From Sub-Zero to Hero

 Bob Maxwell (club advisor) and University of Alaska Anchorage students Robert Maxwell,  Cheryl Higgins, Oakley Carlson, David Chamberlain, Anudari Vaani, Eric Hauer and Bryce Ybanez

Bob Maxwell (club advisor) and University of Alaska Anchorage students Robert Maxwell,  Cheryl Higgins, Oakley Carlson, David Chamberlain, Anudari Vaani, Eric Hauer and Bryce Ybanez

From sub-zero temperatures to extreme heat, the members of the Architecture and Engineering Club (AE) from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) are making a serious impact at Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) renovating various communal grounds while getting hands-on experience with materials they are studying.


Bob Maxwell, faculty advisor for the club, has been participating in service projects all over the world for the last 18 years with the help of Habitat for Humanity. This trip was different than all others and extra meaningful to the group of eight volunteers, being the first independent trip they’ve taken without the support of Habitat for Humanity. The connection to VIMSIA was first made when a member of the AE club made contact with a friend in St. Thomas who works at VIMSIA. One thing led to another and the AE club group began hosting fundraisers back home to cover expenses for their first independent trip to the US Virgin Islands. Maxwell explained, “The biggest advantage, and what they don’t know the first time, is the value of service word. Service work is a step outside their small world, and for the betterment of the world per say.”

The club is led by Oakley Carlson, club president and David Chamberlain, vice president, with special guidance from construction specialist Eric Hauer.  Chamberlain explained the uniqueness of this trip and the challenges they faced, including coordination and transportation. “It was the first time we had to do something like this with a few unknowns. Coming to the Virgin Islands was a new one on us too, it’s a new culture – which is not a challenge, but different and exciting!” commented Chamberlain.

Hauer added that like him, several of Maxwell’s students are inspired hearing stories of past service opportunities and are drawn to serve. “He’s responsible for getting me involved. When I was taking one of his classes he talked about the projects that they do and it peeked my interest since it’s something I had wanted to do for a long time” commented Hauer. “Most of our team are engineering students some construction management students” added Hauer, a former construction management student prior to transferring to Kansas State University to study architectural engineering.


VIMSIA, a leader in environmentally sustainable initiatives, is 100% solar, has various storage systems, collects road run-off water for irrigation, tends to an organic garden and utilizes solar refrigerator and freezers. With the help of the AE club volunteers, new fencing has been installed on the Montessori campus, various buildings were painted and remodeled, a new climbing wall was installed and improvements were made to the school’s playground. “My favorite part of this trip has been the people and seeing their reactions, especially when they learn we’re from Alaska. Their faces light up!” commented club co-president Carlson.

The VIMSIA family extends their sincere appreciation to the AE club for their time and dedication to help improve the school and community. The school hopes to visit Alaska and their friends at UAA in the future, according to Head of School, Michael Bornn.


VIMSIA Marks its 55th Opening Day


Hitting snooze is no longer an option for the students of Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) who attended their first day of school on Monday, as the school marked its 55th opening day. Staff, administrators and parents were thrilled to see familiar faces and welcome many new friends, both to the school community and the US Virgin Islands.

There was a buzz of energy surrounding campus on the first day of school! “This will be our best year yet,” said Head of School, Michael Bornn, adding that the theme for the year derives off of the Greek word ‘meraki’. “Meraki is a Greek word meaning to do something with love, soul and creativity, to leave a piece of yourself in your work, and to leave something behind. We as educators are constantly doing this,” added Bornn. The message was well received by all.


With over 65 new students, this year’s Peter Gruber International Academy (PGIA) seniors are ecstatic to make new friends and anxious to end strong while working towards their International Baccalaureate (IB) diplomas. Last year, in addition to earning a high-school diploma, 60% of VIMSIA seniors earned the prestigious and highly coveted IB diploma, which created various new collegiate opportunities. Only a small percentage of seniors in the US earn this world renowned degree.

In the PGIA, students started off the day with thirty minutes of a meet and greet social and were encouraged to welcome new friends. “The PGIA is going to tackle the 2018-2019 school year. We are in excellence mode with high expectations and lofty goals,” commented Gloria Arpasi, Director of PGIA. “It feels great to be back for the 2018-2019 school year. I loved greeting all the parents and students as we met on the turf of our second home we call VIMSIA. I can already feel that it is going to be a strong year full of student learning and growth!” added Michele Weichman, Dean of Students.

