How’s It Been Going?

Way back in March 2020, as SARS-CoV-2 took hold of the world, Villa di Maria was quickly forced to take on unprecedented challenges and shift into pandemic mode. Our campus was shut down and each of us—child, parent, and staff member—was suddenly separated from the rest of our community.

To close out 2020 Villa di Maria went online—our team of guides, assistants, staff members, and parents came together to develop distance learning plans for every level. Was it the same as being together on campus? No. Was it an incredible feat of creativity, innovation, and hard work? Absolutely. Do we ever want to do it again? Not really, no. But… hear me out… it hasn’t been all bad.

We were able to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year with both on-campus and distance-learning programs for our elementary students. On campus, we used the separated buildings and abundant outdoor space of our campus to our advantage and implemented protocols and procedures to keep everyone as safe as we possibly could. Off campus, our learning-from-a-distance elementary students logged in together daily to meet with their guides, assistants, and some invaluable admin-support team members.

We also added to our community at the start of the 2020-2021 school year with a brand new Young Children’s Community (YCC) for children as young as 14 months. We are proud to say that the YCC is a thriving program (and a joy to witness!).

So, the first part of pandemic-mode Villa di Maria has had its upsides, and for that we are grateful.

As for the difficulties, there have been many. The eons years since spring 2020 have been tough on everyone—we haven’t yet met the person who has remained unfazed by the pandemic. As a school, we faced enrollment and financial challenges. As a community, we dealt with the pressures of a vigilant effort to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 on our campus. Our staff and families have sacrificed and endured—and all for the greater good.

Categorically, emphatically, and whole-heartedly, it is because of our community that VdM is still going strong. Our children, parents, and staff are all dedicated to the same goal, to keep Villa di Maria open on campus and thriving during the ongoing pandemic. We’ve been doing it, and we will keep on doing it. We are heading into 2022 (Omicron notwithstanding) encouraged and excited.

In the thick of the pandemic, our resources were stretched thin. Our pandemic response efforts dominated our administrative time and sadly, our blog went dormant.

We love our blog and the community it fosters. We are proud to have a reach that encompasses and stretches beyond the VdM community. Over the years, our blog has connected us with incredible humans across the globe and allowed us to brag about highlight some of the amazing moments that happen here at VdM. It is our hope that this blog creates conversations with parents, Montessori practitioners, and educators alike. Everyone is welcome! Over the next few weeks, you will see us getting back up and running, re-establishing our cadence and content. Stay tuned and share posts you like with people you love.

In the meantime, here are a few of favorite posts:



We are VdM: The Jöstlein 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. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the talents, humor, energies and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today we’ll meet one of longtime families: Tricia, Thomas, Klaus and Max Jöstlein. The Jöstleins have been a part of Villa di Maria for many years. Their older son Klaus graduated in 2019, and their younger son Max is currently a fourth-year in Upper Elementary. Tricia and Thomas are also on campus regularly—most recently, Thomas treated the elementary classrooms to an outdoor concert last fall and Tricia was a substitute guide in the YCC this past winter.

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

Tricia: Thomas and I both grew up in the midwest and we met at Rice University in Houston, where we studied French Horn performance.  We followed each other to various orchestra jobs (Honolulu, Richmond, Omaha, Kansas City, New York) until Thomas was hired by the St. Louis Symphony in 2010.  We have loved being in St. Louis.

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

The Jöstleins: After a friend introduced us to Montessori, we found a nearby Montessori preschool for Klaus.  During his culminating year, Tricia attended the Silent Journey at Villa and we knew immediately that Klaus would thrive in the Montessori elementary environment. (And we were right!)  Max joined VdM the following year as a founding member of P3. All of a sudden, seven years later, he’s in Upper El!

Tricia was so taken with Montessori education that she studied for three summers at the Montessori Training Center in  Milwaukee to become an elementary guide. While she did not go on to teach full time, it gave her a deep appreciation for the investment made by all the VdM guides. Tricia occasionally fills in as a sub at the Montessori Lab School.

VdM: Tell us about your backgrounds, what do you and your spouse do career-wise?

