As part of a series we’re calling Who We Are, we’re working to build and connect our community by interviewing the talented, dynamic parents and staff who make up the people of Villa di Maria. Today, we meet Carrie and Carissa Sweigart, parents of the adorable Gwendolyn, who was welcomed into Primary this past January.
Villa di Maria: Can you tell us a bit about your backgrounds/education?
Carissa: I grew up on Cape Cod, MA and graduated from Bourne High School in 1997. I played college soccer and basketball at Nichols College in Dudley, MA and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management. After graduation, I received an internship with USA Hockey and worked for them thru the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
Carrie: I grew up in Hannibal, MO and graduated from Hannibal High School in 1995. I played softball at Culver-Stockton College, graduating with a BS in psychology, with a minor in athletic training and health. To complete my masters in sports management with an emphasis in marketing, I interned with the United States Olympic Committee – Sports Partnerships during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
VdM: What do you do (career-wise)?
Carissa: I’m a senior national account manager for the Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams Beer) and a certified cicerone. I’m in charge of Boston Beer’s Branded Concepts program, where I design and sell in Sam Adams brewhouses to airports and military installations as well as selling Boston Beer product to national casual dining chains like Red Robin, Old Chicago, Houlihan’s, Hard Rock and AMC Theaters. I cover the entire country and travel from coast to coast each week.
Carrie: I am the chief operating officer for Pedal the Cause, a local nonprofit raising critical funds for cancer research through an annual cycling challenge. I joined the organization just three months after their inaugural event when the organization was in its infancy and feel privileged to be a part of the leadership team that has taken the founders vision and brought it to fruition, as the region’s largest cancer fundraiser raising $15.8M in 7 events, funding 84 projects in both pediatric and adult cancer. Before Pedal the Cause… I served as the vice president for the Boys & Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region focused on both operations and fundraising for the organization.
When Carissa and I were looking to move back to the Midwest to be closer to family and start our own, I started my own consulting company with the Boys & Girls Club as the primary client. Looking to establish deeper roots in the St. Louis community, I joined Pedal the Cause, seeing the opportunity as the perfect blend of my passions (sports, events, charity, children’s causes) and could not be more proud of the Pedal community that I find myself a part of.
VdM: Do you have any hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?
Carissa: I’m an avid Cross-Fitter and fitness enthusiast. I also enjoy cooking and pairing beers. I love the outdoors and enjoy hiking or enjoying time on the ocean. I’m also a home brewer and won my company’s home brewing competition in 2008 with my Cranberry Wit beer, which was produced by Boston Beer for a year. I won a trip to Germany during Oktoberfest!
Carrie: I enjoy all things outdoors… be that taking a family walk, going for a run (I ran my first half marathon last spring and am now training with my Pedal colleagues for the KT82 in June), or riding my bike (a hobby I picked up quickly working for Pedal). Planning events is a passion that extends beyond work, so I am always planning the next gathering from volunteer activities, to backyard BBQ’s. Any excuse to bring people together!
VdM: How were you introduced to Montessori?
Carrie: Sara Krenski was a colleague of mine and often shared her experiences, activities that her daughter Marley was involved in and overall, their satisfaction with the decision to introduce their daughter to a Montessori education. It did not take long before we found ourselves referencing “Montessori” ways, from the toys and activities we were setting up in our home for our daughter in her early months. As she started approaching one year old, and the thoughts of pre-school were beginning to surface, we asked Sara for more guidance/resources on a Montessori education. From various readings, to visits to several programs including VdM and connecting with other Montessori families, we felt that this was the right path for our family. Gwendolyn started the program in January.
VdM: Do you have any “Montessori Moments” you can share with us?
Carrie: Our Montessori moment was within the first few days of Gwendolyn starting VdM. We immediately saw her independence start to shine. As an only child, we were eager for her to start, as we knew that starting preschool would allow her to expand her social skills and within the Montessori setting, expand her independence as well. But we had no idea that we would see it shine through so immediately. Not sure if it was the first day or the second day, that we found her pulling out her activities from her cubbie, and playing on her own without calling mommy and ma to come sit with her and participate. She was sorting, counting and more all on her own and we could see her happiness and excitement as she started to accomplish/learn/discover new things…and it hasn’t stopped since.
She enjoys and takes a sense of pride in getting her own plate, cup, silverware out of the cabinet when it is time to eat, to wipe up her mess, and to put the dirty into the sink… she gets so excited about accomplishing those independent tasks. We knew that this was on the horizon as part of the Montessori process, but it is simply unbelievable to watch with your own eyes. We can remember setting foot into the classroom for a tour and being in awe that these little people were being so quiet, doing their own activities, compared to our visions of a typical daycare setting with kiddos running all over the place and more of organized chaos. So to witness our little girl blossoming with the passing of each day, and thriving in her own beautiful way is a continued Montessori Moment for us as parents. We know that her journey to being the best Gwendolyn she can be in this world is just starting to unfold, and we could not be more excited for her!
VdM: What is your favorite thing about Montessori education so far?
Carrie: Having classmates that range from her age of 2 ½ to 6, given that she is an only child (and the youngest in the classroom) is an incredible asset in our minds… she is reaping the benefits of interacting with kiddos her age (Jackson is her buddy, he is the next to youngest in class) but also the modeling and support of older kids. As an only child, socializing with other kiddos is important to us, and having children who are older or have advanced to other lessons, who are setting examples for her is one of our favorite things about Montessori.
VdM: Do you have any advice for parents who might be interested in Montessori education?
Carrie: We both grew up in traditional, public education settings. We felt like we were straying from that system (my mom is a retired public school teacher and many family members still are), but we felt it was important to explore other programs like Montessori when it came to giving our daughter Gwendolyn the best environment for her to thrive in. We encourage others to do their research, create a pro’s and con’s list of the programs you are exploring, and not be afraid to think outside the box (the traditional education system).
Thank you, Carrie and Carissa, for opening up and letting us get to know you a bit better, and welcome to Villa di Maria!