Mazing Around Wayside Farm

Mazing Around Wayside Farm

Wayside Farm Fun debuts this fall with a 10-acre corn maze, pumpkin patch, hay rides, and much, much more.

The corn maze at Wayside Farm.

Story and photos by Jennifer Lee

Take a flat, open piece of prime farmland. Put it next to a busy highway. Add a family that’s been farming it for over 50 years. Mix in a young farming entrepreneur, a healthy dose of ambition and imagination, and a lot of prep work. This very recipe has cooked up Wayside Farm Fun, home of that angry bird sitting next to Route 7 and Clarke County’s newest destination for farm and family entertainment.

Wayside Farm Fun opens September 21, providing families a plentitude of activities in a farm setting with 180-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In addition to a 10-acre corn maze welcoming children and adults, there will be hayrides around the farm, a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, pig races, a combine slide, a pedal tractor track, rubber duck races, a straw pyramid, concessions, and more to enjoy on a weekend fall day. “We hope families will spend four or five hours with us,” said Mark Shenk, who co-owns and operates Wayside Farm. “There is plenty for everyone to do and see.”

Kenneth ‘Peanut’ and Phyllis Shenk bought Wayside Farm in 1960 from Hobson McGee, whose uncle owned Audley Farm at one time, and raised beef cattle, corn, wheat, soybeans, and hay for over 40 years with help from their sons Philip and Mark. After graduating from Virginia Tech, both returned to the family farm and were actively involved in the farm operation until a few years ago. “The cattle paid for our college,” Mark says. Mr. Shenk died in 2004, Mrs. Shenk in 2008, and Philip and Mark pursued work outside the farm. The cattle were sold about ten years ago, but corn, beans, and hay continued to be harvested from the 120-acre farmstead.

Meanwhile, Tyler Wegmeyer and his wife Harriet, who both grew up on dairy farms in northern Michigan and New York, respectively, were cultivating 25 acres near Hamilton in Loudoun County. “I’ve grown pumpkins since I was eight years old, and just always loved it,” Tyler said. “I used to sell them by the truckload back home.” After he and Harriet went out to purchase a couple of pumpkins to carve one autumn—and were floored by how expensive they were—Tyler determined he would grow his own pumpkins again the following year in 2002. Over ten years later, they now raise strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and three young children, in addition to the pumpkins on their pick-your-own farm. (Their children are not part of the pick-your-own offerings.)

Tyler met Philip Shenk through their involvement with the Virginia Farm Bureau, and they began talking last year about growing pumpkins on Wayside Farm. Then Tyler and his wife went on a cruise, but not the kind where you lie by the pool or buy souvenirs from exotic beachside markets. This was a crash course in all things “corny,” dedicated to creating a destination for families to learn about and enjoy a real farm environment, with some jollies thrown in.

MAiZE, Inc. was founded by a young farmer, Brett Herbst, in Utah in 1996, and has since helped design over 2,000 cornfield mazes around the world and amassed several hundred member farmers who are given the tools and counsel to establish their own mazes. The cruise curriculum included maze layout and design, free kid-friendly activities, marketing, and networking with other corn maze farmers. Also on that cruise were the Wegmeyer’s farmer friends at Dan-D Farms in Knoxville, Iowa.

“You have to have a theme for your maze,” Tyler explains. “When we got back [from the cruise], we started throwing around ideas, most of which revolved around something agricultural. ‘No, no, no,’ my 7-year-old son, Torsten, said. ‘You should do an Angry Birds maze!’ Well, kids know a lot more than adults do a lot of the time, especially about what kids like.” Tyler added that this whole experience allows adults to be big kids and use their imaginations, too.

The Wegmeyers in Virginia and Dan-D Farms in Iowa conspired to link mazes, with the angry bird taking off from Berryville and landing in Knoxville. It is unknown how long that journey will take, but visitors to Wayside Farm Fun will be given free admission to greet the bird upon its arrival and enjoy Dan-D Farms should they find themselves in Knoxville, Iowa this fall. “This is the first inter-state maze I know of that is linked in this way,” Tyler said.

The cornstalks at Wayside are now at least nine feet tall, dense and fat, standing proudly over the ten acres and several miles of winding trails that comprise the maze. There is an “easy” maze phase that takes 20 to 40 minutes to complete and a “hard” phase that takes 40-60 minutes. Along the route, maze walkers will be presented with a variety of questions, either about agriculture or Angry Birds, and must answer correctly to proceed on the right path. There will also be a smart phone app available that can help steer those so inclined, but instincts may prevail over technology on this assignment.

The Shenk brothers will be giving hayrides around the farm, talking about its history and telling other sundry tales. Apple the Goat will be climbing a specially-designed “goatwalk” to reach his prize of treats supplied by spectators below. Four or five piglets will race around a newly-constructed track “that will take them about 45 seconds,” Mark laughed. A pyramid of straw will give youngsters another place to play and burrow. Neighbor farmer Wade Louthan provided his combine to give kids a chance to climb into the tall cab and sit behind the wheel, then slide down an attached slide. And a couple of large galvanized water troughs, two old-fashioned water pumps, and a series of tubing have been turned into a racing stream for rubber ducks.

“We’ve always been thrifty,” Mark says, pointing to the fact that much of the infrastructure and props for the activities have come from the farm or been donated by neighbors and friends. Looking around the barn playground, one can see many examples of adaptive reuse, all of which contribute to the authentic look and feel of the experience. And it’s truly a family affair. Mark’s wife Beth will be greeting visitors to the farm store where a variety of children’s toys related to the maze and farm will be for sale. Philip’s wife Theresa was driving posts from the tractor for the pig racetrack during a recent visit. Tyler’s wife Harriet and their three kids have contributed ideas, inspiration, and plenty of sweat equity. All will be on hand during operating hours, greeting visitors, serving concessions, supervising activities, and making sure everyone is safe and happy. Pizza, barbecue, kettle corn, and soft drinks will be available for purchase.

For those just wanting to find the perfect jack-o-lantern, there are over 20 varieties of pumpkins planted over nine acres to pick from, grown by the Wegmeyers. Pumpkins sell by the pound and no admission fee is required for people just wanting to pick up a pumpkin or three.

So slip on your boots, gather your kids and inner-child spirit, and come out for a full day of fun on the farm.


Wayside Farm Fun, located at 5273 Harry Byrd Highway east of Berryville, opens September 21 and will be open weekends (Friday-Sunday) from 10am to 6pm until November 3. Admission is $10/person; kids 2 and under free. No pets, please.

Admission to the pick-your-own pumpkin patch is free; pumpkins are sold by the pound. For information, visit or e-mail

Preserving History and Restoring Nature at Cool Springs

Preserving History and Restoring Nature at Cool Springs

Shenandoah University’s plans for Civil War property keep the focus on low-impact educational activities

The Shenandoah University campus at Cool Spring Battlefield.

