Kahn Mason Award

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Hilltop Montessori School honors outstanding contributions to the school with the Kahn Mason Award.

In 2017, Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason were the namesakes and first recipients of the award. This award is to honor those in our school community who truly leave their mark on our school as Wolf and Emily have done, not only with philanthropic contributions, but also gifts of talent and time.

2024 Co-Recipient

Cheryl Matthews

When we think about Hilltop’s Children’s House program, we cannot do it without thinking of Cheryl. Cheryl Matthews is the pillar of what the Children’s House program is today, making Hilltop Montessori School a unique and special place for education. She started working at Hilltop as a teacher in 1986, and since then, every morning, no matter the season or weather, she has always been here early preparing her classroom for her students.

“I started working here thinking that I would do this job just for a few years, and look at me now, 38 years later, I am still here thinking about the lessons for tomorrow,” she said, laughing of course.

Cheryl embodies the observation that is so vital to Montessori – seeing not just what her students are ready to learn, but what methods of learning work best for their unique minds. Her classroom is a living example of her commitment to Montessori education. The shelves in her classroom tell the stories of the many years that Cheryl has dedicated to not just adding pre-made Montessori works but creating them herself, based on her many passions and interests, and those of her students. 

The Birch Room has been the home and classroom to many generations of Vermonters who have received, from Cheryl, great Montessori lessons, listened to mind-expanding storybooks, received warm and comforting hugs, and even those firm reminders about the behavior expected in and out of the classroom. At the same time, Cheryl has become a mentor for many who have become part of Hilltop and contributed to Montessori education. She is a role model to us all in how she presents loving guidelines.       

After all these years, Cheryl’s legacy is not limited to the Birch Room or even the Children’s House program, but she has had a huge impact on the community, culture, and identity of what Hilltop is today.

2024 Co-Recipient

Tom Griffith

Tom Griffith has been a critical part of Hilltop Montessori School and the pun-filled, loving cornerstone of the Upper Elementary teaching team since 1994. During the more than 30 years of dedication to the school, Tom has built the culture and identity of this program, with the help of several teaching partners. In the early years of working at Hilltop, Tom came to work with his two children, Evan and Claire, who were students at Hilltop. Even though they graduated many moons ago, Tom has continued to arrive to work to accompany many generations of Upper Elementary students who enjoy listening to his stories, lessons, and jokes.

Tom’s passion for theater, music, science, woodworking, and math, and his international experiences, are clearly translated into what he has shared through the lessons he gives at school. Performing arts and music has been a key approach for encouraging students to understand and reflect on the history, science, art, and math lessons through the elaboration of the student plays and poetry performances. Adapting the concepts and knowledge of the many lessons given during the school year, in imaginary scenes accompanied with the melody of popular songs, allowed Upper Elementary students to share with the Hilltop community (students and families) what they have been learning during the year and what they stand for at that time.

If there is one element of Montessori methodology that can define Tom’s teaching style, it would be teaching practical life skills. His passion for woodworking and science has allowed students to get their hands on building and physically exploring their assigned projects. Students have constructed caddies, tool boxes, and the wood-carving of a Celtic knot, all from wood scraps, applying mathematical and scientific concepts. He has helped his students develop new skills and understand how they can apply them in real life. The curiosity the students expressed when Tom gave anatomy lessons using actual chicken and sheep organs from his farm, demonstrates how passionate Tom is about teaching. 

During all these years, Tom has shown a way of connecting with people that makes them feel like they matter and that their thoughts and concerns are valid. Students and adults alike can leave an interaction with Tom, feeling that they have a special connection. Such a connection, of course, has lots to do with how Tom shows up to the world and the intentionality of how he implements his lessons and activities. The Pinnacle overnight and the three-day trip at the end of the school year, based at Tom’s house at the base of the mountain, have been a landmark of connection and friendship among students and teachers through all these years.

As most of us know, Tom expressed his desire to retire from his long-standing dedication to teaching at Hilltop a few years ago, but love for what he does paused leaving and gave Hilltop a few more years of his company. The time has come (this time for real), and we need to accept it, but we can’t say just goodbye to someone who has dedicated his soul to who we are as a school. Tom’s departure after more than 30 years of dedication to education at Hilltop is a life lesson for all of those who remain and follow his lead. 

