it.'” Middle school mapping Carriage Trail

Mountaineer Montessori School seventh year students are mapping the Carriage Trail — a big undertaking that combines trigonometry, science and art. Here’s a report on this exciting project by Kera Mashek and WCHS-TV News:


Jamie condensedRight outside Mountaineer Montessori School in Charleston, you’ll find the Carriage Trail.  The 0.65 mile path winds through the woods near the south end of the Southside Bridge.  Students at the Montessori School are now making a detailed map of this trail.

“It teaches them how to take data from the physical world and then use mathematics to translate it to something like a map.  So we’re going to be using trigonometry, graphing, and then some artistic sketching to fill in the details,” said George Phillips, engineer and parent volunteer.

Students recently took a field trip through the trail using a compass, and clinometer to measure distances between points on the path.

“It is tedious. It takes maybe 10 minutes per shot.

So we spent about an hour today doing five shots. They have to pick their stations of where they’re going to take the shots from there, then measure the angle and the bearing,” said Phillips.

Students appreciate the ability to put their math and science skills to the test and giving them a deeper understanding of what they’re learning through practical application.

“It’s not sit down, book, paper, pencil.  It’s get your hands on it.  Do it.  Figure it out,” said student Jamie Coleman.

“When people are talking to you, you’ve kind of got a picture of what it is, but you’re not really sure, and I think that having the outdoor experience and doing what they’re actually teaching is much better and you have more understanding and learn a lot more,” said student Jasmine Phillips.

It will take about six months for the Carriage Trail map to be finalized and this project won’t stop there.  Students are also hoping to use the maps as part of their business challenge at Mountaineer Montessori, finding a way to sell them to the community..

“I’m looking forward mos to seeing the final map and then getting it printed in bulk, and then we’ll be able to see our product go to other people,” student Fynn Roberts-Donaghy said.



Middle school bringing “Little Free Library” to South Hills neighborhood

Little-Free-Library (1)A “Little Free Library” is coming to South Hills thanks to our middle school students…but they need your help to finalize the project. The free book exchange will be located at Unity of Kanawha Valley Church, the site of our 7th and 8th grade program.

MMS students designed the structure (the photo here is just for example), prepared a brochure and delivered a formal proposal to the Bridge Road Neighborhood Association, which generously donated $250 towards its construction. Additional financial help and/or donations of building materials will help them finalize the project. To make a contribution, please contact Suzanne Sanders or Rachel Scarpelli, or go to our home page send it via PayPal:

Please note that MMS has a few NIPS tax credits available for donations of $500 to the Free Little Library or other MMS programs. Through NIPS, donors receive a 50% credit for the amount of their contribution on their state income taxes. Our credits are nearly depleted, so please contact MMS at 304/342-7870 ASAP to take advantage.