MCS Families – Dave DeHarde

By Al Daniel

After winning the 2018 Chili Cook-off (his Reggae chili recipe won by one point), Dave DeHarde was too under the weather to defend his crown the next year. (As it happened, the 2019 competition culminated in a three-way tie.)

With that said, Dave relishes every chance to join his wife and sons at MCS events. “I really do enjoy getting to be around the families in such a different environment,” said Dave. “It’s really just a great time to get to see everyone let their hair down a little.”

Or, as was the case at the last PTO auction, let his hair be shaved off. That stunt, which was several months of growing out in the making, fetched $750 in February.

On these occasions, Dave is proof that MCS dishes up ample opportunity for MCS students, faculty, families, and friends alike to express themselves and learn from one another creatively. It did not take him long to realize he wanted a Montessori education for his own children.

“From the first time I visited a Montessori classroom in the summer of 2002, I knew I wanted my children to attend one,” he said. “This was before I was a Montessori teacher, a husband, or a father.”

Speaking of himself and his wife, he added, “It was our hope that both boys would gain a sense of independence. I am glad to say that our expectations were met. As I child, I often struggled with expressing myself the way I wanted.

“When I became a parent, it was very important to me that my boys feel comfortable being who they are and making more decisions for themselves when appropriate. I have to tell you, one of my proudest moments as a parent is that we are able to give them this gift. I really owe that to the Montessori philosophy.”

From the Montessori method in general to the facilities and programs at MCS, Dave had experience before his sons started benefitting. He started in his hometown at the Greensboro Montessori School, teaching Primary from 2002 to 2006, then Lower Elementary for three years.

After a short hiatus defined by homesickness in northern Virginia, he brought his familiarity with the philosophy and its implementation to MCS. In 2012, then-Head of School Cathy Constantine took note of his qualifications and his fondness for North Carolina and appointed him Toddler and Primary Program Director.

He subsequently rose to his current post as Assistant Head of School for Facilities and Operations. In addition to his responsibilities and hours, two crucial aspects of his working here have grown.

On one of those points, he said, “I can honestly say that the administration team is the strongest and most comfortable with one another that it has ever been in my time at MCS. I believe we have really reached a level of understanding and camaraderie with one another. It has made the time away from home still feel like an extension of my own family.”

Which raises the second point. Dave’s own family is now on campus, starting with eldest son Xavier (aka “X”), then with younger son Abel. This academic year is Dave’s eighth on the faculty, and both of his boys have been students here for half of that time.

“It is kind of hard to remember what it was like before they were ever here,” he admits.

With X in Lower Elementary and Abel in Primary, the DeHarde boys are in different sections of the campus throughout the school day. But a perk of Dave’s position is the opportunity for a timely stroll past the playground.

“The fact that I am in contact with their teachers,” he added, “and can ask how their days are going is a nice bonus to being a school administrator.”

The benefits of studying under the Montessori method also have a way of seeping into one’s endeavors outside of school. Case in point: X’s exponential progress through five summers of swimming lessons.

“He never really perfected it,” said Dave, “but every summer, he got a little better and more confident. This past summer, he just took off and started swimming.

“I think, much like education, he just needed some time. He had to figure out what was the best way for him. Just because an instructor says, ‘Do this with your arm and leg,’ does not make you a swimmer. You have to get in there and work at it. That is exactly what he did.

“It reminded me a lot of how students learn at MCS. They are all different. There is no magic equation that you can plug in and the child is just going to learn. They and the teacher have to get there and do it by finding the method that works best for that child.”

Back on campus, both of the DeHarde sons will soon have new privileges in store.

Dave has a hunch Abel is eager to move on from mandated naps during the school day. Looking ahead for X, overnight field trips cast a bright beacon of anticipation.

And then, by 2026, after being a spectator and listener for each of 13 previous eighth-year graduations and a guitarist for some, Dave will also be a proud parent in the audience. Professionally speaking, that event is already the annual hallmark for him, where “It always amazes me how poised and heartfelt their speeches are.”

“Every year while the graduates are speaking,” he said, “I think what it will be like when X and Abel are standing up there talking about all their experiences, adventures, and saying their farewell to the community. It seems so far away. However, on those graduation nights in 2026 and 2030, I am sure it will feel like it went by in a flash.”

But for now, it might help to remember that X still has more than half of his MCS eligibility left, and another whole summer separates him from the overnight trip to Chestnut Ridge.