2023 Recipient

Jay Cook

Jay, or “Baba Jay,” as most of us got used to calling him in the past few years, has been the heart of Hilltop’s music program for nearly three decades, bringing Hilltop’s rhythm and beat to where it is today. 

From the Toddler program morning circles, Children’s House dancing and drumming, Lower Elementary singing and instrument exploration, through Upper Elementary instrumental work and collaboration with the musicals, to our highly anticipated and celebrated weekly All School Gatherings, Jay encouraged and inspired our students to go beyond their musical expectations. 

If not walking, Jay always arrived on his bike at school with big smiles and good mornings that warmed the souls and days of his colleagues and students at Hilltop, even during those cold winter days.   

Jay’s interest in world music and commitment to social justice brought to Hilltop a deep exposure and understanding of the musical forms and rhythms from other parts of the world, providing an invitation and opportunity for students and the community to explore the social and cultural diversity of the world through the lens and joy of music.

We are so appreciative of all that Jay has brought to our community for 27 years! Even while recovering from his stroke last year, he joined our younger classes for singing and dancing. Jay has been music at Hilltop and we love and appreciate him for all he has been in our community. 

2022 Recipient

Paul Dedell

Paul Dedell joined Hilltop Montessori School first as a parent volunteer when his daughter Sydney began as a middle school student. In 1998 he began to work more officially helping with the “performance” which has continued to be a spectacular component of the MS curriculum, enabling students to demonstrate their creative understanding of the full year’s curriculum through musical compositions, theatrics, and more. Paul soon took on the Humanities teacher role and by 2003 was the MS Director. Through his leadership, Hilltop’s Middle School became one of the first authentic, fully enrolled Montessori Middle Schools in the country, and has remained the bow on the package of a Hilltop Montessori School educational experience. 

Paul’s passion for the American Naturalists, the Civil Rights movement, singing, and composing, along with his high standards for student writing, have been mainstays of our program. In his more than 24 years with our school, he has been a steady hand directing the Middle School. 

The culminating event of the middle school’s Civil Rights Movement study was always a trip to Alabama – to meet the people who were part of the movement then and now.  Paul connected the class with amazing historical and contemporary figures – from Rev. Congressman John Lewis to Charlie Lucas (also known as “The Tin Man”). Paul was presented with a Charlie Lucas original work as part of the Khan Mason award this year.  This painting was acquired directly from The Tin Man himself at his amazingly eclectic studio in Pink Lily, Alabama. The Tin Man named this work “The Wheel of Time” which fits so well with Paul’s consistent message that the hope and responsibility to carry on this work resides in each one of us.

And, he has left with the program in good hands. He mentored and trained the team to continue and they will evolve the curriculum and the program further, as he always worked to do. 

2021 Recipient (retroactively awarded in 2022)

Lauren Campbell

Lauren became a part of Hilltop Montessori School when she and her family moved to Brattleboro in 1992. In 1995 she began working at the Front Desk and immediately became the central hub of the school when it was located on Maple Street. After Lauren’s first year in administration, Tonia Wheeler, founding Head of School, wrote, “I have been grateful, grateful for all the wondrous miracles Lauren has wrought at Hilltop this year. It is such a relief to have systems that actually work, to be able to find what I need – and better to know I can ask her for anything! . Above all it is simply a pleasurable experience to work with  Lauren .  . . a huge thanks for her presence!”

In 2001 Lauren began as the first Admissions Director and developed the department from the ground up. She analyzed every enrollment and class configuration with love and care, acknowledging the complexities of each class makeup and balancing the needs of the budget with a variety of educational considerations. 

When Tamara Mount started as Head of School in 2013, Lauren was invaluable in supporting her move into the role. Tamara remembers Lauren helping her get settled both personally and professionally, and is eternally grateful for all the support she provided. “Lauren is amazingly capable and humble, wanting to work behind the scenes and make the school shine. Though she was in the admissions role for 20 years, she continued to analyze the school’s position in the market with fresh eyes and was always on the lookout for more opportunities to reach additional families. She continually strove to determine how we as a school could welcome a broader spectrum of children. In 2018 she took on a complete reconfiguration of our financial support to families by developing our “Indexed Tuition” program. This was a reframing of our financial aid to acknowledge and better publicize the school and state funding that we were increasingly using to enable more families to access our authentic Montessori education.”