Colleen Lentile

On any given day, passers-by could walk by Shenandoah University’s main campus in Winchester and see students and nearby residents wandering about, using the property as their own. Those same students and locals now can be found on SU’s fifth campus, the River Campus, located at the Cool Springs Battlefield on the Shenandoah River in Clarke County.

Cool Springs, once the Virginia National Golf Course, was given to SU through an easement with the Civil War Battlefield Trust in April 2013. The easement guarantees a perpetual conservation plan—but the specifics about how the land will be managed, and for whose benefit, was a matter for the university to determine. SU’s current plans for the property include an “outdoor classroom” for their students, focusing on the educational assets that come along with the property, including the historical, environmental, and cultural aspects of the land.

From a conservation perspective, the most compelling element is the ground’s Civil War history. On July 17–18, 1864, only seven days after the Battle of Fort Stevens, Confederate Lt . Gen. Jubal Early left Washington, D.C., and retreated into the Shenandoah Valley. Upon President Lincoln’s request, Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright followed in pursuit of Early and his men, who were left without Gen. Robert E. Lee and his soldiers. With Brig. Gen. George Crook’s army by his side, Wright led 10,500 men after Early. Wright caught up with Early at Snickers Ferry and the two sides collided near Cool Springs, leaving approximately 800 casualties.

The university’s Cool Springs project, now nicknamed “Shenandoah on the Shenandoah,” is overseen by the Dean of the College of Arts and Science, Dr. Calvin Allen. He says he is in constant communication with everyone involved in the project, insuring that current activities run smoothly and future activities are planned in accordance with the easement and the university’s education mission. Onsite management is carried out by Gene Lewis, the Cool Springs property steward and manager, and T. Grant Lewis, the Cool Springs program director. Allen plans to incorporate the property into student life programs, including the outdoor leadership.

The school says it’s also working closely with the Clarke County communities around Cool Springs, including the Holly Cross Abbey and the Shenandoah Retreat, and Clarke County and regional historical groups. The residents of the Retreat have the same access as others and received the code to the locked gates when the project began with SU.

The Shenandoah Retreat Land Corporation board of directors remains positive about the situation as well: “[We have] enjoyed proactive and positive communications with Shenandoah University,” said a member of the Retreat’s board. Just like anytime you get a new neighbor in your neighborhood, there is a ‘get-to-know-you’ period, and we reserve concerns for our community. We are pleased to find that the university and the Retreat have mutual interests in fostering a long-term relationship.”

T. Grant Lewis says the university tries to be a good neighbor. They are aware of the noise that they create; they try to keep in contact with the residents around them, and will enforce the 15mph speed limit in the Retreat. They also are only using one road, Parker Lane off of Route 7, for access into Cool Springs.

There are two structures at Cool Springs: the Clubhouse, which is the only historical building on the property, and one small pavilion. There are a few gravel parking lots, a walking path, and 195 acres of open land and river.

Allen, Lewis, and Lewis told the Observer improvements include some interpretive signs describing historical significance, but there are no plans for construction except for a few outbuildings like rest rooms and a covered weather shelter. Lewis and Lewis also mention that they personally don’t want to see anything built there.

Cool Springs is now open to students and the public from dawn until dusk every day, with exceptions for events like star gazing. Everyone at Shenandoah University stresses that while the public is welcome, Cool Springs is not a park—it is a natural area of historical significance. “It’s not a free-for-all,” said T. Grant Lewis, commenting on student access to the land.

Cool Spring’s rules and regulations are posted on signs placed about the property. No hunting, firearms, or metal detectors are permitted. Lewis and Lewis are putting their trust in SU students and the public to respect the Cool Springs property and adjacent neighborhoods.

“Cool Springs will have the same openness as our campus,” said Dr. Allen, referring to the citizens that walk and bike on the main campus in Winchester.

“The overall goal is to get the property back to what it was in the 1860s,” said Dr. Allen. Specifically, there will be no golf course. Cool Springs will be managed as a nature reserve.

Lewis and Lewis refer to the Cool Springs property as a “wonderful gift,” hoping that the students and community will “connect to the land,” referring to recent trends in which young people have little or no contact with nature and, as a result, have little appreciation for it.

For Grant Lewis, the long term future of the landscape is what’s most important. He says it will take collaboration and community support to take care of Cool Springs in perpetuity. “Why don’t we get together to protect this place?” he said.

The SU community is already enjoying the Cool Springs land. Recently the Class of 2017 ventured there for a program; and the university’s resident assistants and resident directors had an outdoor retreat there.

While Allen, Lewis, and Lewis all play different roles in determining the future of Cool Springs, each shares a sense of passion about making it work for the community and the resources protected by the easement. They admit to learning as they go, and say that addressing public concerns is not a one-time thing—it will be part of the ongoing management of Cool Springs.

Ultimately, say Lewis and Lewis, they hope that the students of Shenandoah University and the communities around Cool Springs will “take ownership for this place,” and help the land rehabilitate itself, in a community effort to pay it forward for the generations to come.

Beating Back The Dam

The seldom told story of an idea to flood Clarke County by building a chain of dams along the Shenandoah and Potomac

By Colleen Lentile

Imagine driving through Berryville or Boyce and instead of seeing the vast, beautiful countryside speckled with farms and historic landmarks, you see water. Lots of water that covered acres of once bountiful land. Hard to imagine? It certainly was for the citizens of Clarke County in 1945 when they learned of Washington’s plans to dam the Shenandoah River, flooding thousands of acres in this and other neighboring counties.

In February 1945, during the Second World War, citizens of Clarke County became aware of the War Department Office of Engineers’ proposal to create fourteen dams along the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. One of these dams was to be constructed in Millville, West Virginia. If the proposal were accepted by Congress, the plan was to build the dams within the first 20 years after the war ended. And since Millville, in Jefferson County, is so close to Clarke County, making a dam there would greatly affect the land along the Shenandoah in Clarke County.

The initial idea behind the proposed dam was brought on by Washington’s fear of a repeat of the flooding that occurred in 1936 and 1942. Those floods destroyed wide swaths of city and countryside over several states. Planners wanted to safeguard the Washington area and surrounding counties. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., a Berryville native, arranged for a representative to stay at the George Washington Hotel in Winchester, so that the representative could receive the maps and data from Washington and report back to the landowners that would be affected by the dam.

Throughout February, the surveys of the land that could be compromised by the Millville Dam changed because the engineers had problems acquiring accurate maps, which left residents confused about what land was going to be obtained. Clarke County residents were mostly concerned about the costliness of the dam, both in economic and societal terms.

