We are VdM (at a distance): the Speckhart Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of and something to hold onto during our school’s COVID-19 closure. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people—and we’ll stay connected! Today, we’ll meet the Speckhart family: Amy, Henry, Ronan, Clara and Wiley. Ronan graduated from the Children’s House in 2018. Clara is in her culminating year and Wiley is in his first year, both in Mrs. Steinman’s Children’s House.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

The Speckharts: We are the Speckharts—team of 5. Amy grew up in Wisconsin and Henry grew up in central Illinois.  We met on Match.com (yes, we really did!) and honeymooned in Haiti (our second honeymoon was in Hawaii). Ronan was born in 2011 and has been moving full speed ahead every moment since. Clara is 6.5 and in her culminating year. She is an artist, monkey-bar specialist and loves to learn. Wiley is in his first year at Villa and enjoys sharing the classroom with his sister. He just turned 3 and loves to play with trains, all things yellow, and (like Olaf) likes to give warm hugs. We also have a puppy named Faldo who has lots of energy and likes to snack on pencils, markers and whatever other object happens to be on the floor.

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

The Speckharts: When Ronan was two years old we knew he needed to start preschool. As Kirkwood residents we looked at our options in our local area. We actually didn’t know that much about Montessori but really enjoyed our tour and were excited that they had a few spots for the new classroom they were adding (P3). We did some research on Montessori and were sold!

VdM: What do you and your spouse do, career-wise?

The Speckharts: Henry is a Senior Associate Actuary at MetLife—he works with a lot of numbers and is an Excel wiz. Henry’s non-paying other job is a stand-up comedian, he does shows daily at our house and he is his biggest fan. Amy is a Talent Development Specialist at Bunzl. She helps with the training requirements and development for the employees within the organization.

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break from school?

The Speckharts: Well, we have been staying in, ha ha ha… (Henry’s dry humor). If weather is nice, we try our best to get energy out of Ronan. We take walks in the neighborhood and bike rides. When inside we are learning some Spanish, cooking, navigating Disney+ and how to have more patience that we realized was possible.

VdM: A question specifically for Ronan, Clara and Wiley –What’s one thing about summer that you’re most excited about?

Ronan: Baseball.

Clara: Swimming.

Wiley: Sunglasses (he really does love them).

Thank you, Amy, Henry, Ronan, Clara and Wiley for sharing!

Photos courtesy of the Speckhart family.

We are VdM (at a distance): The Juntunen Pytka Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of and something to hold onto during our school’s COVID-19 closure. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people—and we’ll stay connected! Today, we’ll meet Jacob Juntunen, Meghann Pytka, and their daughter Zocha, who joined VdM in 2018. Zocha is currently in her second year in Mrs. Steinman’s Children’s House.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

Jacob: Meghann is from Rhode Island, and I am from California.

Meghann: Because geographic information is the most important thing about us.

Jacob: And sarcasm is the most important character trait of Meghann.

Meghann: I think of it less as sarcasm and more as dark irony.

Jacob: We met at Northwestern University where Meghann got her PhD in History and I got my PhD in Theatre—

Meghann: Go Wildcats!

Jacob: Did you ever even go to a football game?

Meghann: Does soccer count?

Jacob: Northwestern soccer?

Meghann: Yeah.

Jacob: Sure.

Meghann: And go Meghan Markle, our princess!

Jacob: A shared love of Poland was part of what drew us together—

Meghann: What about our love of dogs?

Jacob: True, the way Meghann tells it, at the party I hosted where we met, I greeted her rudely at the door, and she only stayed because my dog was friendly.

Meghann: He was more than friendly, he was enthusiastic. He was also very large.

Jacob: We’ve returned to Poland again and again for work and pleasure, hence Zocha’s Polish name. We’re city people, but we lived in Carbondale, IL for about 6 years until Zocha was school age. That was when we found VdM and moved to St. Louis. We’ve been here about a year and a half and love it!

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

Meghann: Theatre. It’s always theatre.

Jacob: I went to Montessori pre-k through kindergarten, and when I was in Minneapolis doing work at The Playwrights’ Center, the education director there was from St. Louis and her kids had gone to VdM! At the time, Meghann was in Cambridge, Mass on a fellowship to learn Ukrainian, so me and Zocha drove up from Carbondale to see VdM and it was love at first sight!

