A Muehlemann Moment!

Mary Claire, speaking at her VdM 6th Grade Graduation
Mary Claire, speaking at her VdM 6th Grade Graduation

George Muehlemann, father of Mary Claire (VdM graduate) and George David (VdM 6th year), shared the following:

Seriously? This would take me a week to write down all the things our children do as a result of Montessori…

You’ll love this! MCM was asked to interview two teachers applying for a middle school teaching position. She is the ONLY child in the entire school being asked to participate on the committee. We are very proud parents, and Montessori opened her mind to be the progressive thinker she is. This kid doesn’t stop thinking or analyzing. Certainly not a follower. Certainly not a child trained in a desk nor in a lecture-type environment. Thank you, Villa!!!

Flower planting in the Primary in 2006.  Mary Claire had already been at VdM for a year at this point!
Flower planting in the Primary in 2006.  Mary Claire had already been at VdM for a year at this point!
Villa di Maria's treasured founder, Pearl Vanderwall, with Mary Claire and George David.  This special day in the spring of 2014 was Mary Claire's last official hot lunch
Villa di Maria’s treasured founder, Pearl Vanderwall, with Mary Claire and George David.  This special day in the spring of 2014 was Mary Claire’s last official hot lunch “cheffing” experience in the Upper Elementary.  This one needs a frame and a place on the wall at Villa di Maria, agreed?



VdM’s Most “Decorated” Staff Member

Villa di Maria Class Picture Mrs. Megan, 5th grade, pictured far right
Villa di Maria Class Picture Mrs. Megan, 5th grade, pictured far right

Our favorite Megan Moffitt Eilers has not only been a…

  • Villa di Maria Student
  • Camp Pegnita Camper
  • Camp Pegnita Camp Counselor
  • Camp Pegnita Director
  • Villa di Maria Business Manager
  • Villa di Maria Director of Operations

But, she, as many of you know, will soon return “home” to become our second LOWER ELEMENTARY DIRECTRESS after one intensive, mind-expanding, passion-for-all-things-Montessori-inducing Elementary Training.

Camp Pegnita, 1990
Camp Pegnita, 1990

1.  Please give us your full history at Villa di Maria and Camp Pegnita!

Villa di Maria/Camp Pegnita has been my home for the past 27 years! I started as a three-year old in Annette Haines’s class in the cabin and continued on into the Elementary until my fifth grade year.

I spent several summers as a camper at Camp Pegnita and at age 13 trained to become a counselor. The following summer (2000) I started working at Pegnita and have literally never stopped!  I’ve played every role imaginable: counselor, lifeguard, director!

In January 2012, I began serving as both Business Manager and Director of Operations at Villa di Maria.  

Currently, I’m eagerly awaiting my return to VdM just in time for Camp Pegnita to begin and to prepare for 2016-2017 school year where I will fulfill my new role as a Lower Elementary Directress.

2.  Describe the evolution from studying Elementary Education with the hope of becoming a public school educator to instead training to become an Elementary Montessori directress?

Prior to pursuing a degree in Elementary Education, I worked in the mental health field as a clinical case worker at a residential treatment facility for children and adolescents in Philadelphia. After moving back to St. Louis, I knew I had to follow my real passion, teaching, and embarked on my Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. While taking classes and working as a nanny full time, I was offered an administrative position at Villa di Maria. I was thrilled to work in the place I loved so much while working on my degree.

Once I became part of the Montessori community and saw the true beauty and magic happening inside and outside the classrooms every day, I couldn’t help but be inspired by it all.

As I continued on with my graduate classes in the evenings, I quickly found myself disconnecting with some of the aspects of traditional education. With every class I took, the picture became more clear of what would be expected of me as a public school educator.  I realized, I did not want to stifle the children’s endless love and interest for learning by limiting the lessons to only those that prepare them for assessments. I ultimately decided that I needed something different, something more from education where children love to come to school, where children pursue their interests and where children make their own discoveries.  

After arriving at this conclusion, while wrapping up my final graduate class, I knew my journey in education was not over yet. Once I learned that VDM was growing and that there would be a place for me to work in the classroom as an Elementary Directress, I knew I must take the training in order to do what I love at the very place I love.

3.  What has been the BEST part of your Elementary training?

The best part of Elementary training has been working closely with all the materials and learning all the lessons at such a deep level. Montessori’s simple presentations with concrete materials unfold such complex ideas that inspire the children to want to learn more. I found myself eager to get my hands on the materials as soon as the presentations ended. Even now, while presenting the lessons to children, I find myself making new discoveries right alongside them. It’s truly amazing!

4.  What has been the most CHALLENGING part of your Elementary training?

Anyone who has taken the Elementary training will tell you that it is by no means an easy feat. The past 9 months have been a whirlwind of late nights and long weekends of writing, illustrating, and practicing lessons. The work has been challenging, but the most difficult has been being away from the people I love. When I set out on this adventure in Milwaukee, I had to temporarily leave behind my home, my husband Steve, my dog Pepper, my family, my friends and, of course, Villa di Maria. While away, I have received such tremendous support from everyone (especially my husband Steve) and am eager to get back home.

5. Your favorites:

– Color: Teal

– Season: Fall

– Book: The Giver by Lois Lowry

– Holiday: Halloween

– Movie: The Goonies

– Hobby:  Spending time outside and playing cards or board games

– Type of music: Depends on my mood!

– Restaurant in St. Louis: Kobe Steakhouse

– Vacation: Mexico and Colorado

– Sport: To play: Volleyball To watch: Cardinal Baseball

– VdM Childhood Memory: I couldn’t pick one, so I have two:
1) Making hot lunch! (I love to cook!) I remember making stone soup and thinking… Are we really going to put a stone in the soup? I am pretty sure we did, and the soup was delicious.
2) I remember being obsessed with horses and planning a going out trip to a horse farm where we cared for the horses and rode them.

