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Her Story, Your Story, Our Story

30 Years Ago

It is my honor to interview Mary Ann and share her reflections on this day with you, her da Vinci School family. May her words (and the actions they describe) be an inspirational gift for you, your children and even grandchildren. Thank you for being a part of 30 years of da Vinci and “many more!”  

Kate Kettles, Director of Advancement

June 15, 1987

I flew to Austin to register the corporate name “Foundation for Educational Advancement, Inc.”
I had already called to get approval on that name so it came as a surprise when they said I could not use it because it was too similar to another name. I contacted Board members, Hamid and Janet, to come up with another name that would represent our goals and objectives. After about an hour of brainstorming, one of the people in the Austin office approached me and said, “You know, if you add “Texas” at the beginning of the name, that will make it ok to use.” DONE! In fact, we liked it even better.

It was the birthday of a big idea!

I remember that day so clearly. It was the birthday of a big idea – and I had no idea if this idea would be successful.

They believed in me.

The biggest early supporters were the small group of parents and friends. Kate Smith, Barbara Crow, Gianna Gargan and her husband, John, Debbie and Bill Hammerquist, Janelle and Charlie Jones, and my family in New Jersey! Also Flo Holland and Glenn Brown, Tracey Sellers, Charlotte Greguski, Ross Stewart and of course, Patty Gerard Hannan. Bernard Fulton, founder of Greenhill School, generously shared his years of experience. They all helped in many ways from gathering items and hosting our garage sales to fund the effort, helping paint our first classroom, gathering initial classroom furniture, making classroom materials, sharing talents and expertise and offering their encouragement!

Without them, da Vinci would not exist!

The school was not in a position in the first year to pay me a regular wage. I truly could only take a small pay check periodically, as we had no cash that could be spared. Friends would send me $25, $50 or $100 dollars to help me pay living expenses – rent, gasoline for my car, food. My friends sustained me because they believed in the mission of The da Vinci School and believed in me! I still feel an extraordinary sense of gratitude to this group of people! Without them, da Vinci would not exist!

This hasn't really changed over the years.  Our families and friends continue to generously give all they can to sustain the school.  

Then and Now

Mary Ann's first class included: Christy, Sam, Peter, Kent and Natalie.
In our first year, we taught 24 children in an unused classroom at Arthur Kramer Elementary School. Since then, da Vinci has welcomed more than one thousand young students thru our doors, with another 150 expected for the 2017-2018 School Year.
In 1987, Patty Gerard Hannan was our only teacher; I was her co-teacher. In 2017, I remain blessed by the teachers of da Vinci. I am touched and genuinely grateful for a staff with an average of 9 years da Vinci teaching experience. They are experts in their field and amaze me every day by their dedication to their children.

I judge my success by the children.

Michael and Lauren are now in their 30s!

I am most proud that all our children love their school.  Their curiosity is stimulated here, and they leave da Vinci excited about learning more for their lives ahead! Even our first students are still my source of pride and joy, but also hope.

No, I didn't anticipate all of this.

Mary Ann, Stan, Lesley, Liz, Lindsay, Suellen, Alli and da Vinci alumni working at Camp da Vinci.

I was looking in the present with an eye for the future, but I did not envision what we have today! The ideas we were endorsing were not particularly “in vogue” or popularly accepted. I thought, “I will do everything I can to make this a success. I will put my full self into it so that if it doesn’t work out, I will know I have given it my all. I will have no regrets.”

What is my wish for the next 30 years of da Vinci?

May we always stay true to our vision and mission. Our focus will remain on the children, their enthusiasm for learning and always their best interest. We need to be their voice.
I would like to see an expansion of my original objectives, which involves more parent education and support beginning at birth. Parenting is a really hard job regardless of socio-economic factors. I think it is only getting more challenging. I want us to be there to help in this incredibly important role of raising the next generations!
I would like the children to have more exposure to music, nature and hands-on science. I want to help the da Vinci families – and the broader Dallas community – embrace the importance of protecting our environment for the health of the children and future generations.

Happy Birthday, da Vinci School. Happy Birthday to all!