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 Qiaoni Jing and Richard Laforest, parents of Antoine, an energetic little boy currently in Directress Heather Steinman’s Children’s House.
Villa di Maria: Can you tell us a bit about your background and education?
Qiaoni: I grew up in China, lived in Japan and Switzerland as an exchange student, then studied Engineering and Economics in China. My pursuit of an MBA at Northwestern University lead me to the U.S. During an expatriate assignment in Argentina, I became pregnant with Antoine. Before he was even born, he traveled to Argentina, Brazil, and China before being born in St. Louis in 2012.
Richard: I grew up in Quebec, Canada. I dreamed of becoming a physicist as a little kid, and followed that dream to become a PhD of Nuclear Physics. My research brought me to the U.S., France, then back to the U.S. I later “defected” to the medical world due to some fascinating application of my physics training in saving people’s lives.
If there is one word to describe our family, it’s diversity. Lots to learn for Antoine language-wise as we regularly use three languages in the home: Chinese, French, and English.
VdM: What do you do career-wise?
Qiaoni: I’ve held a variety of different roles in the corporate world, from marketing to supply chain to R&D to corporate strategy. I’m currently the Chief of Staff Senior Director of Global Corporate Affairs at Monsanto.
Richard: I am an Associate Professor of Radiology at Washington University.
VdM: Do you have any hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?
Richard: So many, and the challenge is to find time! We met each other because of the common interest in road cycling. We participate in and support charity cycling events like MS 150 and Pedal the Cause. We both also enjoy running. While I prefer more formal events like Half Marathon, Qiaoni is more practical and focuses on small steps.
Qiaoni: My goal is to run a full marathon distance each month, and I’ve been doing pretty well in the past couple of years! When I was a child, I had the dream of becoming a journalist, but being an obedient daughter and influenced by the idea that “smart kids go to STEM schools” in China at that time, I became an engineer. However, recently I have recently made an endeavor to write and publish in English. My first series of articles are about some amazing Chinese words: the meaning behind the pictures, and its implications on life and business. (Amazing Chinese Word #1: Harmony and Amazing Chinese Word #2: Crisis)
Richard: I love bird-watching and star-gazing, so my favorite investments are in binoculars and telescopes. I want our next house to have a dome on top!
As a family, we enjoy traveling, hiking (around St. Louis and afar), playing board games. Antoine went to the top of the Great Wall of China when he was 18 months old, sitting in a backpack on my shoulders. He went down into the Grand Canyon when he was three, coming back up in Qiaoni’s arms. We ski during the winter, and Antoine and I sometimes skate.
VdM: How were you introduced to Montessori?
Qiaoni: Almost accidentally, by Sophie Andre! Sophie’s husband is Richard’s colleague. Sophie found Villa di Maria when she was searching for child care for Lynne. Ever since, every time we met, Sophie kept talking about Montessori. We had never met any parent who was so passionate about their kid’s school so we decided to check it out. Kudos to Sophie!
VdM: Do you have any “Montessori Moments” you can share with us about Antoine?
Qiaoni & Richard: We noticed that Antoine says “I can do it” a lot more often almost right after started in Montessori. And he does all the things all by himself. For example, he asked to do dishes before we even think about asking him. We attribute that to the practical life philosophy of Montessori.
VdM: What is your favorite thing about Montessori education?
Qiaoni & Richard: The passion the parents and teachers show for Montessori on a daily basis. We’re only 9 months in, so honestly we feel that we are still learning about all of the philosophies and practices of Montessori. We count on the passion of others who have been into Montessori longer to keep us educated and motivated.
We also enjoyed all the parent education and participation opportunities. They are almost therapeutic, letting us linger a bit in the learning world of the little children and imagining how they grow there each and every day.
Thank you, Qiaoni and Richard, for your thoughtful answers! We look forward to seeing you around campus!