We are VdM (at a distance): The Desai 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 pandemic 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 Padmanabh, Roopa and Aditri Desai. The Desais joined VdM in 2018, and Aditri is currently a first-year in the Racks & Tubes Lower Elementary classroom.

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

Padmanabh: We are a family of three—Padmanabh, Roopa and Aditri (Adu, she goes to Racks & Tubes). We live in a beautiful neighborhood of Ellisville, MO.

Roopa: Me and Padmanabh grew up in India. Padmanabh‘s work brought us in United States in 2011. Adu was born in Illinois. Padmanabh‘s work kept taking us different places. Before coming  to St.Louis, we lived in Illinois and California. As a family, we love exploring places, traveling and cooking/baking. We also love going to farms to pick fruit and vegetables. One of the things we all miss since we moved to St. Louis is beautiful California beaches. Going to the beach almost every weekend was our go-to thing to do!

We love St.Louis. It’s a great place to bring up a family. Taking walks with Adu to the library through the trail is a favorite thing to do in summer. She has recently learned crochet and practicing almost everyday! She misses going to YMCA for her swim lessons and practice and is looking forward to some swim time in summer.

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

Padmanabh: When we moved to St.Louis, Adu was almost 2 and we were in search of preschool for her. We heard about Montessori through someone in our extended family. From there on Roopa looked up and did quite a bit of research and the more we learnt about Montessori the more convincing it was for us. As parents, we liked a different style than traditional style of education. Hence, Adu started going to Montessori since she was about 25 months old.

Adu went to a different Montessori school before joining VdM. When we moved to Ellisville, we looked for other Montessori schools in nearby area and we found VdM. After a couple of tours, extensive discussions with Laura, we thought VdM would be the place for Adu. She joined VdM in P3 with Mrs. Steinman and last year Adu moved to Racks & Tubes with Ms. Sarah.

Roopa: We love getting lessons at parent-education meetings and are always amazed how concepts can be uniquely presented through Montessori materials.

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

Padmanabh: I work as a supply chain solution architect in one of the world’s biggest food/pet food companies based here in St. Louis. Roopa recently started her volunteer work at UMSL. Before coming to United States, she used to work in information & technology field and later she chose to a be a homemaker.

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

Padmanabh: Trying hard not to lose it!!! But in all honesty, we (mainly Roopa and Adu) have been trying different things like arts & crafts, planting and besides Adu’s online school, we are baking or cooking a lot of different things and having fun.

Roopa: The extended break has given us a great opportunity to connect with our family back in India. Before this we used to talk only on weekends, we’ve been calling our families almost everyday now. Adu is having a great time talking, reading aloud and doing magic tricks with her grandparents. Also, we are watching a lot of baking/cooking shows and videos.

VdM: A question for Adu – If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world for one day, where would you go, and why?

Adu: Of course India, because that is where my grandparents live and my cousins’ parents and cousins live.

Thank you, Padmanabh, Roopa and Adu! We are so happy to have you in the VdM community!

Photos courtesy of the Desai family.

We are VdM (at a distance): The Smith 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 pandemic 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 Melinda, Brian, Nathan and Jacob Smith. Melinda is currently the assistant in our Racks & Tubes Lower Elementary classroom and has been our resident photographer for years. She is also the woman behind our fantastic (and beautiful) yearbooks.

The Smiths first came to VdM in 2013, when Nathan started in the P2 Children’s House. Nathan is now a fourth-year in Upper Elementary and Jacob is a first-year in the Checkerboard Lower Elementary classroom.

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

Melinda: We are a family of four, well five, if you count our newest addition, Teddy. He seems to take up all our family time of late. I’ll start with him—Teddy, our Australian Labradoodle, joined us right before spring break and he keeps life fun, stressful, and up all night all at once. He also keeps us exercised and out of our PJs. Jacob, my next youngest, just celebrated his 7th birthday and he, like Teddy, has an adventurous and playful spirit. Nathan, double digits, 10, is a history lover and a strategist. All that’s left is Brian and me. I guess the best way to describe us is that I love to take things apart and he likes to put them back together (Brian obviously being the more responsible adult).