Close to 200,000 acres were being considered for the creation of all fourteen dams—8,000 acres in Clarke County were to be flooded or kept for potential flooding.  To put this into perspective, the water depth at Castleman’s Ferry, better known today as the public access to the Shenandoah River on River Road off Route 7, would be 120 feet.

Many families would have been displaced, and acres of fertile land would have been destroyed. Economically, taxes would be affected as land was removed from the tax roles. New bridges would be needed, too. The scope of issues mounted the more people considered the project.

Clarke residents became engrossed in the subject in late February and early March, requesting accurate surveys of the land that would be flooded through petitions that circulated throughout the county.

After an accurate survey was released, many citizens and organizations committed themselves to the opposition of the Millville Dam. Some of the organizations pointed out another disadvantage of the dam: its disruption to the beauty of the Shenandoah.

In an article published by the Courier on April 5, 1945, titled, “If The Dam Breaks,” J. Richardson wrote, “Have we come to such a pass in this truly great country of ours that ‘only the dollar counts’ when either Government, or very possibly heartless Shylocks, propose to literally wipe from human vision so much of God-created beauty by the massing of waters into a great inland lake?” Richardson also mentions Washington’s “lack of vision,” and refers to the possibility of a war-related attack on Washington breaking the dam and causing unnecessary harm to citizens and a waste of materials.

From the beginning, residents did not appreciate the deal. On February 15, 1945, in an article called The Dam at Millville, an angered citizen said, “The damages Washington has suffered through floods have been negligible, we believe . . . with only the low lands and areas bearing the brunt of overflowing rivers, and we are not being narrow-minded when we say we cannot see why Clarke County homes and farms have to be destroyed to save the tenement and river districts of Washington, or to furnish more electricity to an area that is already amply supplied, or will be after the war.”

People became even more enraged about the proposed dam when they learned why Washington really wanted to dam the Shenandoah. Thomas B. Byrd took the floor, leading the discussion. According to an article in the Courier printed on March 29, 1945, he said, “The proposed dam represented from 92 to 98 percent hydro-electric power, about two percent for flood control and other percentages for pollution and recreation.” Byrd meant that Washington was not so much afraid of possible flooding; they wanted to use the water in the Millville Dam and the other dams for electricity in their counties. Not to mention, the building of the dams would cost close to $300 million.

On April 3, 1945, 500 Clarke County citizens made the trip to Washington for a hearing. The Clarke community supported the citizens in their journey by cancelling school and closing some of the stores in town. The group met at the Interior building with a panel of seven men. There were at least 500 more residents in attendance there from Clarke’s surrounding counties, included Warren, Rockingham, Jefferson, and Loudoun.

Senator Byrd was one of the main speakers to defend Virginia and voice opposition to the dam on the Shenandoah. He was backed by Congressman A. Willis Robertson, Congressman Howard Smith, and T.E. Demaray, the associate director of the Interior Department’s National Park Service. Other representatives spoke for West Virginia and Maryland with as much passion as the other. West Virginia’s Senator Revercomb stated there was no support for the project in his state. Representative Randolph of West Virginia wrote to the President about the project.

Two days after the hearing, word came from Washington stating that the Board of Engineers “has ruled against the construction of all the dams proposed in the Potomac Basin.” The news travelled quickly, with the help of Senator Byrd.

The impact of this hearing was vital to the continuance of everyday life in Clarke County, which was taken into consideration by residents who offered their gratitude. In an editorial called The Last Chapter, published in the Courier on April 12, 1945, a thankful citizen shines a light on the dam committee that organized the citizen’s trip to Washington. The citizen also pays tribute to the delegates who helped them succeed at the hearing, referring to their actions as “the greatest public service ever performed.”

The Shenandoah River is one of Clarke County’s defining features. Looking back, the audacity of a plan hatched in Washington could be beaten back only by the matched determination and influence of county residents and their U.S. Senator. Perhaps even more remarkable than the scale of the plan is the speed by which it was dismantled.

In the words of the author of The Last Chapter, “For the time being, and for all time, we hope, the dam has been defeated.”

Surround Sound at Sono Luminus

by Jennifer Lee

Sitting in Daniel Shores’ office chair and listening to a recording made at Sono Luminus studio in Boyce is like seeing a 3-D movie for the first time. Seven precisely placed speakers articulate a depth and clarity of sound that transforms the listener to a cathedral filled with the enveloping sonic experience of a dizzying array of instruments and voices.

Shores, the managing director of Sono Luminus, explains that the nearly 100-year-old stone building where they are based in Boyce, formerly the Episcopal Emmanuel Chapel, offers a unique and compatible environment for the recordings they do. “The size, materials, ceiling height of the building—all play a role in creating the naturally resonant, acoustic sound we’re going for,” he says. Indeed, Sono Luminus records only acoustic music and vocals, specializing in classical and early music artists as well as jazz and contemporary takes on old tunes.

Consider, for example, the Grammy-nominated Modern Mandolin Quartet, a group that plays classical arrangements from Mozart to Dvorak as well as bluegrass and Italian folk songs—all on mandolins. Or DuoW, comprised of two Juilliard graduates on violin and cello, beautifully and fiercely performing songs like Yankee Doodle and Stars and Stripes Forever. Or El Mundo, a chamber group that performs Italian, Spanish, Latin, and American music from the 16th to 19th centuries. They, along with nearly 200 other artists, have all found a recording home at Sono Luminus, where each instrument and vocalization is placed around a minimal microphone array, each microphone corresponding to a single speaker, resulting in the 7.1 surround sound experience.

This type of recording gives the music a fullness and quality, “an extreme dynamic range,” as Shores describes it, that cannot be achieved with fewer channels and compression used by many recording studios. This quality conveys to the home listener, with all new Sono Luminus recordings available as a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc with a high-resolution stereo version, a 5.1, and 7.1 surround mix.

“We have developed a reputation for delivering stellar sound quality with a minimalistic approach,” said Shores. “Our biggest challenge is the work on the front end, capturing the sound from the beginning, getting the precision and quality, capturing the true performance and sound quality of the instrument.”

There is very little involved in post-production beyond editing. Once the first pass of editing is completed by Shores, the recording is sent to the artist for feedback. A second pass of editing is often required, “but that’s usually the last,” said Shores. He credits Sono Luminus’s producer Dan Merceruio for having a brilliant ear and sense of collaboration with artists. “If Dan says we have it, we have it,” Shores says, referring to the cut that is desired by the artist and is of the highest quality they can produce. “The producer is, in many ways, the captain of the ship. And the process requires copious notes and concentration.”

Shores and Merceruio are both graduates of Shenandoah University who began their careers at Sono Luminus as interns, in 1999 and 2006, respectively. Their collaboration has resulted in 19 Grammy nominations for artists on the Sono Luminus label in the last six years. In 2012, Merceruio was nominated for the Classical Producer of the Year GRAMMY. Shores was nominated for Best Engineered Classical Album and Best Surround Sound Production. The Sono Luminus label was awarded the GRAMMY for Best Engineered Classical Album in 2010 for “Quincy Porter: The Complete Viola Works” and the Latin GRAMMY for Best Classical Album in 2012.