Meghann: Note how conspicuously absent I am. It gets better.

Jacob: While Meghann was still out of town, I bought a house, signed Zocha up for school, and told Meghann I’d packed up the old house, but that was largely not true. When Meghann got back from Cambridge, there was still much packing to do.

Meghann: I was wildly enthusiastic about this. Because moving is the best.

Jacob: She was wildly enthusiastic about the new house and St. Louis. Not so much the lack of packing on my part.

Meghann: Sigh.

VdM: What do you and your spouse do, career-wise?

Meghann: I teach everything, mostly online—

Jacob: Which is handy these days.

Meghann: I’m actually a historian.

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break from school?

Jacob: While Meghann had to postpone a fellowship to work at Warsaw’s Polin museum this summer, we are very lucky that our schools have moved to teaching online. This means, between our work, we can do a variety of crafts and activities with Zocha. We watch the Cincinnati Zoo’s livestream just about every day, have “recess” with the dog out back, and are preparing to do some YouTube dance classes in the near future…

Meghann: I keep wanting to write a book. Instead I panic recreationally.

Jacob: I’ve pretty much given up trying to write anything.

Meghann: Zocha and I also swatch lots of makeup.

VdM, A question specifically for Zocha: What’s your favorite animal and why?

Zocha: A tiger because of its sharp claws, big teeth, and striped tail! I like to be a tiger at recess!

Thank you, Jacob, Meghann and Zocha! You are delightful and we appreciate you sharing your lives with us.

Photos courtesy of the Juntunen Pytka family.

We are VdM (at a distance): The Steinman Family

The very best part of Villa di Maria is our people. Our community of families, faculty and staff is something to be proud of and something to hold onto during our school’s COVID-19 closure. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the energies, talents, humor and wisdom of some of our amazing people—and we’ll stay connected!

Today, we’ll meet another longtime VdM family: the Steinmans. Heather Steinman has been our P3 Children’s House guide since 2014, but she joined the VdM community as a parent in 2002. Her youngest daughter is currently in Mrs. McAuley’s Children’s House and her youngest son will join his sister next fall. Read on to get to know Heather, her husband Brian and their children, Danny, Andra, Emerson and Miles.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family.

Heather: There are a lot of us! Our crew includes me, my husband Brian, Danny, who is 21 years old, Andra is 19, Emerson is almost 5, and Miles just turned 2 years old! Of course, I cannot leave out our family mascot Jackson, he is a 90-pound yellow lab that we love like crazy.

My husband Brian is the Executive Chef at Charlie Gitto’s on the hill. We have known each other since middle school, and he makes me laugh every day.

Danny is a VdM alum and he even worked at Villa during late stay hours and summer camp in his high school years (some may remember him as “Mr. Danny”). He is currently a student at Ranken Technical College studying electrical engineering and will graduate this spring. Upon graduation, he will be moving to Huntsville, Alabama for a job working with Sargent and Lundy.

Andra is also a former Villa student and she too worked at late stay and summer camp! She is currently in her freshman year at the University of Kansas where she is studying nursing. She has also enjoyed being a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Emerson is in her third year in Mrs. McAuley’s Children’s House. She is a bundle of energy and super excited about her upcoming birthday and turning 5!

Miles has just turned 2 and spent his Tuesdays this school year in the parent-child class, he will join his sister in Primary 1 this coming fall. He is the baby in our family, but he is ready for some big things!

VdM: How did you find Montessori and what brought you to VdM?

Heather: When my older children were little, I was a stay at home mom. Around the time Danny was 2 ½ I realized he needed more than just being at home with his mom and little baby sister and began looking for play groups and nursery schools so that he could be social with other children. After spending some time at a little school in Kirkwood we came across Villa di Maria. When I came to visit the school, I was immediately intrigued and excited about what I saw, and we signed Danny up immediately. It didn’t take long for me to become fascinated with the Montessori method and I volunteered at Villa as much as I could. By the time Andra began coming to school in the Children’s House, I was lucky enough to get the chance and come to work at Villa as Mrs. Milos’ assistant, and the rest is history!

