New Montessori school opening in Mount Solon on Aug. 31.

augusta-county2editsThe School of Our Lady, Queen of Peace and Reconciliation, opening in Mount Solon on August 31, offers a holistic approach to education in a small, Montessori-based farm school environment, and focuses on the relationship between the natural world and academics.

Dr. Maria Montessori, renowned for her keen insights on educational reform, inspires the school’s mission.  As Dr. Dan Williams concluded in his research at the University of Virginia, “The Montessori method is way beyond what cognitive science knows; we traditionalists are slowly catching up.”

This pedagogical sort of education is grounded in a fundamental understanding of adolescent development.  Although the farm environment best meets the needs of the adolescent—personal dignity, social justice, and belonging—only 2 percent of Montessori Farm Schools actually offer a farm environment.  Most are urban schools.  The School of Our Lady, with a well-established micro-economy in the farmers’ market community, is well situated to develop an environmental contribution and presence in the Shenandoah Valley.

An essential part of the Montessori philosophy involves developing a community spirit in the so-called “pedagogy of place.”  The classroom is a place for addressing ongoing real-life problems, social relationships, and a real-world focus.

In the upper school of OLQPR, the cosmos becomes the classroom, as the students explore culture and modern civilizations.  For example, the philosophy of emotions will be studied to understand its impact on decision-making and social advancement or impairment in modern society.  Academic work is integrated with music, drama, visual arts, poetry, and electronic visual expression, underscoring the expression of the human story through the arts.

The school identifies with the Catholic Church, but is not legally affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Richmond at this time.  Father Joseph A. D’Aurora, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church, Lexington, serves as spiritual director, and has over 35 years of experience within Catholic education.  The school’s theology curriculum is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the school is named in honor of Christ’s mother, specifically as she is known as “Our Lady of Peace and Reconciliation” through her miraculous appearances, reported since 1981 at a valley in Bosnia-Hercegovina and currently being studied by the Church.

School founder Mary Ann Heerschap attended Texas Christian University on an Army ROTC scholarship, and worked for nine years as a dietician in two distinguished medical centers in Texas.  She was honorably discharged as a Major, after serving in Germany in 1991.  She continued her career and worked toward a Master of Arts degree in Hospital Administration prior to her marriage.  In 1990, she began homeschooling, successfully educating her six children.  She organized several home school cooperatives from the primary years through high school, and her upper school students have won awards at James Madison University’s Regional History Day Contest.  The Heerschaps began a home school soccer league for 180 youth in Rockingham and Augusta Counties, organizing games with area private and home schools.  In addition, the 4-H Cook-n-Sew Club that she led won the 4-H award for the Most Improved club of Rockingham County.

In 1997, the family relocated from Bridgewater to the current farm-school site in Mount Solon. Over the past two decades, Heerschap has attended various farming conferences, retains her dietetic registration, and has completed Montessori training in algebra.  She began the rudiments of a farm school in 2011.

A new member of the school’s community is Ray-Eric Correia, former president and head of Roanoke Catholic School, where he served in that position for eight years, following his eight-year tenure as Associate Principal of the Upper School.  Correia led RCS, maintaining a $4 million annual budget and 90 employees.  He trained, chaired and served numerous school accreditation teams, and was Chairman of the Richmond Catholic Diocesan Quality Assurance Board, which monitors the accreditation process for the 30 schools that comprised the district.  In 2010, he retired, to found a private firm dedicated to fundraising and strategic planning for nonprofits.  He will consult for the school.

Mark Chabot Jr., coordinator of humanities, spent the summer working and studying with the Association Montessori Internationale / North American Montessori Teachers Association Orientation to Adolescent Studies in Chihuahua, Mexico.  This intensive course presents a holistic integrated program, based on the view of the adolescent in terms of the Montessori psychology, philosophy, and methodology.  His program advisor, David Kahn, is one of the foremost authorities on Montessori adolescent education in North America, and is also a private consultant for the school.

Daniel Samsel, teacher of theology, philosophy, and logic, has completed foundational training in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a liturgical and scripture-based program centered upon God’s love.  Samsel’s teaching underscores faith as both gift and mystery.  He leads the ancient prayer of the Church that punctuates the hours of the day through recitation of the Divine Office, which originated in the monastic tradition of St. Benedict.  In addition, Samsel, who has volunteer building experience with Habitat for Humanity, will organize the student-work effort to design a chapel for the school, a project inspired by local, retired priest Msgr. Andrew Cassin of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Staunton.

Open House visits can be scheduled by appointment for the week of August 23 at the School of Our Lady, Queen of Peace and Reconciliation, 87 Reeves Road, Mount Solon.  Two openings remain for Seventh Grade.  Call (540) 271-6533 or Email schoolofourlady@gmail.com for an information packet and arrange an interview.


augusta free press news