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 the charismatic, musical Kiley and Steve Kozel who share their sacred Sunday night tradition and what they love most about VdM. Enjoy! *Photo credit: Shannon Lee Images
Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about your family!
JoAnne Cronan: Cronan, party of 4. Kyle, Jo, James (5.75 years old) and Caroline (2.83 years old). We also have a black lab named Chevy, so named because Kyle is a Ford truck guy and Jo likes the jokes. James has big blue eyes and a tender heart and cares deeply about animals. Caroline is smart and feisty and cares deeply about princess hair and floofy skirts.
VdM: Can you tell us a bit about your background and education?
JC: Kyle grew up in Portageville, MO (aka the boot heel) and as a young’un chopped cotton and helped maintain the facilities at the University of Missouri Delta Center with his dad, and went to a lot of church and played a lot of piano for church with his mom. His father wanted a better life for Kyle and urged him to get a college education, so Kyle went to SEMO (Southeast Missouri State University) where he majored in Finance and Pi Kappa Alpha. During college he ran an ice business and also helped raise his adopted siblings while his dad served with the Army in the Gulf War. After college he sold his ice business and chased the American Dream, which moved him northward and he held variety of jobs with big name companies like Pepsi and Paychex. Ultimately he ended up going back to school at Webster for his MBA, and later UMSL to study Piano. One of his fraternity brothers ultimately hooked him up with the first job of his current career, which was an introductory financial aid administrator position at the BJC College of Nursing (now Goldfard school of Nursing).
It was in Music School at UMSL where he met me (JoAnne), a St. Louis native who was studying Cello and Music Business. I grew up doing fun stuff like going to summer camp, being on swim team, and taking horseback riding lessons, playing and refereeing CYC sports, and participating in field hockey, drama, and orchestra in high school, Lifeguarding in the summers and babysitting neighbors. Loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time doing fun stuff outdoors. I had some stellar advisors and advocates during my undergrad at UMSL who encouraged me to pursue more business, so the encore to my Bachelor of Music was a Masters in Accounting, and becoming a CPA.
VdM: What do you do career-wise?
JC: After the requisite brief stint in Public Accounting at a local firm in Sunset Hills, I got the tremendous opportunity to become the Chief Financial Officer at Logos School, a therapeutic alternative middle and high school in Olivette. I love what I do, but nobody loves to hear about it because most people think it sounds boring. What’s not boring is the life-changing work going on at Logos. I am amazed everyday by the determination of our therapists and teachers and not only resilience, but strength of children in adverse circumstances.
Kyle works at the Olin Business School at Washington University. He is the face of financial aid for the graduate business programs, working directly with the students to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible from the initial application all the way through financial aid exit counseling (and sometimes beyond). He is especially proud of his work to bring the military Yellow Ribbon Program to the Olin Business school, and he loves getting to know military veterans of various backgrounds through the financial aid process. He is known as “Kyle the Smile” and really enjoys getting to know people at the “B-school.”
VdM: Do you have any hobbies? How do you and your family enjoy spending your spare time?
JC: Kyle enjoys fantasy sports and learning as much as possible about Bourbons, Scotches, and Whiskies through Scotch Club and by reading various blogs and newsletters. He is also no stranger to Wine and Cheese Place, where he knows the staff by name, and sometimes will bring them things to try and sometimes they invite him to come try things.
My hobby is my kids. I like to be involved in what they are doing right now. We swim in our neighbor’s pool and go to the library a lot. We joined the Science Center, the Zoo, and the Botanical Garden and we spend a lot of time in those places. We do a lot of crafts with a lot of tape, pipe cleaners, and aluminum foil. I pretty much just like to see what’s going on in the world and try to involve them if possible. We had a great time a few months ago making eclipse viewers, and then spending the whole day of the eclipse at Suson Park in Arnold. Also recently I was house-sitting at my friend’s farm(ish – it’s a house on 10 acres but not a working farm), so I took the kids down with me to help feed the horses and enjoy that life for a few days.
VdM: How were you introduced to Montessori?
JC: I had a bizarre friend named Kati in college. She was totally weird but remarkably confident in herself. One day during my freshman year, I found out she went to Montessori (through Upper El) in Tacoma Washington where she grew up, and she attributed her own awesomeness to that foundation. To be honest, the thing that stuck with me the most about our conversation was that she told me about choosing her own work and studying whatever her own interests led her to. I thought that was nuts. I was raised in traditional school and could not even picture myself having the ability at a young age to choose meaningful work, and to not be doing the same thing as everyone else, and to not have my teacher constantly affirming my own “mastery” of something (I was a total grade-grabber growing up).
Luckily it was quite a few years later before I was pregnant with James. During my pregnancy I followed up on the seed planted by Katrina and I researched Montessori at the most basic level, like what would I expect to see if I walked into a Children’s House, and I was struck by the emphasis on Grace and Courtesy, the idea of free movement throughout the classroom, the emphasis on the curated materials available in the prepared environment. It still seemed kind of unbelievable to me, but I just thought back to my friend Kati and thought, if nothing else, at least I want my kids to grow up with the same confidence that radiated from her, and which I knew of myself was lacking because I thrived on outside input of my value to this world. I also had a sprinkle of co-workers who spoke highly of Montessori.
Having been to several parent education evenings and to the Silent Journey, I have come to understand that so much work is done on the part of the Directresses and Guides to allow the children to lead their own meaningful work.
VdM: What are you most looking forward to this school year?
JC: I am really excited for Caroline and James to spend a special year together in P3 with him as one of the culminating year children and her as one of the newest. I am looking forward to James growing in reading because it seems he is right on the verge of a shift there. I am excited to see where Caroline will thrive this year. Because she is starting Montessori a little over a year younger than James did, I wonder what materials she will be interested in at so young and how her journey will be different.
Thank you for sharing, Jo! What an inspiring introduction to Montessori. We are so happy that James and Caroline get to spend this special year together, and that your whole family is a part of our community!