As part of a series we’re calling Who We Are, we’re working to build our community by interviewing the talented, dynamic parents and staff who make up the people of Villa di Maria. Today, we meet Jay Fram, professional photographer and father of two boys who attend Villa di Maria. Jay is not only an artistic asset to the city of St. Louis, he is a thoughtful, intelligent, approachable human being who has given a lot of thought to his boys’ education (and, judging from the photo below — taken from Jay’s personal work — is not afraid to really put himself out there).
Villa di Maria: What do you do?
Jay Fram: I’m a photographer. But answering this question is often a process of outlining what I’m not. I’m not a real estate photographer. I’m not a wedding photographer. I take pictures of people for advertising and editorial or corporate purposes. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to pursue fine art. But it’s a competitive field, so I feel really privileged to get the work I do.
VdM: What is it about Montessori that appeals to you and your wife Jackie?
JF: Well, Jackie went to a Montessori preschool when she was young. I had a close friend growing up whose mother ran a Montessori. Although I didn’t attend one, I was definitely exposed to Montessori while growing up.
Montessori appeals to our contrarian, artsy, lefty tendencies. We like to think of ourselves as free thinkers. We got into Montessori in a practical way; we were living in Webster at the time, and we found ourselves suddenly losing our nanny. Our oldest son was at the time almost old enough to go to preschool. Villa was willing to take him at two-and-a-half, so it worked out for us. Then we ended up liking it so much that we kept him there. He was thriving so much socially and academically that we decided to keep him there for elementary.
Our youngest (age 3) is also doing really well. What he gets out of it is different from his brother. He’s a feeler, whereas our oldest is more of a thinker. The Montessori environment is pretty neat. He writes so many stories, he really just cranks them out. I’m also really excited about the level of mathematics he’s doing at this age. He’s coming home with long division problems, which I think is pretty amazing.
On the writing piece — I went to a rural school from my early years up until 8th grade and there were kids I graduated with who could barely write. It’s important to me that our kids know how to do these things!
VdM: Do your kids express any interest in the arts?
JF: I would like to get them into music. Our oldest really likes to listen to it. He draws a lot, but I guess I expect my youngest to be more art-oriented. We recently took them both to see The Ugly Duckling production at COCA, and they both really enjoyed it.
VdM: What advice would you give to parents who are curious about or interested in Montessori?
JF: I think observing in the classroom is pretty convincing. If you’re on the fence, that sensory experience of being there in the primary classroom is amazing. If you find yourself unsettled by the appearance of some disorganization, then maybe it’s not for you. But it’s amazing to see the self-direction of these little kids.
My advice would be to trust that the directresses are invested and attuned to what’s going on with the classroom and the kids. They are also very available to learn from the parents about their children, which we have had direct experience with, with the directresses at Villa. My mom always says that our kids will have to get along in the real world and learn to thrive in environments that aren’t always ideal, and that will strengthen them for a world where they will have to deal with different types of people and situations. I think Villa does that; it seems to me that Villa is a respite from a lot of the stressors of work and life. I don’t want to shelter my kids. That’s a part of the experience I have to trust.
Thank you, Jay, for taking the time to sit down and talk, and for the fantastic picture of you in mid-sneeze. To see more of Jay’s incredible photography, be sure to visit his website and his gorgeous instagram account. *All photos in this post are courtesy of Jay Fram.