When Dr. Warren Carroll founded Christendom College, one of the principal inspirations behind it was to create a school free to teach the truths of the Catholic faith without intrusion. That idea — to teach students in way that bucks the norm — lies at the heart of the John XXIII Montessori Children’s Center as well. John XXIII exists to guide and nurture children from the age of 1 to 15 years old to grow in fulfillment of the seed planted within them by God. Today, it is staffed primarily by Christendom alumni who are there to give to children the same level of personal attention they received as students at Christendom.

John XXIII is one of a handful of Catholic Montessori schools within the Diocese of Arlington and was founded to assist children according to their needs in order that they may reach their fullest potential. The school, now in its fifteenth year, has been growing steadily, and attracting many Christendom alumni children to its classrooms. What once was a small start-up school, run out of Human Life International, now has its own campus in Front Royal, with John XXIII providing a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Atrium, an Atrium plus Academics program for ages 3-6 and 6-12, and a White Oaks Middle School for ages 12-15.

Alumni pictured: top, left to right, Michelle Castellan and Elizabeth Powell. Bottom, left to right, Susan Hibl and Sarah Mason.

Executive director and founder Laura Accetullo, whose two brothers, John and Matthew Cuddeback attended Christendom, runs the center and has been responsible for hiring many Christendom alumni as staff members over the years.

Alumna Michelle Castellan ’87, who has sent two of her daughters to Christendom thus far, is the primary program lead guide and catechist in the Atrium, guiding ages 3-6. All of her children have attended John XXIII, and she has been a part of it since 2005.

Jessica Meza ’05, who first became introduced to the work of Maria Montessori and the Montessori method through Christendom’s teaching practicum course, is a Friday Level I Atrium Catechist and a White Oaks catechist for John XXIII.

Montessori encourages an education based on respecting children’s needs based on their age, a unique educational model that demands a high level of personal attention from guides. At Christendom, students are used to receiving a high level of personal attention as well — not in the Montessori method, but in a manner that is similar in the sense that they can be helped one on one, rather than treated as just a number in the crowd. Such a background assists alumni in Montessori schools, such as John XXIII, making alumni perfect for it.

In the White Oaks middle school, students take on hands-on endeavors, from construction to even bee-keeping. (Photo Credit: John XXIII Montessori)

Alumna Colleen Hencken ’99 joined the staff recently, after stints at Siena Academy and Mountain Laurel Montessori School. She is now the elementary lead guide.

Elizabeth Powell ’08 joins Hencken in the Atrium as the Monday Level I Atrium catechist and the Thursday Mommy & Me guide while Susan Hibl ’90 serves as the Tuesday and Friday Level II-III Atrium Catechist at John XXIII.

Sarah Mason ’07, who also works in Christendom’s library, is an adolescent guide at White Oaks Middle School, and has taught humanities, language arts, SAT prep, and math at the middle and high school level.

John XXIII was created to give students an education that cannot be found in a public school — similar to Christendom’s own creation. It is no wonder that so many alumni, educated with the tools to be great educators, have been a part of it, from its creation to today. Although Christendom College does not offer degrees in education, its alumni are in high demand for teaching positions based on their solid background in the liberal arts, their dedication to the Faith and truth, and their outwardly joyful personalities.

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