Faculty and Staff

EDEL KUNKEL, Head of School

Edel is the founder and Head of Mountainside Montessori School. Edel grew up in rural Ireland on a cattle and dairy farm. Her early background is in farm management and animal husbandry. In 1989, she received her AMI Primary diploma from the Montessori Institute of Los Angeles and has since completed the Montessori Administrators training as well as the Montessori Adolescent training. Edel has over 18 years of experience working with children in Washington, D.C., Virginia and her native home, Ireland. She has passed her love of farming onto her daughters Kyla (age 18) and Marissa (age 16) who raise cattle, sheep, and hogs on the small farm that she and her husband, Jim, built outside of Marshall. Edel’s passions for sustainable agriculture and connecting children with nature are reflected in her vision for Mountainside. Edel is a Master Gardener and a Master Naturalist.

SHANNON FALLI LASSER, Assistant Head of School

Shannon grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey and New York. After receiving her BS in Biology from the University of New Hampshire, she discovered her love of the outdoors by way of her travels in Alaska and Colorado. After working in the non-profit sector for some time, she ultimately earned an MBA from Arizona State University and relocated to Virginia. A Montessori mother of two, Shannon joined the Mountainside staff in 2015. She is excited to offer assistance in whatever capacity is necessary to further the vision of Mountainside.

 JOSEPHINE JEFFERSON, Administrator

Josephine grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland.  She has always enjoyed the idea of school, playing teacher at home as a young child, honing her cursive skills, and reading to her younger siblings.  A senior project in high school solidified her interest in pursuing Education as a college major.  Josephine graduated from The University of Richmond with a B.A. in Early Education and taught 3rd grade for three years in Chesterfield County, VA.  In the hopes that she could better serve children who were struggling in school, Josephine returned to school to earn her M.Ed in Special Education from the University of Virginia.  After teaching 3rd and 4th grades for several years in Prince William County, VA, Josephine again returned to school at the recommendation of a colleague familiar with the Montessori pedagogy and received her AMI Primary training from Washington Montessori Institute.  The training not only inspired and affirmed her views on early childhood education, but has guided her life since.  All three of her children attended Montessori schools during their Primary, Elementary, and Adolescent years, with her oldest a member of Mountainside’s first Primary class in 2004 and her youngest a graduate of the Adolescent program in 2018.  Although her children are now attending high school and college, Josephine is happy to remain at Mountainside where she truly feels she’s found a home.

 LAINE ITEN, Director of Development

Laine is originally from Hampton Roads and comes to Fauquier by way of Charlottesville where she made her home for nearly two decades. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of the Arts in English Literature and Studio Art. She has personally experienced the impact of the Montessori method, with two young daughters who are busy, smart, self-assured, and thriving in Mountainside’s Primary Program. Laine has over a decade of experience in fundraising, marketing, and development. Most recently, Laine was the Coordinator of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s Campaign for Monticello, a $75 million effort to endow programs at Thomas Jefferson’s historic home. Prior to Monticello, Laine was the Director of Annual Giving for the McIntire School of Commerce, consistently ranked as the nation’s number one undergraduate business school, where she had a hand in all facets of raising over $3 million in unrestricted support each year. She brings extensive experience in fundraising strategy, relationship management, event planning, writing, and design to our staff. She has also maintained a steady presence as a volunteer in Mountainside’s fundraising efforts for the past four years, helping to organize our inaugural Fall Ball and silent auction, securing sponsorships and donations from businesses in our local community, expanding the reach of our 5K Walk/Run, bringing new life to our Annual Fund campaign, and launching a series of Fun-Raisers to build community while supporting our school. In her spare time, Laine enjoys making art, sewing, cooking, yoga, and pursuing her passion for wellness and herbal medicine.

THEO  GRAYSON, Adolescent Guide

Theo joins Mountainside Montessori as a certified Montessori adolescent teacher who has been a head middle school teacher and athletic director at Washington Montessori School in CT. She has over 30 years of teaching experience, including North Country School in Lake Placid, NY, a farm and garden school, Greenwood School in Putney, VT, which is a school for boys with learning challenges, and South Kent School in CT, where she headed the ELL (English Language Learners) program and leaning support program, before teaching for thirteen years at Washington Montessori.

She is passionate about Montessori philosophy and fully embraces student-centered education, where adolescents are responsible for their learning and have the opportunity to engage in meaningful work that allows them to explore and connect with their place in the world. Adolescence is a time of change, passion, exploration, and independence. Theo finds this an exciting time of life for students to harness their energy and focus on what is meaningful to them, while giving them a strong foundation beyond their teenage years to ultimately contribute to the world in positive and healthy ways. At WMS she developed the Hero’s Journey program, based on Joseph Campbell’s work, to provide students an opportunity to explore who they feel they are, who they want to be, and how to purposefully work toward developing that person. Theo believes we learn the most about ourselves when we are stretched, growing the most when we are pushed out of our comfort zone. Life’s challenges are opportunities to discover who we are and discover the choices we have in moments of hardship to become who we want to be. Adolescence is a delicate and exciting time of life.