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

Melinda: Oh, my favorite story! I was pregnant with Jacob at the time and Nathan had just turned three. We decided it was time to find a place for Nathan and not knowing where to start, I asked one of my closest friends, Melissa Urspurch (co-head of ATI) where to look. She only had one suggestion, Villa di Maria. Villa happened to be having a Silent Journey coming up and she told us to attend. Once we went through the Silent Journey, as is a common story at Villa, we fell in love. I remember thinking, if only I had pin maps growing up, maybe I would know where all the countries were! Then life and pregnancy took over until I got a call from Melissa saying we missed the deadline to enroll Nathan… oops! Melissa then went ahead, filled out our application, paid our enrollment fee and Nathan would be attending Villa in the fall with Mrs. Milos!

VdM: What did you do, career-wise, before coming to VdM? And what does Brian do?

Melinda: Before Villa, I was a photographer. I worked at a few portrait studios but while getting ready for Jacob, we decided it was time to start my own very small photography business. Once again, my good friend Melissa put things in motion and let Laura know I was a photographer. So my path to Montessori began, volunteering as a photographer for Villa’s website and media. That continued and also evolved into volunteering in the parent association, cooking with the Upper Elementary, and then finally as an employee. My first two years I was an assistant to Anna Schwind, my forever cheerleader. In order to better assist the children, I started asking her for lessons every week. She guided me as she guided them and like the children, I loved school and learning. Now, four years in, I listen to Ms. Sarah’s lessons and her lovely singing voice and love watching the children solve and engage in the material. It all still brings me much joy.

Brian works two jobs at the moment. The first is my tech support—he helps me with all my current computer woes. But in reality, Brian works as a software engineer and architect at World Wide Technology.  He is a consultant, helping customers build new mobile apps, websites, and other technology. Brian’s office is a dynamic environment where software developers work in pairs and small groups and he has told me how similar the elementary environment at Villa is to his own office.

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

Melinda: I mean, we have a puppy, that’s enough right!? There are also several house projects but… with the weather turning nicer, our time will be spent outside with our new kiddie pool and puppy.

VdM: A question for Nathan and Jacob: If you could teach Teddy any trick in the world, what would it be?

Melinda: Nathan has hopes of teaching Teddy how to catch a frisbee, Jacob simply wants Teddy to learn not to bite. Research question, when do puppies lose all those sharp puppy teeth?

Thank you, Melinda, Brian, Nathan, Jacob and Teddy! Villa di Maria would not be the same without you.

Photos courtesy of the Smith family.

We are VdM (at a distance): The Kunz 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 Andrea, Peter, Stephanie and Sarah Kunz. Stephanie has worked at VdM in Late Stay and at Camp Pegnita as a counselor, and Sarah joined VdM’s Lower Elementary in 2017. She is currently a fourth-year student in Upper Elementary.

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

Andrea: Pete and I grew up in Youngstown, NY, north of Niagara Falls—as far north you can go before reaching Lake Ontario. Although we grew up about a mile from each other, we met sailing together in the mid-eighties. We sailboat raced together during the summers and would go our separate ways to continue our education. We were reacquainted in 2006 and married in 2007, at the Yacht Club where we met, worked together, and grew up sailing. Both of our daughters, Stephanie (19) and Sarah (10) enjoy it and learned how to sail in Youngstown as well! Last summer was Sarah’s first year in the Jr. Sailing program and she won most improved in the July program and most improved of the entire summer! We were all very proud of her.

In 2017, the family collectively made the decision to move on from the (Columbia River) Gorge in Oregon and take a new opportunity with Boeing in St. Louis. We enjoy attending Cardinals and Blues games as a family whether the season is going well or not. It has been a while since we lived in a place where there are (good) professional sports. We try not to talk about the Bills. Overall though, we enjoy spending time together no matter what the activity is.

