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 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.

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 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 are relocating to 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.


D. VERNESSA SAMUAL, Adolescent Guide

Vernessa is very excited to be one of the newest additions to the Mountainside Montessori community. This dedicated and nurturing wife and mother of four has been a resident of Bealeton for over thirteen years. Vernessa comes to Mountainside with a wide array of experiences in the field of math and working with children. In 1988, she received a Bachelor of Science in Pure and Applied Mathematics with a minor in Education, followed by a Master of Science in Mathematics in 1992 from Howard University. She continued to educate herself in higher mathematics in the doctoral mathematics program and stopped in 1998 to focus on family life.

During her collegiate years, Vernessa worked with children in several capacities, including as a summer camp counselor, volunteering as a youth teacher at church, and as Young Scholar’s Facilitator at the university summer math camp. Since that time, she has gained experience as math teacher in public schools, various colleges and universities as an adjunct math instructor, and as an independent math educator serving clients in private in-home sessions. Six years of Vernessa’s life was dedicated to providing home instruction to her own children. During that time, she participated in a home school co-op as well as created her own serving those with special needs.

Her vast experience is not limited to the field of math only. Vernessa is a graduate of the 2009 class of the Virginia Partners in Policymaking (PIP) which is directed by the Virginia Board of Partners in Policymaking. PIP is designed to give parents of children with disabilities the information and skills needed to become a leader in the field of disability. Upon completing the class, Vernessa became one of the founders of The Arc of North Central Virginia and served as President on the Board of Directors for two years. While in office, she advocated for the rights of people with disabilities at the local, state and federal level via speeches, letter writing campaigns, phone calls, visits to legislators, and more.

Vernessa is currently serving as Sunday School Superintendent, having always served in a local church in various capacities. She is going into her second year as a student in the Wilbur H. Waters School of Theology and Seminary in Upper Marlboro, Maryland where she is pursuing a Master of Divinity.


AMANDA HESS, Elementary Guide

Amanda grew up in the beautiful hills of West Virginia where she began her education in a primary Montessori school. She attended Berea College where she obtained her B.A. in Child and Family Studies with a concentration in Child Development. After college, she spent time abroad as an au pair before returning to Virginia where she came into contact with Montessori again. With a renewed interest in seeking to better understand the Montessori Method, she worked as an assistant in a primary environment. It was only after observing in an Elementary environment that she discovered this was clearly where she was meant to be. Amanda received her AMI Elementary Diploma from Washington Montessori Institute in 2011. She now enters her fifth year as an Elementary guide. In addition to a life-long love of Montessori, she also enjoys reading, gardening, and swing dancing.

PATRICIA DEITRICH, Elementary 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 Virginia Certified Master Naturalist and her many interests include spending time with her family, traveling and camping, and a love of the outdoors, especially ornithology.

GRETA  NAGAL, Primary Guide

Greta Nagel’s life in Montessori began when she was a toddler. She grew up in a northern suburb of Chicago where she attended Forest Bluff Montessori School from the age of 18 months through 8th grade. As a child, she loved reading and writing, as well as the school trips, where she spent long periods of time outside in nature. In high school she became involved in theater, music, and the performing arts, but always knew that she wanted to be a Montessori teacher. She graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in English Literature in 2016, and immediately moved to Maryland where she received her AMI Primary diploma from Washington Montessori Institute and her MA in Education from Loyola University Maryland, graduating in 2017. She lives in Vienna, VA, where enjoys knitting, sewing, reading, and playing her ukulele.


Brittany grew up in rural West Virginia. She spent her childhood reading books and having her own Huckleberry adventures along the Ohio River, collecting plenty of scrapes and skinned knees. As a young adult, she attended Mount de Chantal Academy for Girls, where she was encouraged to pursue her personal interests in environmental science and literature. Upon graduation, she received the Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship. She attended Wheeling Jesuit University where she obtained a B.A. in History with a minor in Theology and a M.A. in Education. Afterwards, she joined AmeriCorps as a Vista working with local farmers to improve their soil and crops. In 2014, Brittany and her husband, Eddie, had their daughter, Guinevere. Looking to understand more about infant development, she read one of Dr. Montessori’s books and was hooked. In 2017, she obtained her AMI diploma from the Washington Montessori Institute at Loyola University of Maryland. Brittany enjoys traveling to Mexico City to see her paternal family when she has the opportunity. In her free time, she likes to read, sew, and knit as well as cook and bake with her daughter. One day, she hopes to have chickens and bees.

JULIA KENNEDY-CARNEY, Primary 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.

LAKOTA COON, Toddler Guide

Lakota grew up in Virginia and attended boarding school in Massachusetts. Lakota received her BFA in ceramics and art education, with a minor in special education, from James Madison University. Subsequently, Lakota attended the Montessori Institute of San Diego for her AMI Assistance to Infancy training. She enjoys all creative endeavors, including cooking, baking, and theater.

NANCY BISHOP, Toddler Assistant

A Montessori mother of three, Nancy joined the Mountainside staff in 2011. She completed her AMI Primary Assistant’s Certification in 2014. She has assisted in the office, the Primary classroom, the Elementary classroom, and the extended day program.

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 Mt. Presently, Laura is working on completing her AMI Certification as a 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.

KAY FRANK, Primary and Extended Day Assistant

Kay was born in Bombay, India. She moved to the States in 1982 and was raised in Alexandria, Virginia for most of her life. She started her career in the hospitality industry for several years when she met her husband Fred. She moved to Oakton, Virginia and went into the dental field where she realized how much she connected with children. She has 19 years of child care experience and enjoys working with kids. In 2003 Kay and her husband Fred welcomed their daughter Genevieve Rose who is now 14 years old. Kay is very excited to be a part of Mountainside Montessori’s team and is eager to learn from the guides. She currently lives in Front Royal, Virginia and in her free time enjoys volunteering at her church, making jewelry, scrapbooking and playing board games with her daughter.