The Jöstleins: We are both professional musicians, which is terrific in so many ways.  Besides the opportunities to perform at Powell, Thomas has played in great halls around the world, including a historic concert in North Korea when he was a member of the New York Philharmonic. Tricia is a frequent sub with the SLSO, plays for Winter Opera St. Louis, and is adjunct at Webster University.

VdM: Do you have any hobbies? How do you and your family enjoy spending your spare time?

The Jöstleins: We enjoy a lot of things in common, like travel, cooking, board games, and tennis.  We also have tremendous opportunities that music affords. Klaus (violin) and Max (cello) are becoming really fine musicians and it’s great to play music together.

During the pandemic we hosted 173 free concerts on our front lawn.  With the help of many friends, we branched out beyond classical music, to jazz, bluegrass, ragtime, Irish, story telling, and even a Beatles cover night!  Our Syrian friends sold their amazing falafel, and Klaus and Max started quite a lemonade operation.  The concerts provided a unique way to expand our musical horizons, connect with our neighbors, and meet new people during an otherwise fraught time.

VdM: A question for Klaus – Where are you now? Tell us a little about your new school and what you’re up to.

The Jöstleins: Klaus mostly goes around the house screeching and annoying his little brother. And attending the College School in Webster Groves.

VdM: For Max – Tell us one of your favorite Villa di Maria memories (so far!).

The Jöstleins: Max loved playing his cello for his Racks and Tubes classmates last spring on Zoom. They were amazed at his abilities!

Thank you to Tricia, Thomas, Klaus and Max! Villa di Maria would not be the same without you.
Photos courtesy of the Jöstlein family.

Remembering, Honoring and Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.

The family of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., walk in the funeral procession in Atlanta, April 9, 1968. From left: daughter Yolanda, 12; King’s brother A.D. King; daughter Bernice, 5; widow Coretta Scott King; Rev. Ralph Abernathy; sons Dexter, 7, and Martin Luther King III, 10 (AP Photo)

Dr. King spent his lifetime exposing the unfair and cruel treatment of African Americans throughout the United States. He fought for racial and economic equality and inspired countless others to do the same in the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. locks arms with his aides as he leads a march of several thousands to the court house in Montgomery, Ala., March 17, 1965. From left: Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Foreman, King, Jesse Douglas, Sr., and John Lewis (partially out of frame). (AP Photo)
The following leaders are visible on the front row, wearing leis: John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Ralph Bunche. Brown Chapel AME Church and the George Washington Carver Homes are behind them. Sylvan Street was later renamed Martin Luther King Street. (Alabama Media Group)
1958 photo of Martin Luther King Jr. being arrested in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Charles Moore/Smithsonian)

Today we take the time to honor the life, the work and the legacy of Dr. King. There are several online opportunities to do just that.

The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr is welcomed with a kiss by his wife Coretta Scott King after leaving court in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 (AP Photo)

Thank you, Dr. King. Rest in peace.

We are VdM: The Ferber 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. In this series, We are VdM, we’ll highlight the talents, humor, energies and wisdom of some of our amazing people. Today we’ll meet the Jody, Alan, Theo and Elliott Ferber. Theo is a new Villa di Maria student this year; he is in his second year in the Checkerboard Lower Elementary classroom.

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

The Ferbers: Alan was born and raised in the Bay Area of California, and went to UCLA. Jody lived in MO, IN, OH, and NC as a child—and notably, in Kirkwood from age 7-11! Jody went to the Cleveland Institute of Music, UC Berkeley, and Manhattan School of Music for undergrad & grad degrees. We met while playing a chamber music rehearsal at the Musicians’ Union in Manhattan in 2004, and lived in the NYC area until summer 2020. After we had our second son Elliott in the fall of 2018, we knew we were ready to live in a smaller city, and began to weigh options.

We chose St. Louis because Jody’s parents live in Labadie, just west of the city, and we were attracted to the high level of cultural offerings here in a midsize city. A strange coincidence: as a child, Jody moved to St. Louis in the summer before 2nd grade, and now 34 years later, our oldest son Theo moved to St. Louis the summer before his 2nd year!

VdM: How did you find Villa di Maria?