Like so many others school in the territory, the summer months were used to rebuild and renovate damaged spaces. “Getting the school back to tip-top shape took a village, and we are so thankful to the parents, staff and volunteers who helped not only improve VIMSIA but propel it forward, becoming one of the leading schools in the US Virgin Islands” commented Bornn.

VIMSIA, was first established in 1964 as an AMI accredited Montessori School.  The tradition is continued as an accredited Association Montessori Internationale school for ages 3 – 12 and the school has become an authorized International Baccalaureate World.  Research from leading institutions shows that IB students are more likely to succeed in higher education than those who attend traditional school. To learn more about VIMSIA please visit

Bougainvillea Enrichment Center Re-Opens!


Just in time for the first day of school, Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy's (VIMSIA) Bougainvillea Enrichment Center (BEC) re-opened looking better than ever before.

With freshly painted walls, new floors, refurbished furniture and an excellence team of caregivers, BEC is ready for the 2018-2019 school year! Special thanks to Megan McGavick, Estefany Ledee and MaryAnn Paul for their time, dedication and perseverance with this massive task.

Patricia Ludick to Visit VIMSIA


Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) is honored to welcome Patricia Ludick as guest speaker for the upcoming Elementary Parent Education night.

Patricia Ludick began the adolescent program at Hudson Montessori School in Hudson (OH) where she served as the program director and humanities guide for ten years. Pat has also accomplished a decade of extensive adolescent work at Ruffing Montessori East in Cleveland Heights (OH) and served as the founding directress of the adolescent program at the Montessori School of Raleigh in North Carolina. She is active in doing consultation work with new and existing Montessori programs, both private and public. Pat holds an AMI diploma, a certification in Special Education, as well as a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction. She was one of the planners and contributors in the early Montessori adolescent movement in the 1980’s and continues to serve the needs of new teachers, children, adolescents, and parents as the work progresses. She is an active presenter at NAMTA conferences, a contributor to the NAMTA Journal and guides teachers every summer at the AMI-NAMTA Orientation to Adolescent Studies. Pat is presently in her 32nd year of active Montessori education. She and her husband, Tom, are the parents of five grown children and have ten grandchildren.

Ludick will present a special presentation to VIMSIA parents on Thursday, August 30, 2018.

VIMSIA Teachers Attend San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research

 Alex Silva and Kate Ludick

Alex Silva and Kate Ludick


Alex Silva and Kate Ludick, talented educators at Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA), recently returned from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science. Silva, a science teacher at VIMSIA, learned about the program from a graduate school classmate who attended the program last year. Between Silva’s science background and Ludick’s English skills, together they wrote an incredible application essay and both were accepted into the program.

The objectives for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research Teacher Workshops in Conservation Science are threefold:

1. Provide replicable, relevant, standards-based conservation science activities for formal and informal education settings

2. Connect science educators to wildlife conservation through relevant laboratory and field-based experiences that share recent advances in conservation research.

3. Provide a forum for science educators to network and share ideas for weaving conservation themes into their school community and engaging students in conservation.


During the program, the group tracked desert tortoises, analyzed their habitat use, and discussed factors threatening their survival. While we may not have the same species on island, an idea can be modified to focus on local sea turtle species, which may inspire students to reduce their plastic bag usage, say no to straws, or even pursue conservation work in the future. Imagine the impact we can have if an even greater number of teachers are able to bring engaging conservation lessons into their classrooms. 

Ludick’s highlight from the trip was the respect the zoo specialists had for teachers and how willing and accommodating they were in sharing their lessons and knowledge. She added how much she enjoyed feeding the giraffes and rhinoe and hearing the lions roar at night. Ludick noted the dry heat and temperature of 105 degrees fahrenheit were a bit tough to deal with. “On this trip I learned that there still are really good, intelligent people and institutions helping to save our earth and the flora and fauna in it. I learned that technology plays such a big part in conservation. There are so many unexplored areas in the field, still, that need these people’s creativity and talent” added Ludick.