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

Andrea: Our oldest daughter attended a Montessori school before we moved to Oregon. There wasn’t one when we moved there but when Sarah turned 2 ½, she was ready to go to the new Montessori school that had just opened.

I diligently researched schools when we found out we were moving to St. Louis. I immediately put Villa on the top of our list. Peter checked out the school and after meeting Laura and Robyn he was sold too! We were able to visit as a family just as the Elementary building was completed and that built the enthusiasm for Sarah. Now we are here for our 4th year and loving VdM! Sarah enjoyed her Lower Elementary years but is LOVING Upper Elementary and thrives on anything and everything math related. Everything she experiences in the classroom is directly introduced into our home, especially practical life.

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

Andrea: Pete has always been fascinated by flight and studied Aeronautical Engineering at Penn State, earning his Bachelor’s in 1993 and his Master’s in 1997. In between he spent a few years working in the Marine industry fixing and commissioning sailboats. Following Penn State, Pete headed to Stanford to again study Aeronautics, earning his Ph.D. in 2003. Stanford offered tons of opportunity, working on everything from an America’s Cup campaign, to Mars exploration aircraft designs, but his thesis work centered on how tiny things fly—insects and micro-drones. For his “first job” Pete stepped a bit sideways from aerospace and took a role as a defense technology development engineer for a private firm in Phoenix. He spent a little under a year in Afghanistan, living and working with U.S. Army and International Forces. In 2006, Pete joined a small company in Washington (state), building small robotic aircraft where he served as CTO. He led the aerodynamics team, designing the outside shapes of the airplanes and predicting how they would perform.

Pete is currently Vice President and Chief Technologist for two small Boeing groups,  NeXt and HorizonX. These teams use active and experimental approaches to developing corporate strategy, active technology development and market research on future mobility (a.k.a. flying cars). In addition to these day jobs, Pete also serves as Boeing’s Senior Chief Engineer for Unpiloted Systems, with a primary eye on safety in design and operations.

Dancing at a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in dance and theatre as an adult. After a knee injury in high school (and the fact that I was not going to grow taller), I knew my aspirations of being a Rockette were not in the picture. I continued with theatre and worked in the Marine industry with Peter in the mid-nineties prior to continuing my education. I graduated with a BFA in Theatre and Fine Arts from Niagara University, a private Catholic University. This experience led me to work with several regional theatres and at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. Most recently I worked as an event planner, in the traditional and nonprofit sectors. I also taught theatre, dance and set design at a high school in Oregon, while homeschooling Stephanie.

Currently I am a stay at home mom and the biggest cheerleader for Sarah’s Schooling-At-Home efforts! In an effort to ease back into theatre, I hope to teach an after-school Dance and Movement Club for the primary children next school year.

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

Andrea: Sarah has embraced the interests of both of us, my theatre and art and Pete’s math and engineering, as well as our mutual interest in cooking and baking. It makes it easy to find enriching things to do that engage our interests with hers. Spring Break brought more opportunities to play while now we are busy with School-At-Home most of our days. During Spring Break, screen time was relaxed a bit as we watched movies and musicals and played some video games as a family, Animal Crossing being the favorite! With school back in session, our efforts are focused on less screen time. We get out for some walks, but nothing can compare to playing with friends!

We have enjoyed being able to have lunch every day with Peter while we are all home. We have been cooking, baking, playing board games and card games to keep busy. Running around with our three Border Collies (Luke 15, Missy 13 and Buddy 11) has been a great way for us to get some of the pent-up energy out. Sarah has also enjoyed the process of sketching out, CAD rendering and 3D printing with Peter.

VdM: A question specifically for Sarah – If you could snap your fingers and go anywhere in the world for 24 hours, where would you go? And why?

Sarah: I would go to Oregon to visit my old friends and have a sleep over because I really miss them and we haven’t been back since moving.

Thank you, Andrea, Peter, Stephanie and Sarah for sharing your lives with us today on the blog and every day at Villa di Maria.


Photos courtesy of the Kunz family.

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.