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Mountainside Montessori breaks ground on new location

Tuesday, Jun. 24 | By Hannah Dellinger
Maggie Scott (l), a Primary student, first-grader Samantha Mills of Amissville, and sixth-grader Rachael Harrington of Marshall pose with Head of School Edel Kunkel as students, teachers and parents mark the beginning of constructing the new school.
Photo by Alisa Booze Troxel
Mountainside Montessori School has grown out of its Orlean location. For more than a decade the school has slowly continued to grow with the support of parents and community members.

Recently Mountainside students, teachers, staff and parents gathered at the site of the school’s new location to celebrate the construction groundbreaking. The new 10-acre plot located in Marshall on Belvoir Road will give the school room to grow.

“We out grew [the old location] really quickly and we wanted to expand, but [zoning restrictions] wouldn’t let us, because it was in a rural agricultural area,” said Mountainside founder and Headmaster Edel Kunkel. “We had several years of dealing with zoning issue and trying to raise money. Finally last year we got our funding.”

Kunkel said that after the funding was backed, it took a while to find a location that would serve the school’s needs.
“We needed somewhere that would allow us to have farm animals and he have to be in a service district, so it was difficult to find the right place,” she said.

Mountainside is an alternative school that blends a traditional Montessori learning environment with agricultural and ecological learning.

“The garden is just as important as other parts of the classroom,” said Edel. “That free-flow with nature and that connection is a big part of our mission, along with teaching sustainable agriculture.”

Kunkel has an extensive background in farming, and believes that it is important to teach her students about sustainability and to appreciate nature.

She grew up on a dairy farm in County Meath, Ireland and has earned the title of master naturalist as well as master gardener.

Kunkel moved to the United States in the 1980’s and found Montessori teaching by chance. Once she found it she says, she knew that it was something that she believed in and wanted for her daughters.

Kunkel started Mountainside in her home for her children, and the school began to grow. She made a classroom in her basement to take on more students, and eventually ended up in the Orlean location.
“At each stage in our development, we said, ‘No we’ll never be able to do that,’” recalls Kunkel. “And each time our parents go, ‘You need to do this, we need to keep our kids here.’ I’m learning never to say never.”
Josephine Jefferson has had her children at Mountainside for ten years. She has seen the school grow every step of the way.

“I love the school because it’s an authentic Montessori environment,” she said. “We are so happy to see it grow and the kids are especially happy to come and see the new location.”

Fauquier County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Holder Trumbo came to the ground breaking to welcome the school to his district.

“The school is a great addition to this spot here,” he said. “I live just down the road, so I’m going to be happy to have them as a neighbor.”

Trumbo said that the school’s agricultural focus makes it a great fit for their new community.

“I’ve talked to Edel a lot about her plans and what she wants to do here,” he said. “I think that the kinds of things that she’s going to be doing are going to be really great for the community and we’re looking forward to that relationship that we’re going to have here.”

The first phase of construction will include a new schoolhouse and will be complete in about six months. Kunkel hopes to start out the school year at the Orlean location, and then move to the new building in November or December.

The second phase of the construction will be another building for upper and lower elementary classrooms. The third phase will be for a Middle School building. The next phases will probably take a couple of years, according to Kunkel, because the school will need to raise more funding.

Once the school has moved it will include childcare and learning for children 18 months to ninth grade, expanding on its current offerings for children ages 2 to 12.

Kunkel said that the community has shown support from the beginning, especially crediting the local horse community. She said that the Old Dominion Hounds and Piedmont equine have been great sponsors.

According to Kunkel, the Mountainside horse shows and combined tests held at Copperfield Farm in Hume have been a great source of fundraising.

“We never could have done this with out the support,” said Kunkel. “To be such a small school out in Orlean and to take such a huge jump to this, we would never have done it with out so many people in the community that really believed in us.”

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