The program was filled with 34 educators, each of which had extensive experience in science education. At times, Silva found it intimidating to strike up conversations with others, especially those with more experience. “In those moments, I had to remind myself that my students have learned a thing or two in my classes, so I must have something to offer to the conversation!” commented Silva. Silva thoroughly enjoyed hand-feeding eucalyptus leaves to a Rothschild's giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis rothschildi), despite the saliva left behind! Her lowest point during the program was realizing that despite how successful the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus) breeding program has been, they remain critically endangered in the wild and threatened with lead poisoning and habitat loss, among other issues. 

Both teachers highly recommend this program, and encourage parents to visit the San Diego Safari Park. Conservation is a global issue, but it plays out in local environments. Understanding how science can be used to investigate and address the issues can help empower students, and adults, to take action, even on the smallest scale.


Connecting Handwork to the Bigger Picture


Jessica Di Francesco, a Lower Elementary Teacher at Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) recently attended a four day Elementary Alumni Association (EAA) training whose focus this year was handwork, specifically wool, cotton, silk and calligraphy. Di Franceso explained the importance of connecting everything you do in a Montessori setting to the bigger picture: “bringing handwork back to the children's discovery and letting them take that journey and the idea of practice, provides an opportunity to relax and work with your hands instead of technology.”

The EAA training was held in Boulder, Colorado with ninety elementary certified Montessori instructors from all over the world, including places like Russia and Europe. Just like at VIMSIA, a special emphasis was placed on the importance of connecting elaborate handmade projects to the bigger picture. Attendees studied a sample Montessori album, created by the instructor, which was filled with various lessons.

“My biggest takeaway was the importance of connecting the handwork to our human story” commented Di Francesco. "One of the theories of how felt was discovered involved a shepherd, going around the hills a long time ago, in Mesopotamia era, with his sheep walking all day long with very uncomfortable shoes. At some point, it’s presumed the shepherd took some fleece from a sheep and placed it in the shoes to line them and make it softer. Without knowing, as he walked around the fleece was wet and pressed, creating felt" added Di Francesco.

Ms. Di Francesco looks forward to a fun-filled year of education handwork with her students.


Design Inspiration Sparked Abroad

 Truax and her parents in front of the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Truax and her parents in front of the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

 Upper Canada College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Upper Canada College in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Summertime is known for beaches, family trips and relaxation, but for many teachers like Jamie Truax, it’s the perfect time to take professional development courses. Truax, a Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy (VIMSIA) Mathematics and Design teacher, recently attended the Middle Years Programme Level 2 Training in Toronto, Canada. The training hosted over 200 attendees and was held at Upper Canada College, an all-boys boarding school.

The training led by John Sweetman, was broken up into three separate sessions over the course of two and a half days and touched upon various websites, resources, and ideas for teaching design in the Middle Years Programme. “Design can be broken into two different subject areas Tactile Design and Web Design which are both project based” Truax explained. “Sweetman provided great examples which has greatly inspired me and brought on some great ideas for design this year” she added. Truax noted how much emphasis Sweetman placed on the importance of being an IB learner and incorporating those traits into the design units. 

For many teachers like Truax, international professional development opportunities open the doors for collaboration, networking and an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at their program. Truax thanks VIMSIA for their dedication and support of their teachers. 

Working Hard at Staff Week


Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy staff were welcomed back on Monday, August 13, 2018, by the administrative team for Staff Week. The day began with opening remarks by Head of School, Michael Bornn, whose speech revolved around this year's theme "Meraki" - a Greek word meaning to do something with love, soul and creativity, to leave a piece of yourself in your work, and to leave something behind. 

Staff members have been hard at work diligently preparing their materials, rearranging furniture and adding final touches to lesson plans.



FREE Ticket to VIMSIA's Las Vegas Night!

599158146 header.jpg

Black Jack, Bingo, Poker and Roulette are just some of the many attractions at Las Vegas Night, Virgin Islands Montessori School & Peter Gruber International Academy's (VIMSIA) signature fundraising event and the island's most glamorous event luring crowds from all three Virgin Islands. This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, December 1, 2018 from 7PM-2AM. Community members interested in free admission can sign-up to volunteer online. As a small token of appreciation, a FREE ticket will be given to volunteers who work either four hours before the event or two hours during the event. For more information, please email