Theo and her family live on her family farm in Upperville. She is an avid runner, outdoors person, and has competed extensively in running races, two seven-day multi-sport adventure races, and the TransRockieRun, a six-day, 130 miles race along the Continental Divide in Colorado. Theo enjoys animal husbandry and has been involved in various aspects of farming throughout her life. Traveling is another passion, and she spent semesters in Nepal and Indonesia during college. In recent years, she has traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with her teenage children.

ANGUS GOLDBERG, Humanities Instructor

Dr. Angus E. Goldberg was born and raised in Alaska, where he attended open-educational schools throughout elementary school and high school.  He has deep roots in this area, however, having grown up spending summers at his grandfather’s farm just up the road in Orlean.  His undergraduate studies at Wesleyan University included religious studies and classical civilization. An abiding interest in the past led him to Scotland, and the University of St. Andrews, just up the road from the farm that belonged to his other grandparents.  While there, he earned a master’s certificate in maritime studies before completing a doctorate in modern history at the same institution.  Dr. Goldberg believes that historical awareness is a prerequisite for culturally literate and responsible citizens, and he relishes the opportunity to assist his students as they pursue their their exploration of the past in all of its myriad forms.  He is a baseball fan, and an authority on the history of dogs at sea, which affection for sea rovers reflects his own interest in various topics pertaining to social history.

ALICE CATLIN, Upper Elementary Guide

Alice grew up in New England, spending a lot of time outdoors camping, swimming, riding bicycles, hiking, and skiing with her family. She still loves the outdoors and has added gardening to her repertoire. While attending the University of Virginia, she planned to become a French teacher, but then discovered Montessori and fell in love with the child-centered approach to learning. She holds two Master’s Degrees in Education, one with an emphasis in Montessori and one in Special Education. She received her Association Montessori International (AMI) Elementary diploma in 1995 and taught at that level for almost ten years after which she was the Elementary and Adolescent Coordinator for a large Montessori school in the Boston area. She became an Elementary Consultant for AMI in 2009 and consults at the national level. When she and her husband decided to move back to Virginia, she took the NAMTA Orientation to Adolescent Studies and taught adolescent students on a farm for over six years (similar to the wonderful farm Mountainside students are privileged to be on). Working with adolescents reinforced her elementary experience and gave her a deeper understanding of the value of Montessori education.

MELORA MENNESSON, Lower Elementary Guide

Melora joins Mountainside Montessori having taught in both Upper and Lower 
Elementary classrooms in Connecticut for 15 years. Her sons were both Montessori 
students from age three through middle school, so after completing a Masters in 
ESL/TESOL in 2004, she decided to follow in their footsteps, and gained the Montessori 
I Credential through the American Montessori Society in 2007, followed by the II 
Credential in 2012.  
 
She grew up in northern New Mexico where a deep love for hiking and camping began. 
She is currently trying to section hike the entire South West Coast Path that spans the 
entire coast of Cornwall in the UK, and now that she is moving to Virginia, plans to do 
the same on the Appalachian Trail. Melora has always loved astronomy, first falling in 
love with the night sky during annual family trips to Chaco Canyon where she learned 
that ancient peoples there were advanced astronomers. She loves to play the piano and 
practice reading and speaking in Spanish and French. 
 
Melora loves Montessori’s didactic materials, which allow children to explore new 
concepts not only with their minds, but physically, at their own pace, and in their own 
way. She believes that, were Dr. Montessori alive today, she would find this an exciting 
time in education as we observe the evolution of human access to information. The 
children themselves have much to say about who they are and how they become their 
own kind of learners. A Montessori classroom, and it’s extended parameters in the 
outdoor environment, reveal what it means to be human and part of our global 
community.

JULIA KENNEDY CARNEY, Program Development Consultant

Julia grew up in the White Mountains of rural Maine in a family of classical musicians. She spent her childhood playing violin, canoeing, hiking, playing in the woods, making art, and helping in the vegetable gardens. Her interests in Spanish and travel were sparked at a young age by visits to and from her relatives in Santiago, Chile. As a teenager and young adult she spent time studying, volunteering, and living in Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Spain. She received her BA in Spanish from Goucher College. Julia fell in love with Montessori education while teaching Spanish and Music at Mountainside Montessori in 2010-2011. She received her AMI Primary diploma from the Washington Montessori Institute and MA in education from Loyola University Maryland in 2012. She lives outside of Warrenton with her family, dog, cat and chickens. In addition to all the activities Julia enjoyed as a child, she also loves to cook, practice yoga and meditation, and train and work with dogs.


BEN DRENNING, Primary Guide

Ben holds a bachelors degree in Economics from the University of Virginia.  He completed his Montessori training at the Institute for Advanced Montessori Studies and is a certified Montessori Guide.

Ben’s work with people began with his work on himself.  This work began with questions about life, a child’s questions really, that he first pursued in literature and philosophy.  This led to the literature of the East, and eventually to the practice of yoga and meditation.  He then had the good fortune to encounter and study the work of Virginia Satir, a pioneer in family therapy.  Soon after he discovered the work of Maria Montessori, with her profound observations of children, and her capacity to let these shape an educational environment.  His approach to working with children is also informed by such educators as Rudolf Steiner, J. Krishnamurti, M. Gandhi, and A.S. Neill.