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break from school?

Heather: I think mostly, we are trying to embrace the fact that we can all be together, we do not get that chance usually. Brian and I usually work opposite schedules and the older children are always on the go when they are here. We rarely have time for the whole family to be together, so we are thankful for that part. I’m pretty sure Jackson thinks he has hit the lottery! We try to get some time outdoors each day despite the weather, and family dinners each night have been pretty great. And MUSIC, we listen to a LOT of music and have ridiculous dance parties. If you are not yet incorporating the music you love into your days, please do, music can heal, inspire, create joy and spark activity. Mrs. Steinman loves to dance and sing 😊 We are hopeful for life to return to normal but for now, we are just making the most of an unbelievable situation.

Villa di Maria would like to add something here: Heather has also been working during this break to stay connected with the P3 families and children through emails, phone calls, voice calls and Zoom sing-alongs in our distance learning program. She and all of our amazing guides have been working tirelessly to keep our community together and learning. We would not be VdM without them.

photo courtesy of the Edmondson family

VdM, A question specifically for Emerson: What is your favorite thing about summer?

Emerson: I like the swimming pool in the summer, because it’s cool. I like to jump in and have the things that sink to the bottom and you get them.

Thank you, Heather, Brian, Danny, Andra, Emerson and Miles for sharing your lives with us today and every day at Villa di Maria.

Uncredited photos courtesy of the Steinman family.

The UE Book Club (Distance Learning Edition) – Fantasy and Folklore

This month the Upper Elementary Book Club is alive and well in our distance learning program. Upper Elementary students will meet today to discuss one of four books from the fantasy genre. Each novel draws from characters and tales found in folklore and mythology from around the world. Each book is also the beginning of a series—perfect for all of our binge-readers!

The Serpent’s Secret is the first in the Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series by Sayantani DasGupta. The series follows the adventures of 12-year-old Kiran, an Indian-American girl, whose parents have always told her crazy stories about magical worlds and creatures—they’ve even told her she’s a princess! She has never believed them, but on the morning of her birthday, she wakes up to find her parents have vanished and a terrifying demon is after her. Kiran suddenly finds herself in another dimension, where she is, in fact, a heroic princess on a mission to rescue her parents and save New Jersey. DasGupta weaves characters and tales inspired by traditional Bengali folklore into this wildly adventurous story.

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is the first in a series by Kwame Mbalia that follows the life and heroic adventures of seventh-grader Tristan Strong. After his best friend, Eddie, dies in a bus accident, Tristan is sent to stay with his grandparents to help him cope with his grief. On his first night there, the only thing Tristan has left of Eddie, his journal of folk tales, is stolen by a doll-looking creature. Tristan chases the creature into the mysterious woods and finally catches it. He struggles to get the journal back, accidentally punches a tree, and opens a passageway to another world. In this new dimension, Tristan meets John Henry and other characters from African-American folklore, as well as several West African deities. Tristan joins forces with the inhabitants of this magical place to seal the hole between the two dimensions and save the world.

Aru Shah and the End of Time is the first book in the Pandava Series by Roshani Chokshi. Aru lives with her mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture. She lies to impress and fit in with the kids at school, whose lives seem much more exciting than her own. When three of her classmates come to the museum and dare Aru to light the Lamp of Bharata, to prove her claim that is cursed, she does it, believing she will be caught in her lie and humiliated. Instead the lamp releases a demon, and her classmates and mother become frozen in time. In order to stop the demon and restart time, Aru turns to the Hindu legend told in the Mahabarata. She sets out alone on a quest into the Kingdom of Death.

 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the start of a four-book series by Grace Lin, based on traditional Chinese stories Lin heard as a child. Lin tells the story of Minli, a young girl who lives with her family in the valley of Fruitless Mountain. Her village and family are impoverished and unable to farm the land they live on. Minli, inspired by a magical goldfish and the folk tales her father tells her, sets out to change her family’s fortune by finding the Old Man in the Moon. Early in her voyage, she meets Dragon, a flightless dragon, and they continue the adventure together. The book follows Minli and Dragon’s heroic quest from village to village, as they solve riddles, face danger and meet wonderful characters along the way.