We are VdM (at a distance): The Chelgreen 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 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! Today, we’ll meet Amy, Shaun, Kaia and Barrett Chelgreen. Barrett joined Mrs. McAuley’s Children’s House this school year.

Villa di Maria: Tell us a bit about you and your family and what brought you to St. Louis.

Barrett: We moved here because “somebody wanted to go to our old house.” My family takes good care of me.

Kaia: My Mom got a promotion. My parents work for the government, and my brother is 3 and very smart. I play the cello, and I did synchronized swimming for a couple years. We like to do crafty things, especially Mom, Barrett and me. Barrett does his “projects,” we like to do chalk drawings, Mom helps fix stuff. Mom and I did a lot of crafts and outdoors stuff with Girl Scouts and school when we lived in Virginia.

Amy: We are a close-knit nuclear family. With two introverts at the head and having always lived far enough from extended family that visits took planning, our family has evolved to be self-reliant, but also deeply appreciative of the close bonds formed with friends who become family. Our house is always a wreck because—life with a 3-year-old boy. No, that’s not fair—my house has always been a wreck except when I have company coming because I prefer to spend my precious time outside of my job hours doing things that bring me (and now my family) joy.

I am what brought us to St. Louis. For the second time in our family’s history, me and my career growth have caused our family to move away from our home where roots had started to grow deeper. Each move was a promotion, and ultimately proved to be good for our family, but it is not a decision I take lightly. The first move kept us within the same state and actually moved us closer to my family. This move from Fairfax, VA to St. Louis, MO weighed on me greatly and I did a lot of research to make sure it would be good for my family as well as my career.

Shaun: We came here for my wife’s career. We are a creative and unique group of people who love each other.

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

Amy: I attended a Montessori preschool program. As a former elementary public school teacher, and after watching my daughter go through public elementary school, I knew early on that traditional public school would not be the best learning environment for our son. Barrett’s licensed, early childhood caregiver also expressed concern before he turned 2 that a traditional preschool program would not fit our son’s combination of intelligence, sweet compassion, and energy. I researched good Montessori programs in VA, and made it to the wait list for the Children’s House 2019-2020 program at the school we chose. Being on the wait list proved serendipitous, as we found out a few months later I was selected for the promotion that would bring us to St. Louis. My main concern was finding good schools that fit each of my children. My research led me to

Kirkwood HS for our daughter, and Villa di Maria for my son. The big hurdle for both was that we would be moving toward the end of September, and the kids would miss the first 6 weeks of school. For Barrett, we had obviously missed the normal application and acceptance process. I sent emails and made phone calls hoping against hope that somehow there would be a space for Barrett at Villa di Maria. Right about the time I was starting to get really anxious and trying to figure out alternatives, I received the phone call that there was indeed a space for Barrett! We are a faithful family, and we felt Barrett’s ability to join the VdM family was yet another sign our family was meant to move to St. Louis – that there is purpose here for us. The tour of VdM on our first morning in St. Louis cemented that feeling. We are so thankful to be a part of the VdM family, and we look forward to building stronger connections over the coming months and years!

photo credit: Melinda Smith

VdM: What do you and your spouse do, career-wise?

Amy: As I move up in leadership positions, the move to St. Louis brings the opportunity for me to see how multiple aspects of my organization operate under one roof since the local field office has employees working in many of the business lines under the administration of my agency. I hope my strengths and skills will also allow me to bring positive change to the organization through my work here. Eventually, my goal is to become a senior leader in the agency. Prior to the federal government, my resume reflects my varied interests and skills. I have been a teacher, an aquatics director, a published freelance author. One of my most cherished vocations is that of a Girl Scout volunteer, having been my daughter’s troop leader in various locations for most of her life. Life is too busy here to volunteer on the same level, but I look forward to finding a GS niche soon. Helping people and working to be an agent of positive change are the two common themes in the jobs and positions I’ve held as I look back all the way to when I first started working as a swim lesson instructor and lifeguard.

I am fortunate to have a husband who realizes his career needs to take the back seat for me to continue on my path. Therefore, moving here to St. Louis meant a change in career path for Shaun—taking a lower-graded position in an entirely new division in order to support the move and our family. He is enjoying learning his new position and a new way to serve the agency’s mission. Prior to working for the federal government, Shaun worked as a police officer for over 10 years. While we are both glad the swing shifts and dangerous work are behind him, we recognize that officers like the one he used to be are the ones needed most in this world. Shaun had the ability to talk to anyone and could often diffuse a situation just by talking to the person. This important skill is much more appreciated in officers today than it was when Shaun was on the force. Shaun also strives to help others in the jobs and positions he holds. He prefers to work quietly behind the scenes when possible.

VdM: Tell us something your family is doing to make the most of this extended break.

Barrett: Play cars and play games!

Kaia: We are doing more movie nights and game nights.

Amy: Although I still dread the question of “what’s for dinner?” each day, I’m enjoying cooking more with the family. We’ve enjoyed some really yummy home-made pizzas we wouldn’t otherwise have made when we could easily purchase frozen pizzas or delivery. Our daughter has really stepped up and demonstrated both her maturity and compassion by taking care of her brother while my husband and I work full time from home and she figures out how to complete her HS e-learning! A favorite joy of mine is working upstairs when suddenly, the sound of my 3-year-old passionately singing “Let It Go” can be heard despite the closed door and space between my work space and his location.

Shaun: I have enjoyed spending more time with my kids—watching my son use his imagination and play outside, and watching my daughter play with her brother.

VdM: A question specifically for Barrett –What’s your favorite thing to do outside?

Barrett: Play games outside [like] pretending to be a super hero, being a monkey on my new space dome.

Thank you, Amy, Shaun, Kaia and Barrett. We are happy you’re here!

Amy’s published book is out of print, but used copies might be available. The title is Patrick Henry: Voice of the Revolution, published under the name Amy Kukla and co-written by Jon Kukla. It was published in 2000 by Rosen Publishing.

Uncredited photos courtesy of the Chelgreen family.