“We are so humbled and honored for our peers to view us in that way. We don’t do albums for awards, we do them for the love of music, but these awards do help bolster public recognition of the quality of our recordings,” said Shores.

In 2005, Sono Luminus purchased the Dorian catalog, acquiring 400 titles of superb and unusual classical music from Baroque to Bach to Celtic, launching the studio as its own label. Sono Luminus has re-mastered the collection and re-released them as box sets. Steinway & Sons, the premier piano manufacturer, has recently contracted the studio to do many of its recordings.

So how did this award-winning studio with its exceptional tools, artistry, and catalog of performers find itself in Boyce? Sandy Lerner. In 1995, Lerner and Len Bosack, who together founded the Internet networking company Cisco Systems, turned their expertise in digital processing and affinity for music into an entrepreneurial mission to deliver a new level of recording fidelity, for both artists and listeners. Sono Luminus translates as “sound of light,” referring to their first recordings of glass instruments in the Bay area of California.

Lerner moved to Upperville, Va., over 15 years ago, and has since created and supported an array of enterprises dedicated to animal welfare, land preservation, and organic and humanely raised livestock. Ayrshire Farm has served as her home base, as it did for Sono Luminus for several years before Sono moving to Boyce in 2011. The old stone church, which had long been vacant and on the market, provided the space, acoustics, and environment conducive to producing first-class recordings.

Now, instead of a local congregation gathering on Sundays, the sprawling building located at the corner of Route 340 and West Main Street welcomes musicians and vocalists from around the United States and Europe, Turkey, Russia, and beyond. The chapel has been converted into a spare but meticulously outfitted recording studio, with the necessary acoustic screens, the highest quality microphones, a pre-amp, a separate room for the sound engineer and computer equipment, and a Steinway grand piano. There are no pews or pulpit, but there is an atmosphere of serenity and reverence here, perhaps due in part to the huge pipe organ that still stands above the front door.

The basement has been converted to office space to accommodate the staff of five. The main hall in the center of the building houses Shores’ office and editing room in its former balcony. Otherwise, the building has remained open. “We did keep one bowling alley lane clear,” assures Shores, referring to the bowling alley that at some point had been installed in the church’s basement. The building is still undergoing renovation—the roof was being repaired and interior ceiling was being caulked on this day.

“It’s been a great experience moving into this community,” said Shores. Despite an incredibly demanding recording and editing schedule, he said they have tried to be good neighbors to the businesses and residences in Boyce while maintaining the quiet and privacy required for the recordings. “One of our biggest challenges is external noise—the train, a car with its stereo cranked, a big truck rolling down 340,” he explained. But those challenges seem small compared to the resonance and elegant austerity they are able to capture in their recordings.

Shores says they would like to open the doors for a public tour in the near future, but there is still a lot of interior and exterior work to be completed before that can happen. Meanwhile, he and his staff have a busy recording schedule. In the next several weeks, they will be working with a piano and viola duo; a violin duo; a chamber orchestra; a solo piano virtuoso; orchestra with chorus; and string quartets. In the spring they will be working with GRAMMY-nominated ensemble Ars Lyrica, featuring Jamie Barton, an American mezzo-soprano opera singer who was recently awarded the Cardiff Singer of the World prize.

“The doors are always open for local, acoustic performers who are interested in recording,” said Shores. The time it takes from recording to CD varies, but typically takes four to six months to allow for scheduling, recording, editing, and mastering. “We have completed the process with four songs in one day, though,” he adds. “The fun yet sometimes frustrating thing is that there is no pinpointing, because there are so many variables involved.”

Since Shores started with Sono Luminus in 1999, he says the technology has gotten better and faster. “The quality of digital converters is better, the resolution is much higher. And we always use the highest quality tools in our production,” he said.

In summing up what Sono Luminus is all about, Shores enthused, “We strive to deliver to the home listener the best, most realistic musical experience. True performance fidelity, the unity of science and art.”

For more information on Sono Luminus, visit

Artful Innovation In The Village

A Visit to Duvall Designs Gallery

by Jennifer Lee

Contemporary art and modern furniture displayed in a cabin over two centuries old creates a distinctive congruence of form and function at the Duvall Designs Gallery in Millwood. Husband and wife Jay and Peggy Duvall opened the gallery in September 2012, and in just a year it has become a destination for local artists, tourists from the city, and people who love fine art in a relaxed, historic setting.

Sitting next to Locke Store, the building has been dated to 1805 according to dendrochronology (or tree ring) studies conducted in 2005 by owners Matthew and Juliet Mackay-Smith when they restored the building. The application submitted by architectural historian Maral Kalbian for the Millwood Commercial Historic District’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places states that, based on historical and architectural evidence, the small log building was a “buttery” or storage space for liquors. It was certainly part of Millwood’s 19th-century “industrial complex,” which included the Burwell-Morgan Mill, a tannery, and, by the 1830s, the store.

Clarke County resident, master woodworker, and homebuilder Jay Duvall says he had many conversations with the Mackay-Smiths about the building over the years. they all wanted to see it fixed up and a porch added to the front. Meanwhile, Duvall was making more and more of his handcrafted furniture from reclaimed wood, and needed a place to display and sell it. So, last summer he began applying his building and restoration skills to the old cabin, where he did everything at cost in exchange for rent. A beautifully restored cabin with exposed interior logs and a wide front porch welcomed its first customers in many decades last September.

One will find tables, chairs, benches, serving boards, and coffee tables made by Duvall in the cozy gallery. He crafts these from wood that has been salvaged from storm-damaged trees: “Odd bits that aren’t useful for production furniture,” explained Duvall. Walnut, cherry, and oak are the predominant woods utilized. “Walnut is my favorite,” he said. “I like the texture, the color, the high contrast grain between the sapwood (light) and the heartwood (dark).”

Interestingly, the imperfections in the wood are what inspire the piece it will become. A certain arrangement of knots or burls or rotted portions determine both form and function, and lend a degree of personality not seen in most furnishings. Adding even more zing, Duvall often incorporates stone and metal into his pieces, giving them a modern art feel that encapsulates the theme of the gallery: old charm and sophistication meets contemporary artistry.

Peggy Duvall brings the feminine, bright touch to the space, in both ambiance and presentation. Owner and operator of Twisted Oak Flower Farm, her artistry extends to design and a keen appreciation of art.

Both she and Jay wanted to create a space that not only showcased his furniture, but gave artists exposure and customers more diversity. Though the furniture commands most of the space, about 75 percent of the gallery’s offerings are paintings, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and fine woodworking made by local artists. Pieces from between two and four artists are available at any one time, with the inventory rotating on an almost monthly basis.

