We are VdM (at a distance): The McAuley 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, especially 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!

In today’s post, we’ll meet the McAuley family: Reghan, Aidan, Brennah, Gabrielle and Ella. Reghan McAuley has been our P1 Children’s House guide since 2010, but she first joined the VdM community as a parent in 2005.

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

Reghan: We are a family of five. I would describe our family unit as spunky, passionate, spontaneous, rather silly and a quite a mess at times. In order of age: Reghan, Aidan, Brennah, Gabrielle and Ella. We all love Montessori! And even though our girls have graduated, we continue to feel as though Villa is our touch stone, the place from which we pull our strength. We feel privileged and honored to be a part of the Villa di Maria community.

VdM: Where are you from and what brought you to St. Louis?

Reghan: I was born and raised in a small Oklahoma oil town and Aidan is from Saint Louis. I met Aidan, my husband, when I was attending college at Oklahoma State University. I was the bar manager at Willie’s Saloon, birth place of Garth Brooks… and Aidan was the Bud Man. We married, started our family and lived in Tulsa for a couple of years before moving to Saint Louis, which we felt was a great city to raise our girls.

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

Reghan: I first heard of Montessori through my mother-in-law, Mary, and immediately began my research before my first baby was born. A stranger to St. Louis, I literally found Villa di Maria in the yellow pages (that’s a 1900s term, as Brennah would say). After a tour, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere, the land and the gentle hum of learning. My first memories are of the children outdoors. A child reading under a tree. A child roller skating to the dumpster to take out the trash. A small child filling the bird feeder. That was it. I was sold!

The girls were each a part of the VdM community from 2 ½ years of age through their 6th year. Gabrielle and Ella each attended MAP, which is now The Academy of Thought and Industry, for the 7th grade. They’ll all be at Clayton High School in the fall of 2020… one last year together at the same school.

As a Montessorian (a typical Montessori story really) I started as a parent. I sought out and found the best place for my children to grow and develop. My children not only blossomed, but exposed to me their true love for VdM, and my curiosity took over. I began asking questions every chance I could. Fortunately, directresses love to talk about Montessori. When Robyn asked “have you considered the training?,” I immediately knew the answer.

Thanks to Robyn and the late Dr. Haines, I now have AMI Montessori training in two age groups, birth to three and three to six. I can’t explain the depths of my love for these young children, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with the fascinating process of human development and knowing that through the interaction with their environments, actions, activities, choices and friendships that they will become who they will be. It’s an awesome responsibility. Thank you, Maria Montessori. Thank you, Robyn and the team of incredible people I have worked with.

VdM: Tell us something about Brennah, Gabrielle and Ella, now that they are teenagers.

Reghan: What I can say is that each is driven, passionate (although about different things), kind and thoughtful. Brennah, our soon to be senior, is interested in a range of studies… from law and politics to medicine and psychology. She’s independent and loves to work and earn her own money. She’s busy implementing the 10% rule…”10% of everything you earn is yours to keep.”

Gabrielle, who will be a junior, charts her own course and always has a full schedule whether it’s as an intern at the Missouri Botanical Gardens, Academy of Science, planning activities for her community project called “Beautify STL,” or trying the latest vegan recipe. She was most proud of taking 3 minutes off her cross country record from the year before, an endurance sport that she credits for her academic achievements as well.

Ella has had a blast as an 8th grader at Wydown this past year and revels in anything related to physical movement… from gymnastics to the trampoline to casual activities like shooting hoops to kicking around the soccer ball. She bounces around among her many “friend groups” with ease and delight.

VdM: What is something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break?

Reghan: I think, like most of us, we started with walking multiple times a day, reading, baking, tending to household projects, and yes, we watched “Tiger King.” Aidan and I work from home and the girls have distant learning which helps us maintain a routine. Gabrielle installed 20,000 new bees for her 2 hives. Ella is my videographer for those hit videos on the primary google classroom. Brennah is sharpening her political knowledge as she gears up for voting in 2020. They each tend to their distant learning, then as Montessori children do, they continue learning naturally following their unique personal interests for the rest of the day.

Our day-to-day was previously pretty splintered off from one another with work, travel, sports and separate schools. In quarantine, there is a great deal of healthy family bonding happening with our share of disagreements as well. It is nice to see the girls love for one another become visible again with hugs, play and plenty of laughter. Montessori has allowed their individuality to shine and they truly respect and even adore each other’s different strengths.

We have also taken on the handstand challenge, and our newest quarantine goal is a family card game of spades.

VdM: A question for Brennah, Gabrielle and Ella – What is one of your best memories from Villa di Maria?

Brennah: I loved going outside to learn. At Villa we always were given the opportunity to learn “hands on” by going outside and interacting with the environment. One time, I was given the lesson of life with Ms. Nidhi. We laid out a timeline that stretched all the way down the road. It started at the very beginning of time and went to the current time. I was always able to picture what we were taught and remember it well because of how we experience work and learning in the Montessori environment.

Gabrielle: Today, I can connect my passion for the environment directly to the Earth Day celebration at VdM. Each and every Earth Day my classmates and I were invited to work in the garden and pick up trash around our campus. I planted delicate flowers with Mrs. Milos, bigger plants with Mrs. LeBeau, and worked in the whole entire big garden with Ms. Rebecca. Throughout my years at Villa, I loved exploring our six acres and taking care of what I discovered. After I graduated I continued my interest at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and created a small community garden in the city. VdM’s positive spirits surrounding Earth Day remain important to me today, because the holiday is often under-celebrated elsewhere.

Ella: Over the course of my time at Villa, I made countless memories. However, my favorite one developed towards the end of my Villa experience. At this point in our VdM journey together, my classmates were no longer just friends, but family. So, I was extremely close to every individual. My favorite experience was the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN). This is the trip to New York City that all of the sixth grade students take every year! There is a lot of work and research throughout the 6th year in the classroom prior to, but in the end, we traveled to the UN. My favorite memory of this trip was the experience inside of the UN building. Here we voted in the general assembly. It really felt like we were making an true impact on the world. One of our very own classmates was nominated to speak in front of the thousands of people from the actual podium. It was an experience that I will never forget!

The McAuleys’ Favorite Family Travel Spots: Colorado mountains, Ocracoke Island, and Costa Rica! We prefer to seek out the local culture when traveling, away from the resorts and dive right in to a real experiences.

Family Song: “Cassiopeia” by Sara Bareilles

Family Restaurant: Three Kings on the Loop is our celebration location!

Thank you, Reghan, Aidan, Brennah, Gabrielle and Ella! Villa di Maria would not be the same without you.

Photos courtesy of the McAuley family.