50 Stories for 50 Years: Kuae Kelch Mattox, Journalist
Kuae remembers the Pink Tower, rolling mats, folding cloths and “learning how to take ownership and to own our work.” And she remembers Portia Sperr, “Portia is transcendent – I have such fond memories of her. Her style was so open and welcoming. ‘What would you like to do?’ She would ask.”
Kuae and dad, James, attended Greene Towne’s 50th Anniversary Alumni Open House and Block Party on September 24th. After touring classrooms and seeing old class photos of herself and brother, Khai, in the slide show, Kuae and James reunited with her beloved first teacher, Portia Sperr, at the block party. While current and alumni families enjoyed the celebration, the three sat observing, reminiscing and catching up on some of the past 45 years since Kuae was a young student in Portia’s classroom at Greene Towne.
Among Kuae’s memories is going up the stairs at St. Clement’s Church. “They creaked as you went up. My mom was so concerned about kids falling down the stairs, she lobbied for the gate at the top.” The gate became known as “Bev’s Barrier,” known to all who attended Greene Towne from 1968 to 2001. Kuae also remembers Jamie U., “One of my strongest memories is nap time. Jamie was slightly mischievous, trying to wake people up.”
On the subject of Montessori and her teachers at Greene Towne, Kuae is firm about the influence the experience had on her, “Montessori formed me. It was warm and nurturing. The teachers are committed to the whole child. They’re interested in who children are as people. The teachers were an important part of our lives. Mrs. Sperr was the first teacher that left a wonderful mark on me. I always liked the way she and the other adults guided us. I didn’t see the teachers as teachers but as guides, guiding us to learn.” Kuae felt such a connection to Montessori that she sent her children, Teddi, Cole, and Evan, to a Montessori school near their Montclair, NJ home. “I chose Montessori for my own children because where you start plants the seeds for the future. My kids have as fond memories as I do.”
Being a Montessori parent reminded Kuae how her own experiences at Greene Towne helped her develop a kind heart. “The teachers were so warm and inviting. They accepted who we were, understanding that we are all interconnected. The feeling of peace I felt at Greene Towne helped me to have a peaceful heart. The comfort and security I felt was soothing and helped me early on to be good to others and to myself. As an adult, I wanted to serve others as a journalist. The way we were treated solidified the kindness in my heart.”
Beverly and James set the example that Kuae followed when she became a parent. “My parents, particularly my mother, were very involved. They were partners with the school. My parents were so proud that we were there. They loved Greene Towne and it made me feel like it was second home.” Coupled with the Montessori education she received at Greene Towne, Kuae believes strongly that her parents’ involvement with the school was equally important to her success. Kuae’s parents were educators. Beverly, who passed in 1997, taught drama at CAPA, Philadelphia’s high school for the Creative and Performing Arts. Father, James, is now retired from his 40-year professorship at Temple University. James was one of the group of professors who established Temple’s School of Social work in the 1960s. He still lives in Philly and loves going out to hear some good jazz.
After Greene Towne, Kuae attended Greenfield Elementary School, along with some other Greene Towne friends, and graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls. She feels she “did so well at Greenfield and Girls High because of the seeds that were planted at Greene Towne. The excellence bred at Greene Towne filtered up, it was the root.” Kuae received a BA in Journalism at Howard University and earned her Masters at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she was awarded a fellowship to the Alfred I. duPont Center for Broadcast Journalism. After working in journalism and broadcasting for 14 years, including a stint on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Kuae decided to stay at home with her children. Today, older daughter, Teddi, is a sophomore at UCLA where she rows and majors in International Development and Political Science. Son, Cole, is a junior year at Seton Hall Prep. He plays lacrosse and has a special interest in quantitative analysis and having his own venture capital firm. Younger daughter, Evan, turned 13 this summer, is in 8th grade, and she also plays lacrosse.
Throughout her “stay-at-home” years, Kuae kept her toe in the waters as a freelance journalist and recently returned to full time broadcasting as an editorial producer for CNN’s morning show, New Day with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerata. Kuae also contributes blog posts on parenting, education, sports, stay-at-home mothers of color, and the spirit of volunteerism to HuffPost Parents and HuffPost Black Voices. Among numerous journalistic accomplishments, Kuae was a producer for the award-winning newspaper magazine Dateline NBC and Headliners and Legends with Matt Lauer on MSNBC. Since 2010, she has served as National President of Mocha Moms, a not-for-profit organization supporting stay-at-home and working mothers of color that encourages the spirit of community activism and service among its members.
When we spoke with Kuae recently, she pointed out that the fact we were talking that day, 45 years after her Kindergarten year, was a testament to Greene Towne’s power.
Kuae especially appreciates the focus on process over the product that lies at the heart of the Montessori curriculum. She believes “It’s the steps you take, not the end result, that matter. Thinking critically about what you need to accomplish. It’s an intrinsic part of who I am today. I credit Greene Towne with planting the seeds that I’ve carried through my life.”
To learn more about Kuae:
Read about her in The New York Times Magazine
Watch her on NBC's Today Show
Catch her on MSNBC's Jansing and Company
See her on MSNBC's Morning Joe
Check her out on The Huffington Post