During August and September, abstract dimensional art by Mercedes Kerr Stainken, wood sculptures by Gary Smith, ceramics by Barbara Allen, and abstract landscape paintings by Donna Clark will be on view, in addition to several grand and petite furniture pieces of Duvall’s. Jill Garity, Todd Phillips, Katya Kirilloff, and Peter Wood will be showing works this fall.

Peggy and Jay agree that the most satisfying part of the business is meeting the people—artists and customers—that have participated in or visited the gallery. “I also love seeing the ‘WOW!’ reaction people have to Jay’s furniture,” Peggy said. “It’s like people’s reaction to the food at Locke Store. It’s all very personal. There is a strong connection between the art, the artist, and the region. My kids’ generation is starting to recognize the value of locally produced goods, too.”

The Duvalls say that nearly half of their customers are from inside the Beltway, folks from Washington, D.C., who are looking for a respite from the city while seeking quality, one-of-a-kind products that can’t be found at Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. The Duvalls would like to create a community rack card that promotes other businesses in the village—Locke Store, the Mill, neighboring antique shops. They want to encourage more people to venture out and make Millwood a tourist destination, helping locals make a living.

The history, bucolic beauty, and quaint charm of this Clarke County crossroad are enhanced by the good food and wine, eclectic antiques, and personal and community endeavors found here. And where else can you find fine furniture and art in a sunny old cabin with a Jack Russell greeter and Cat Stevens playing softly on the stereo?

Duvall Designs Gallery is located at 2053 Millwood Road in Millwood, and is open Friday through Sunday from noon till 5pm. For information on the gallery and upcoming exhibitions, visit or call 540-336-9632.

Looking Back: Did CCHS Get Them Ready?

By Colleen Lentile

The Observer’s summer journalism intern Colleen Lentile wanted to know how her peers summed up the college preparation they received at Clarke County High School, so she talked with four CCHS grads who, coincidentally, graduated over the previous four years.

Katie Lese

As a spirited graduate of CCHS Class of 2010, Katie Lese has made her mark. After high school, Lese went to James Madison University “dead set on being a teacher.” But it only took a year for her to realize that teaching wasn’t what she wanted to do. She changed her major to Communications Studies with a minor in Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication. When choosing her major, she looked back to her CCHS experience for guidance.

“Communications Studies had all of the analytical and critical analysis factors I enjoyed when writing in English classes, but in a more real world application,” said Lese.

Lese was inspired by many of her teachers, but specifically by Mr. Clark Hansbarger, Mrs. Kim Wilt, and Mrs. Christine Brewer. Hansbarger helped her believe that she could do well in college, Wilt gave her confidence in her writing, and Brewer gave her theatre experience. All of which led her to be on the JMU Speech team, one of the top 30 teams in the country.

Lese also is grateful to CCHS for the preparation she received from JMU Bridge and IB classes. And though she feels that her experience on yearbook staff and in the mentoring program at CCHS helped her get her current internship, she has some advice for CCHS regarding academically-minded activities like speech, debate, theatre, and music. “These programs are small or almost non-existent at CCHS, and I think a shift to focusing on more of these activities will not only equip graduates with skills that can be implemented in the real world, but opportunities that could make college a more possible reality,” said Lese.

Lese will graduate in May 2014, and continues to get excellent grades. “I hope I can inspire others as much as some teachers at CCHS helped inspire me,” said Lese.

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson, CCHS Class of 2009 graduate, finished her undergraduate college career at the University of Akron’s Honor College in May 2013. As an incoming freshman, Wilson planned to pursue a Communications degree because she had enjoyed her Journalism and English classes at CCHS. But later, in her sophomore year, she changed her major to Human Resources in the College of Business Administration.

“Once I decided upon business, I looked into accounting and marketing, but decided upon human resources because it gave me the chance to work with many different levels in the organization. Also, there was good job growth in the field,” said Wilson.

She believed that she was more prepared for the college work load thanks to IB classes. But, she wished that she had taken advantage of DECA in high school. And though Emily was inspired by most of her teachers, she was specifically grateful to Ms. Catherine White, Mr. James Deignan, and Mrs. Laurie Barbagallo.

“I’m really happy to say that I am right where I belong. I would like to thank CCHS for giving me the tools to succeed, and my family, friends, and my fiancée for believing in me,” said Wilson.

Wilson is currently working as a Human Resources Generalist in Ohio, and has plans to get married this autumn.

Peter Levi

A recent 2012 graduate, Peter Levi is finding his way through the world with the lessons he learned at CCHS at hand. Following graduation, Levi started attending Virginia Tech majoring in Environmental Resource Management. But, after taking the entry level classes, he decided to change his major to Geography. Presently, Levi is exploring his options for a third major change as he begins his sophomore year.

Even though Levi is still searching for his niche, he continues to be a successful student with gratitude towards the JMU Bridge classes during his senior year and the International Baccalaureate classes throughout his high school career.

“The Bridge classes and IB classes helped me get into college to begin with,” said Levi.

Levi would have liked to have more preparation from CCHS in classroom discussions and studying. However, he felt ready to complete papers and projects due to the Bridge and IB classes.

Levi will continue his education at Virginia Tech in the fall with plans to graduate in 2016. He is spending the summer working the fields at Blandy Farm.

He is happy with his progress in college, but is still searching for his field of study.

Rebecca York

As a member of the CCHS Class of 2011, Rebecca York led her classmates and her community as the editor-in-chief of the yearbook and as an avid participant in local mission trips. Through the mission trips, York discovered what she wanted to do with her life: help other people.

So, after graduating high school, York went to study at Christopher Newport University, where she originally majored in Education—but later decided on Social Work as her path. She wants to work in orphanages after she graduates from CNU in 2015.

“I want to help give the kids at orphanages a second chance. I want to be that person who can do that for them,” said York.

On her way to giving orphans second chances, York relies on her organized personality to create good time management in juggling all her classes. She credits some of her success to taking the JMU Bridge classes during her senior year at CCHS and being a part of DECA throughout high school. Though she had little instruction in studying, she was prepared for college projects and papers thanks to the Bridge classes. Also, York is involved in the Presidential Leadership Program at CNU, which she attributes to her experiences in DECA.

York remains busy this summer working at Franklin Park in Purcellville as a summer camp counselor. She will return to CNU in the fall for her junior year. “I would rather be happy with my major than be unhappy with my major and make a lot of money,” said York.

York is happy with where she is today, and where she is going with her life.