Professionally, Ben has worked with people, children mostly, for the better part of his adult life.  He has worked in the public schools and grew up through them.  In Venezuela, he taught English as a second language.  He has worked in outdoor environments with high-rope and low-rope courses where the focus was team building and fostering self-esteem.  Ben has been self-employed as a yoga therapist and coach, and as a massage therapist.  Before beginning a career as a Montessori Guide, he worked extensively with children with special needs in residential settings.

Behind, beneath, and around these educational environments exists the wild natural world.  Ben has noticed that the experience of our connection to natural environments, to our larger home, has an unbounded capacity to nurture our children.  From the animals on a farm, to gardens, to the unmitigated embrace of woods and creeks, he has a deep respect for the touch of the wilderness that lives in any natural environment.  Along with his work as a Montessori Guide, he conducts after school wilderness programs for kids, and summer camps.

Ben’s experience and exposure help to give him a broad horizon against which to understand the development of the child.

APRIL NELSINE, Toddler Guide

April is originally from Charleston, South Carolina. She came to Fauquier County in 2012 by way of Washington DC. After the birth of her son in 2015, she was inspired to learn more about child development and a passion for teaching young children grew from there. She has an Associates in Applied Sciences from Lord Fairfax Community College in Early Childhood Development. She has worked in traditional preschool settings as well as Montessori environments gaining experience and developing her love of the Montessori method. She fell in love with Montessori while touring a school for her son and knew right away that she wanted to learn more and ultimately become a Montessori teacher. She is eager to continue her education, working towards her bachelors at James Madison University in Early Childhood Education while completing the Infant/Toddler training through the Center for Guided Montessori Studies. She brings experience to the classroom as an educator and as a mother. She loves gardening, social dancing (East Coast Swing and Balboa especially), swimming, reading, hiking and playing her ukulele. She currently resides in Warrenton, VA, with her son and dog, Marcie.

CAITLIN LEOTTA, Lower Elementary Assistant

Caitlin grew up in South Jersey, and moved to Virginia at the age of 21, to farm. She worked on different farms, and became a CNA doing home healthcare for many years. Caitlin was introduced to the Montessori world in 2013 when she lived and worked at Mountain Laurel Farm School. She fell in love with this way of teaching our children. With her family, Caitlin loves hiking and camping, gardening, and also cooking together as much as they can.

PATRICIA DEITRICH, Primary Assistant

Patricia grew up in New England, where she developed her love of horses. She spent eight years working in the travel and tourism industry. After receiving her AAS in Natural Resources Management, she worked at both the National and State Park levels in the areas of research and environmental education. A Montessori parent, Patricia started working in the classroom in 2006 and has never looked back. She earned her AMI Primary Assistant’s Certification in 2008, and in 2016 completed the AMI Elementary Assistant’s Certification at Loyola University in Maryland. In addition to her duties as assistant, she also presents programs to the students in the areas of environmental education, art, music, and American Sign Language. Patricia is also a certified tutor using the Susan Barton Reading and Spelling program. She is a Certified Virginia Master Naturalist and her many interests include spending time with her family, traveling and camping, and a love of the outdoors, especially ornithology.

KAY FRANK, Primary Assistant and Transportation

Kay was born in Bombay, India and moved to the States in 1982, where she was raised by her mom in Alexandria, Virginia. She started her career in the hospitality industry for several years. She moved to Oakton, Virginia and spent over 16 years in the dental field where she realized how much she connected with children. She has over 20 years of child care experience and is currently certified in CPR and First Aid. Kay joined the Mountainside family in 2017 and earned her AMI Primary Assistant Certification at Loyola University in Maryland. She currently lives in front Royal with her daughter Genevieve Rose. In her free time, Kay enjoys tubing in the Shenandoah river, hiking, camping, volunteering at her Church, making cards, scrapbooking, playing board games, and loves tending to her garden.

MALAYNA CAMPBELL, Toddler Assistant

Malayna was born and raised in Virginia. In her early years she attended her family’s private school then was homeschooled for high school and graduated in 2014. She enjoys being outdoors and loves to hike, kayak and explore new places. She has six years of experience being a private nanny and now spends her free time working with youth in her local community. She is very excited to work with the toddlers and learn more about the Montessori method.

LAURA WRIGHT, Extended Day Director

Laura Wright was born and raised in Lynchburg, VA, where most of her family still gathers for mini-reunions during the year. She got her BA from Mary Washington College and began teaching sixth grade, followed by many years of substituting while raising three daughters. Twelve years as a fifth grade Science and Language Arts teacher proved to be some of her hardest and most rewarding years of teaching thus far. She and her teacher-husband, Bill, have lived on a small boxwood and Christmas tree farm in Ada for 30 years and still claim to have the best view of Big Cobbler Mountain. Laura is an AMI certified Primary Assistant. She loves observing and working with children of all ages. Hammock reading, visiting family, and dancing to her own beat keep her happy.