The Ferbers: Early in the summer, when we decided to move to St. Louis, we did lots of research on different school options and drove by many different schools.  Theo (a 2nd year in Checkerboard) was with us when we first drove by VdM. As soon as he saw the playground made of cedar structures, he exclaimed, “I want to go to school here!!” We set up a meeting with Laura, and were impressed by the large outdoor campus with woods and garden, and inspiring indoor facility. The clear priorities of hands-on, tactile, and experiential learning, as well as appropriate outdoor recreational time, were important to us.

Laura’s anecdotes about various VdM students and their interests/pursuits helped us know that VdM would be a great fit for Theo. In NY, Theo went to a traditional public school for K and 1st grade. We could tell half-way through 1st grade that we needed to find a learning environment where his enthusiasm and creativity for hands-on learning would be embraced and supported as part of his school day. We started to explore Montessori schools last winter in NY, and when we decided to move to St. Louis, we were really glad see options here, as well. We feel so lucky to have found VdM, and after only a few months, we see Theo’s enthusiasm for learning reignited! Our whole family is enjoying the process of learning all about Montessori, and both Mom and Dad are jealous and want to be Montessori students!

VdM: Tell us about your backgrounds, what do you and your spouse do career-wise?

The Ferbers: We are both professional musicians. Alan is a trombonist, composer, and arranger, working in jazz and commercial music, and is adjunct jazz faculty at NYU Steinhardt School. He writes music for his own Big Band and Jazz Nonet, as well as arrangements and original commissions for other artists and ensembles. Many recent projects have been for vocalists with big band. He co-teaches the BMI Workshop, a weekly coaching for professional musicians to improve their big band composing.

Jody is a cellist, composer, and vocalist. Although she is classically trained, she plays a lot of different styles of music and often plays with jazz artists. Alan and Jody record regularly for albums, films, and commercials, and have both released a number of albums as composer/bandleader. You can hear Alan’s music at and Jody’s music at Jody also teaches private cello lessons and leads the Jitterbugs: Jazz for Kids online classes. Since 2017, Alan and Jody have performed chamber jazz as the Ferber Duo, and had a recent livestream concert at the World Chess Hall of Fame here in St. Louis. (Alan’s identical twin brother Mark joined us for that concert on drums—so this time, Ferber Trio!)

VdM: Do you have any hobbies? How do you and your family enjoy spending your spare time?

The Ferbers: We love to hike, camp, bike, kayak, and make nature art together (we always have a “collections” box of cool looking natural materials we’ve found). We love to travel, so when one parent has a concert in a great location, we try to bring the family along, when possible. Also, Theo plays the drums, so we often play “Family Band.” (Elliott, age 2, is our dancer!). Theo went through a huge Beatles phase in 1st grade, so we learned “Come Together,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Hey Jude” as Family Band. As anyone in Checkerboard knows, Theo loves baseball, so we often go to our local Fox Park and play at the baseball diamond. Theo is a natural gardener and is constantly starting plants from seed—so although Mom and Dad don’t have green thumbs, Theo is encouraging us to learn and stretch. This year Theo planted dozens of seeds in pots during the 2nd week of COVID lockdown and we had our first garden with actually edible proceeds this summer: kale, chard, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, beans, and carrots. Yum!

VdM: What are you most looking forward to this school year?

The Ferbers: We are so excited for Theo to learn in the Montessori style, and for him to have the opportunity to make lot of new friends. We are also enjoying spending time with the grandparents, with whom we’ve been in a “bubble” since June. It’s been really special for the boys to see them often, something we never could do before when we lived so far apart! Although it’s a challenging time to get to know a new city, we’re really enjoying take-out from SO many yummy St. Louis restaurants, and have tried to catch live outdoor music when possible!

VdM: A question for Theo – What is one of your favorite things to do at school, so far?

Theo: Grammer Box III, because of the colored water, and you get to use the science stuff to make the colored water.  It is SO FUN!

Thank you Jody, Alan, Theo and Elliott! Welcome to Villa di Maria—we are thrilled to have you in the VdM community.

Photos courtesy of the Ferber family.