Cooley’s Amy Lowell A Real Wipeout

By Colleen Lentile

Quidditch instructor? Wipeout coach? Olympic judge? The answer is, “Yes, she is! Amy Lowell, D.G. Cooley Elementary School’s Physical Education Instructor, fulfills all of these titles, plus many more—all in her gymnasium. From walking her dog through town to hosting challenging physical events, she inspires her students to get fit in and out of her P.E. class, even all of the way from California, where she participated in ABC’s hit show Wipeout.

Lowell became the P.E. Instructor at D.G. Cooley in 2010. And as a “P.E. kid” with the dream of working for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign fighting against child obesity, Lowell fit the job description. She wasted no time in getting students involved and enthusiastic about exercising. In only three years, Lowell has created multiple events that break the mold.

“If you find something that’s important to the students, then it’s more exciting for them,” said Lowell, referring to the many specialized events that she has created for her students.

Her events not only become interesting to the students who already participate in athletics, but to those who don’t.

Playing Quidditch is one such activity. It is based largely on the well-known sport Harry Potter plays in JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, but is changed to meet the needs of our non-wizarding world. For example, Lowell assigned the job of the snitch to two boys, one of whom was her son Cooper. They dressed in all yellow and were released into the game at an instance—similar to the winged, flying snitch that Harry tries to catch. The brooms that were used were donated, like most of the other props, which are not covered by the school’s budget.

The team mentality of Quidditch remains in the shape of the different classes. They get to decide on team names as a class, then compete as a team against other classes. The team names include Jenny and the Jets and Large’s Fast and Furious. The students often arrive to class dressed in their Harry Potter gear as well. This allows them to exercise while having fun pretending to fly like Harry.

Another activity that got a great reaction from the students is the mock Olympics that Lowell put on for the students after the summer 2012 Olympics in London, England. Then there was the Swiss game Tchoukball, which involves teams quickly throwing a ball at a frame on the opposing team’s side.

“I wanted to bring in a game that they had never heard of,” said Lowell.

But, recently, it has been the game that most are familiar with that has been the most popular in Lowell’s gymnasium.

After an evening of watching television with her children, Lowell decided to create a “Wipeout” event for her students based on ABC’s show. With help from parent volunteers, Lowell accomplished her goal. The events were kept a complete secret from the students, which only created more suspense and stirred up more excitement. Several activities were made to form a Wipeout obstacle course for the students, which included an army crawl, a rock wall (donated by Incredible Inflatables in Winchester), a wall with boxing gloves continuously popping out, and many more Wipeout-like tasks.

The prizes for winning were objects sent to Lowell from her connections at ABC, like Wipeout banners. Success also qualifies as each student’s physical fitness testing for the fall and spring. Teachers also participated in the obstacle course after the students finished.

With such great success, Lowell made the decision to continue doing the Wipeout event every year.

“I always try to get the kids to do something out of their comfort zone,” said Lowell, commenting on the many unusual tasks she encourages the students to do while in her P.E. class.

When the tables were turned, Lowell never expected them to ask her to do something out of her comfort zone. In the fall of 2012, Lowell’s students began urging her to be on the real Wipeout. Eventually Lowell caved, and made a video application for the show with the help of her students.

Before she knew it, it was January and she was on her way to California to compete in Wipeout.

“I never thought I would get on the show. But I would definitely do it again,” said Lowell.

Though she had fun on the show, she also mentioned that it was the hardest thing she had ever done. As an inspiration to her students, Lowell continues to be active to inspire her students to be fit.

Lowell exclaimed, Forty-five minutes is not enough,” referring to the time that the students are in P.E. class. She runs or walks her dog throughout Berryville, so that her students will see her and be inspired to exercise as well.

Lowell will return as D.G. Cooley’s Physical Education Instructor in the fall and will remain persistent in her ideals and construction of new, enjoyable activities for her students.

You can also see Lowell in action on Wipeout July 25 on ABC.

Colleen Lentile is The Observer’s 2013 summer intern.

Melons And Music On The Shenandoah

The story of Watermelon Park and the Clarke County family that invented the bluegrass festival

By Jennifer Lee

Drive by Watermelon Park on any summer day, and you’ll see between a dozen and several hundred people enjoying a picnic, a river float, some fishing. Talk to John U. Miller, Jr., or Junior as he’s known and you will hear a story that belongs in the pantheons of music history and bootstrap-pulling entrepreneurship.

It begins in about 1928, when Miller’s father John, Sr. had been turned loose from his family’s home in Berkeley Springs, W.Va. He was told to go find work to support himself. “Dad was one of 13 kids,” said Miller.

One night they all sat down to a meal of homemade bread and soup made with bark that his mother had stripped off the trees. “The three oldest brothers were told they had to go, they had to find work to support themselves, because the family couldn’t do it anymore,” recounts Miller. “Dad was 15. Can you imagine that?”

The brothers headed out westward together, but ended up going separate ways, with John Sr. deciding to head back east by hanging around the tracks and hopping trains.

“He was a hobo,” Miller said. After searching up and down the east coast, John Sr. heard there was work in Clarke County, and hopped off the train at Old Chapel. He was directed to Springsbury Farm, where he worked for a couple years before answering a call for laborers to help enlarge the Route 7 route through Snicker’s Gap pass, which would lead to a replacement bridge spanning the Shenandoah in 1939. “He was making 55 cents an hour—a darn good wage then—digging the gap,” Miller said.

The Melons

With his earnings, John Sr. bought a horse and some farm equipment, and started growing watermelons on a patch of river bottomland north of what is now Watermelon Park. With his eye on expanding his crop, he approached C.E. Price, who owned the 300-acre farm along the river just south of Miller’s patch. They agreed on a 3-year rental agreement of $500 a year. “there was no way Dad could afford the $12,000 sale price Mr. Price was asking,” Miller explained.

Determined to sell enough watermelons from 1936 to 1939 to purchase the property, John Sr. nevertheless faced failure and expressed concern to his wife Rose toward the end of the 3-year lease.

John Jr. and his crystal blue eyes tell the story: “Dad never drank, never smoked, never cussed. But he did not hesitate to grab the gun if someone messed with his watermelon patch. So one evening, a car pulls up down there, and a guy gets out with his fishin’ pole and goes tramping across the watermelon patch to the river. So Dad went down to ‘fill ‘im up.’ Well, wouldn’t you know, that man was the head produce buyer for Acme grocery stores.”

And with that, John Sr. was selling watermelons to Acme. “So Dad started growing more watermelons,” said Miller. “They were piled high as a house. But he didn’t have a reliable way to get them to the stores in Charles Town, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown.”

With the assistance of Mr. Price’s truck, the watermelons were distributed, and a thriving business was launched. John Miller, Sr., bought the 300-acre farm in 1939. “Yeah, people used to say he could throw a quarter across the room, and it’d be a 50-cent piece by the time he walked over to pick it up,” John Jr. chuckled about his father’s good fortune and good sense.