– Camp Pegnita Memory: Too many to count, but if I had to choose only one, it would be coming up with the stories and games for our camp event, “Legends of the Magic Circle.” We created a game based off a concept of a favorite 90’s show in which we wrote and told stories about the history of Camp Pegnita.  The stories are brought to life in an epic game of riddles and challenges every summer.

6.  If you had to choose ONE:

– Coffee or tea? Tea

– Pencil or pen? Pencil (Pen is just so final)

– Mustard or ketchup? Mustard

– Morning or night? Night

– Beach or mountains? Both! Steve and I love them so much that we had to have our wedding in Mexico on a beach and our honeymoon on the slopes in Colorado.

– Dog or cat? Dog

– Talk or listen? Listen

A peek into the life and times of Mrs. Megan Eilers!  And, never fear- we’ll be hosting a “Meet Mrs. Megan” event soon after she returns to St. Louis!

Lastly, a full circle visual.  These childhood Halloween photos were taken in the same classroom in which Mrs. Megan Eilers will be teaching this fall!




Time for a Spot of Tea?


The students in Mrs. McAuley’s Primary classroom make daily rounds to each classroom, kindly offering freshly brewed tea (honey optional!) to the staff members as a grace-and-courtesy experience.

Mrs. McAuley shared the Practical Life curriculum explanation and rationale for this life lesson:

Serving tea and/or coffee is a part of the primary curriculum referred to as Practical Life. It incorporates cultural elements as well as Grace and Courtesy. We teach these lessons in order to help the child become an active, contributing member in the classroom community and eventually in society. It also helps the child gain confidence in his or her abilities.
Serving tea and coffee is one of the tools we give the child to show him how to act and conduct him or herself in relation with other people. This activity is considered one of the civilities of our society and a social grace that brings positive feedback from those who are served.
Serving tea/coffee is actually a relatively complex activity that elicits many acquired skills and weaves them together. The lesson is reserved for the older role model in the community and requires careful movements, awareness of surrounding activities, reading and communication skills.
The children need to first approach the guest and extend an invitation by asking if the individual would like tea or coffee. They need to share what kind of tea or coffee they have to offer and ask, “Would you like milk, honey or sugar?” They then have to remember the order and know what equipment is needed and how to arrange it on the tray. After the coffee or tea is made, they very carefully carry it over to their guest.
It is an activity that we take for granted as adults but is actually a milestone and point of arrival for the young child.

The State of Villa di Maria Montessori School


Our stellar Head of School, Mrs. Laura Ceretti-Michelman, delivered the official State of Villa di Maria Address Thursday eve with a follow-up recap at Friday morning’s parent coffee.

In a nutshell:


  • Our school is healthy and thriving!
  • Tours have increased significantly compared to this time last year.
  • Retention is high across the board from Primary to Lower Elementary and from Lower Elementary to Upper Elementary.
  • Contributing factors to this trend include our beautifully updated, user-friendly website (courtesy of Teresa Muehlemann, owner of Stan Gellman Graphic Design), a new targeted marketing strategy with the assistance of our advertising consultant and, of course, the sharing of Montessori experiences from our current VdM families to family and friends- nothing compares to word of mouth!


  • Annual reports will be distributed to all currently enrolled families within the next two weeks.  
  • All things positive to report on all fronts!
  • Our VdM annual campaign was a great success- we will be gunning for 100% participation next year!

Campus Revitalization:

  • Phase 1 will begin this August after the close of Camp Pegnita; Phase 1 includes a new Elementary building, a pool house (equipped with locker rooms, restrooms and a Camp Pegnita office) and a new pavilion 
  • We’re on target for all start dates, and these first new buildings will be completed by the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
  • Stay tuned for more exciting fundraising opportunities to assist with the construction and completion of ALL of our new buildings over the next few years!


  • Our Elementary program has experienced such growth that Villa di Maria will have TWO, yes TWO, Lower Elementary classrooms this fall!  Mrs. Anna Schwind and Mrs. Megan Eilers will be our directresses with Mrs. Melinda Smith and Mrs. Sophie Andre as assistants.  
  • Our Upper Elementary classroom will relocate for one year while construction is underway to a beautiful location nearby.  A wonderful adventure this will be!
  • And, we must share that all of our Elementary classrooms are FULL for this coming school year!  That deserves a round of applause and one enthusiastic cheer!

Parent Association:

  • Many thanks to Kristel Mabie and Melinda Smith for an enormously successful year with all events planned and orchestrated by our Parent Association!  Many props to both of these lovely ladies!
  • The 2016-2017 Chairs, Tammy Presley and Kathy Favazza, will take the reigns and continue to serve as liaisons between the parents and school, build community through events and activities and support the VdM mission.

A Cronan Montessori Moment


From JoAnne Cronan (mom of James in Primary III):

A few days ago while driving in the car, James recalled a winter-break visit to the Science Center. It basically went like this:

“Mom, remember the day we went to the Science Center and saw that BRAIN? And I drew the brain?” James had drawn a pretty close replica of the brain he saw while there and even color coded the different areas. It was not at all what the planned activity was for that day, but the volunteer just went with it, and they talked about the areas of the brain as James was drawing them.

“Remember that guy (the volunteer demonstrating with the brain)? He saw my shirt and asked if I went to a Montessori school. I DO go to Montessori school. He said he had gone to a Montessori school, too.”

I do remember that day at the Science Center and the care shown to James by this former Montessorian (now in his late 40’s or early 50’s). I’m pretty sure that James now thinks that he is destined to work at the Science Center. It was a sweet Montessori moment, and I’m glad it made an impression on James, too.