For years, Lauren has been the “institutional glue” and historical knowledge base for all things Hilltop. Her memory for alum families has been invaluable over the years, especially now as we embark on the preparations for our 50th Anniversary celebrations. 

Lauren segued out of her Admissions Director role during the 2020-21 school year, transitioning her responsibilities to Zoe Proctor. Lauren has known Zoe from her birth through graduating Hilltop, moving out in the world, and then returning and growing into the Admissions role. “I have known Lauren my entire life, and am grateful to have been able to build such a multifaceted relationship with her over the years. I so appreciate her unwavering and long-standing dedication to Hilltop and its community, and everything that comes along with that – much of which has been vital to the success of the school and gone unseen by most. I could not have asked for a better mentor during my transition to Admissions!” 

During COVID, Lauren snuck out without much of a retirement acknowledgement, and now we are stepping up to honor Lauren in this way. With deep appreciation for ALL Lauren has done for Hilltop, we thank Lauren Campbell! Hilltop would not be where or what it is today without her.

2019 Recipient

The Copper Beech Foundation, INC

A Hilltop family through their Copper Beech Foundation have been amazing supporters of Hilltop Montessori School. Beginning in 2011 with the donation and installation of sound proofing panels in the classrooms of our main building, Dave Snyder and his family have been transformative for our school. His parents visited the school in 2012 as we were embarking on the Arts Barn project. Their donation made the dream of a state-of-the-art theater, gymnasium, and music room possible. Through the Copper Beech Foundation the family also contributes annually to our operating budget. They have also given donations that enabled us to pay off our mortgage on the buildings and get a significant start on our goal of a $5M endowment. All of this financial support has a significant impact on our annual operating budget and enables us to help “level the playing field” and support an increased economic diversity in our student population.

Clearly these gifts have been transformative and we would not be able to provide our programs and facilities to our population of families without the support they have given and continue to give.
To honor them, we planted a copper beech tree that will grow to enhance the view from the Middle School and from the hill where we traditionally hold the Peace Day Ceremony in September, and the Bead Ceremony in June. In keeping with the Bead Ceremony, where we celebrate each group completing their three year program, we had the Olders from CH, LE, UE, and MS take part in planting the tree. The MS graduates dug the whole, the UE graduates placed the tree in the hole, the LE graduates filled in around the tree, and the CH graduates watered the newly planted tree. It was a community event in celebration and gratitude to all the Snyders have made possible here at Hilltop Montessori School.
2018 Recipient

Tonia Wheeler

In May of 2018, Hilltop celebrated our founding Head of School, Tonia Wheeler, with the Kahn Mason Award for Outstanding Contribution to Hilltop Montessori School. Tonia served as Head of School between 1984 and 2005. Tonia supported Hilltop through tremendous growth with humble beginnings. Tonia, along with a passionate group of parents, assisted to ensure the growth of Hilltop during these early days. She also raised our consciousness to realize that teachers and staff were the heart of what made Hilltop special. She continues to support our dedicated staff, through the Wheeler Fund, which financially supports teachers as they pursue a particular project, cause, or passion – a legacy that will endure far into the future. We appreciate and celebrate all Tonia has contributed throughout the years.
2017 Recipients

Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason

In 2008, the school was desperate to find a new location to set down roots. Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason donated the money to purchase the spectacular 43 acre parcel off of Guilford Street in Brattleboro. This donation jump started the capital campaign and building project that set the school off into a new era. With their generosity the school was able to fully embody the name “Hilltop”! The grounds and facilities grew to match the dedicated staffing and solid, authentic Montessori curriculum that had been hallmarks of HMS. We are so grateful for the campus that enable our prepared indoor and outdoor environments at each program level. 

In addition to the game changing gift that facilitated the move to the new home, the Kahn Mason Foundation has, over the years, granted significant funds to Hilltop for art education, programs, and supplies. An annual or bi-annual grant enables the school to provide trips to the Latchis, visiting artists working in residence, in addition to regular replenishment of printing supplies, painting materials, and more. 
In 2017, the first presentation of the Kahn Mason Award for Outstanding Contribution to Hilltop Montessori School was made to Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason. An award ceremony, complete with a show including puppets made in the likenesses of the recipients, acknowledged and celebrated our appreciation for the contributions of Wolf and Emily.