The senior Miller continued to grow his watermelon business, renting bottomland up and down the river, planting over 100 acres of melons at a time. In 1942, at the age of 6, John Jr. was set up with a wagon of melons at the corner of Route 7 and Chilly Hollow Road (where Nall’s is now located), Friday to Sunday, during the season. “Might be six cars go by a day, but every one of ‘em stopped and bought a watermelon,” John Jr. recalls.

Watermelons were something of a novelty around here at that time. Typically grown in the south, they had to travel a long, hot way to get here, by which time they were mushy and sour. The Millers grew just one kind, the Cannonball, an heirloom variety known for its drought-tolerance, large size, fast growth, and sweet, bright red fruit. A fresh, crisp watermelon must certainly have been an exotic treat for weary travelers and local passers-by.

In the 1950s, the watermelon wagon was expanded into a full-fledged fruit and vegetable stand where the Millers sold a variety of fruit and vegetables, many grown in their five greenhouses flanking Route 7. John Jr. ran the stand for over 45 years. Before his father died in 1995, he said to Miller, “June (his nickname for his son), go back to that old place on the river. Spend some time, spend some money, and it’ll make you some money.”

The Music

In the early 1940s, there was no mail delivery to the mountain folks living across the river. There was a long line of mailboxes along the road on the Miller property, to which people would boat across the river, guitars and banjos in tow, to pick up their mail and gather to listen and play music. “Dad loved the music, so he built a stage, decided to have a Watermelon Festival, and invited the Carter Family as the first act.” The stage was indeed set.

Three Sundays a year in late August through early September, John Sr. held the watermelon/bluegrass festival, advertising on the back page of the Winchester Evening Star and selling 10-cent chances on watermelons. The earnings from that would pay the $10-$15 needed to compensate the entertainment. “He was just crazy about bluegrass. But he’d hire Bill Monroe on a Sunday, and not 200 people would come. But they’d all buy a watermelon,” recounts Miller.

Knowing there could and should be more—more people and more music—John Sr. appealed to music promoter Don Owens at Washington DC’s TV Channel 5 for help in “bringing every bluegrass music group there is” to his farm for one day.

That day was August 10, 1960. Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse, the Osborne Brothers, and other top names in bluegrass showed up to play for a crowd of 7,000 people. “Traffic was backed up from here to Route 7,” Miller said. Tickets were a buck apiece.

From 1960 to 1979, the Watermelon Festival grew alongside the melons, attracting some of the biggest names in bluegrass and country music, including Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Ralph Stanley, George Jones, and Loretta Lynn. “Johnny Cash hired the Statler Brothers on that stage. Porter Wagner hired Dolly Parton,” Miller declared.

The quality of the music was indisputable, and the crowds grew to the five digits. By the end of the 70s, tens of thousands of people were descending on the riverside plot for the annual festival to listen, frolic, and occasionally raise a ruckus. “They were drinkin, takin’ drugs, streakin’,” Miller explains. “Dad didn’t like any of that; that was sinnin’ to him.”

At the last festival, in 1979, while Merle Haggard was singing Fightin’ Side of Me, a disgruntled customer shot and wounded a belt buckle vendor and two other young men. “Dad got on the stage and shut it down right then and there. That was it. It broke his heart,” remembers Miller. The perpetrator, a postmaster from Sterling, Va., was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Lawsuits were filed and subsequently dismissed, and John Sr. paid the hospital bills of the injured, according to Miller.

Over the next twenty or so years, the campground sat relatively quiet. People still camped, gathered, and utilized the river access, and there were occasional gospel music concerts, but the big crowds and big bluegrass names were no longer invited.

Meanwhile, Miller’s Fruit Stand flourished and John Jr. toiled with his memories of playing music himself—he had travelled around in his own greyhound bus with his band, and signed to MGM records, a major label, in the 60s and 70s. This had been the dream—the bus, the band, and the label—he had told his skeptical father early on he would achieve. Indeed, he achieved it, though he found more of a reception in Canada than the States.

Directly across the river at Shepherd’s Ford, in the 1970s and 80s, Frazer Watkins was working at his mother Gertie Watkins’ retreat center, where small groups gathered to listen to gospel concerts, meditate, and enjoy the peace and quiet. Frazer and John Jr. tell a parallel story of Mrs. Watkins and Mr. Miller not quite seeing eye to eye from bank to bank. “Mom wanted to know when Mr. Miller had his events scheduled so she could schedule hers around them,” said Watkins. “But I guess he was afraid she wanted to shut him down or something. Anyway, they were not the best of friends.”

The county subsequently stepped in to mediate and measure decibel levels, resulting in the Watermelon Park stage being moved to face away from the river.

Frazer Watkins had a deeply instilled love and ear for music from around the world and around the block. His musician friend Dave Van Deventer (of the band Furnace Mountain) often walked his dog by Watermelon Park in the early 2000’s, wondering what the place was all about. As Watkins filled him in on its rich and varied history, they, with the input of Dwayne Brooke (of the band The Woodshedders) started plotting to resurrect the festival, recruit excellent regional and local music talent, and promote it. By the time Frazer had talked with a receptive John Jr. about the plan and they had received approval from the county, the newly formed Shepherds Ford Productions had 90 days to put together the Watermelon Park Fest in 2004.

Several local groups, including Furnace Mountain and The Woodshedders, played the event to an estimated audience of 500. “There was a flood 24 hours before the event, and we had to completely move the setup, so we weren’t sure ANYone would come,” recalls Watkins.

Now, nearing the 10th anniversary of Watermelon Park Fest, Watkins beams with gratitude about his place in its evolution. “I am so privileged to be a part of this legacy. I feel like I’ve been given a gift, one I take very, very seriously. I get to look far into the past of great musicians, and far into the future of great musicians.” He adds that the park has allowed others, like his daughter, to further themselves in their academic studies by weaving the history of Watermelon Park for masters’ level theses and film projects.

“We work well together,” said Frazer of John Jr.

“Never, ever have I ever doubted him,” Miller said of Frazer.

A few years ago, they agreed the park stage should return to its original location on the southwest side of the campground, facing the river.

The 10th anniversary of the resurrected Watermelon Park Fest, September 26–28, will feature Del McCoury, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, and—get this—Bobby Osborne, 53 years after he played the first bluegrass festival at Watermelon Park. The crowds now number around 3,500, and management does not want that number to exceed 5,000—this, to keep the event manageable, intimate, and enjoyable for all festivalgoers and neighbors.

Miller and Watkins plan to continue to bring a few premier music events to Watermelon Park every year. Watkins is looking to national arts and cultural organizations to help bring additions like dance and the spoken word to the musical experience. “We really want to cultivate young musicians and artists, give them exposure, help them on their way,” he said.

There are now over 1,000 bluegrass festivals worldwide. Many people credit Bluegrass Day at Watermelon Park as being the very first. There is no doubt that it enjoys and perpetuates a legacy of excellent music and rabid community support.

More Than Melons & Music

As most locals and all visitors know, Watermelon Park isn’t just about music. Having a river run through it brings thousands of people to its grassy, shady banks every year from April to November. Visitors can enjoy camping, fishing, picnicking, canoeing, tubing, kayaking, and simply splashing about in the old Shenandoah. And there are 100 sites offering water and electric and a freshly renovated bathhouse for campers, short and long-term.

The Watermelon Park General Store offers everything from fishing bait and licenses to ramen noodles and hula-hoops, in addition to flotation device rentals. Hope Miller, John Jr.’s daughter-in-law, happily serves up hand-dipped ice cream cones from a new stand at the park entrance. Eagles and herons fish from the river and children splash in its cool rapids.

And these days, John Miller, Jr., can be found tending his own watermelons. It’s a story that’s gone full circle, the evolution of a bucolic park stretching acres along the riverside welcoming thousands of visitors a year to enjoy entertainment and camaraderie.

And it all started in the 1930s with a young, hungry man who had a love for music and a green thumb. It is a true story of guts, glory, and generations of folks coming together to make beautiful music.


Contact info: Visit Watermelon Park at 3332 Lockes Mill Road; on the web at, or call 540.955.4803.

For tickets and information on Watermelon Park Fest, visit or

Academic Boosters Strives to Keep the Bar High

By Jennifer Lee

The old axiom “It takes a village to raise a child” could be the impetus for a group of Clarke County parents dedicated to supporting students and teachers in Clarke County Public Schools. The Academic Boosters of Clarke (ABC) has its roots in Concerned Citizens of Clarke County for Education, which was formed in 2009 by Juliet Mackay-Smith and Dr. Laura Dabinett. At that time, a sudden loss of funding for Clarke County High School students wanting to take International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) tests inspired the effort to raise funds for students who could not afford the test fees.

The name of the group has changed, and the scope and mission have expanded with a fresh group of parents. The mission of ABC is to create a community of people working together to support all students and teachers involved with all advanced academic programs in the public schools, to educate the public about these programs, to advocate for the importance of these programs, and to generate funds to support these programs.

Why is this important? Teachers report that the students who are taking the exams are more invested in the classes, are better positioned to get into college, and, once there, are better prepared. Many colleges provide credit for the IB and AP classes which can save students tuition fees.

Facing budgetary constraints in 2008, the Clarke County School Board made the difficult decision to eliminate funding of IB and AP registration and test fees. What had been covered by the school system became the responsibility of the student. Many students could not afford the $100 test fee or $125 registration fee. ABC wants to provide funding so that money is not an obstacle for any student wanting to take the IB and AP exams.

Now in the leadership roles, parents Tracy Smith, Amy Barley, and Dr. Terri Catlett are working on creative ways to raise awareness, support, and funds. “The community of people who are interested in academic excellence needs a unified voice,” they assert. “ABC wants to be the voice of parents, students, and teachers who believe in the value of an outstanding academic program.”

In the fall of 2012, ABC provided $9,679 to the school system for 22 students who could not otherwise have afforded to take the tests. ABC also provided funds to Laurie Barbagallo, Mathematics Department Chair, for a study session for students preparing to take an IB math exam. The four-hour session was held on a Sunday afternoon at the high school—the money was used to supply food and water to the students.

How does a student apply for help with test fees? Thom Potts, the IB/AP Coordinator at CCHA, distributes applications at the beginning of each academic year. All applications are collected and reviewed by the School Board office, and the required fees are transferred from ABC to the school system once the selections are made. “No student was turned away this year,” says Smith.

While ABC’s efforts are currently focused on high school students, the group hopes to expand to middle and elementary schools. ABC uses the Clarke County Education Foundation (CCEF), a 501(c)3 nonprofit that raises funds to promote multiple programs, provide supplies, and encourage scholarship funding within the entire school system, to hold the funds it raises and provide tax receipts to ABC’s donors. CCEF also transfers funds to the school system as needed, but neither ABC nor CCEF plays a role in selecting the students who receive money for test fees or registration.

“The mission of CCEF is much broader than that of ABC,” explains Barley. “We are like a feather in the wing of CCEF, supporting the flight of students who expect that their school systems will provide the best opportunities to excel in school and go on to college.”

ABC has monthly meetings during the school year, with guest speakers who help identify and explain opportunities within the school and answer questions members and parents have about various programs. They are also in the process of planning some fundraising activities in addition to the traditional letter writing campaign. A video highlighting the IB program is in the works, as well as plans for a special event this fall. Loose change collection jars will be placed around town, “because every penny counts,” Smith says.

The new group is thankful to the Clarke County “village” for its past support and donations of time and resources. Members are hopeful that generosity and commitment will continue. “We would like to give extra thanks to Thom Potts, whose dedication to the IB program has kept it stable and strong all these years,” they say.

Anyone interested in learning more can email or write to Academic Boosters of Clarke, PO Box 1162, Berryville, VA 22611.

Author’s note: Thanks to Amy Barley for her assistance with this article.

What’s an International Baccalaureate?

By Colleen Lentile

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program is known for being a great deal more difficult than the Standard Diploma classes, so students have the option of enrolling in individual classes of their own interest and earning IB Certificates or choosing to work towards achieving the IB Diploma. This decision should be made early on, so that students can get the required middle school classes, Algebra I and the first year of a language, and be on the Honors track in 9th and 10th grade. Then IB classes are typically taken in the student’s junior and senior year.

Students attempting to earn the IB Diploma have to fulfill certain requirements. First, the student must pass the tests and finish the work required in the core IB subjects, which include English, World Language, Social Studies, Laboratory Science, Mathematics, and Arts/Electives. These courses are offered in both Higher (HL) and Standard (SL) Level; the students are expected to take 3-4 HL classes and 2-3 SL classes. Second, students have to be enrolled in Theory of Knowledge (TOK), which like most of the other subjects, is a 2 year course. In TOK class, IB Diploma candidates will write a 4000-word Extended Essay on a subject of the students choosing. Lastly, they are asked to accomplish 150 hours of extracurricular activities that obey the IB Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) guidelines. With these requirements executed, the students will earn their IB and their Virginia Advanced Studies Diploma.

Students that are not diploma candidates can choose whether or not they want to take the IB tests as well as being enrolled in the course. The tests, which are taken in May, are graded separate from class work and then can be put on transcripts to be sent to colleges and universities. Each college and university has different standards when it comes to transferring a student’s credits earned from IB classes and exempting them from college courses, but even being involved in the IB Program at all helps a student’s chances of getting into universities and colleges.

For each of the IB tests there is a fee, which can be seen on the IB website, or they can meet with the IB Coordinator, Thom Potts, with any questions or concerns.