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Alumni Spotlight: Sarah (Whitaker) Siems

Alumni Spotlight: Sarah (Whitaker) Siems

In this month’s Alumni Spotlight, we are recognizing Sarah (Whitaker) Siems. Sarah, a native to Concord Township, came to Hershey Montessori School when she was just eighteen months old in our Parent-Infant class. Her dad was the first dad to be in the Parent-Infant class. She remained at Hershey’s Concord campus through 6th grade and then attended the Huntsburg campus through eighth grade.

Sarah now lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband, Philip, their two sons, Henry (4) and William (2), and their “very fluffy cat” named Roly Poly. Sarah is a nationally certified personal trainer and trains her clients via her website and app, train.fitstyled.com. She is also the author of the cookbook Cooking without a Kitchen, as well as Fit in 20 Minutes, the only pre-made, yet customizable workout plan. She most recently released her new children’s book Hippos Go to Hawaii, coauthored with her husband. All her books are available on Amazon.com.

Enjoy our interview with Sarah, below.

 

Hi Sarah, you’ve been busy! Tell us where you landed after high school. Did you go to college, and if so, where did you attend?

Yes, I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

 

What degree(s) or training did your pursue?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Applied Physiology & Enterprise from SMU and am a nationally certified personal trainer through American College of Sports Medicine. I also have certifications in yoga, lifestyle and behavior management, and sports nutrition.

 

That is impressive! Is there something about your Montessori education that stands out to you? What in particular did you like most about it? 

Primarily, I liked the close-knit community. Additionally, I also felt that we were able to foster more creativity by growing up in a Montessori environment.  The way everything was structured made me feel that it was okay, and encouraged, to think outside the box, which I believe has had a tremendously positive impact on my life and in the way I raise my own children.

 

That is truly wonderful to hear. Can you tell us what your heart’s passion is?

My children. Beyond that, making people happy and finding fun and creative ways to show love for them.

 

Do you have any hobbies or specific interests?

I love genealogy and organization. The latter is due to having lived in a dorm!

 

Speaking of dorms, and Hershey having a boarding community, what is your favorite Hershey memory?

I loved the Thanksgiving feast in the gym. It was so fun to get paired with a younger student and I specifically remember how the corn bake and cranberries tasted.

 

What has been your happiest moment to date?

Finding out I was pregnant!

 

What is a little-known fact that others wouldn’t know about you?

I was in the Justin Bieber movie at a time when I didn’t really know much about him. 🙂

 

Tell us where your favorite place to go is.

Hawaii! This is partly why Hawaii is the first location for our book series.

 

And, what is your favorite thing to do?

I love taking walks with my family.

 

This may be obvious, but what is your favorite book?

Hippos Go to Hawaii!

 

Can you give us one of your favorite quotes?

“If you don’t ask, the answer is already ’no.’”

 

Do you have a favorite movie?

Legally Blonde. I know every word. I think Elle Woods is smart, driven, and kind, all while fashionable.

 

Love it! So, how do you think your friends and family would describe you?

I just asked, and they said “loving, kind, creative, and funny yet professional.”

 

And what do you think? How would you describe yourself?

Well, the things they said were nice, so I think I like that list!

 

Absolutely! As we wrap up with the last few questions, is there one thing about Hershey you would like others to know?

I would like them to know that it really is like a family.

 

This is more of a personal question. Who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

My mom. She’s a hard worker, smart, and fun. She also prioritized big family trips with extended family and we love to do the same.

 

Last question. Do you have a life lesson you would like to share with others?

Life is short. Tell people you love them every chance you get!

 

That is great advice, Sarah. It’s been a pleasure to catch up with you and to see all that you have done. Where you have taken your life thus far is an inspiration to us all. We look forward to continuing to watch you flourish!

Alumni Spotlight: Amaya Varma

Alumni Spotlight: Amaya Varma

In this month’s Alumni Spotlight we are recognizing Amaya Varma. Amaya spent three years at Hershey Montessori School, completing 7th, 8th and 9th grade at our Huntsburg campus. Amaya attended Montessori schools her entire life, and it seemed like the natural next step to come to Hershey after completing 6th grade at her Montessori elementary school. She has had many family members attend or teach at boarding schools in India, so she was familiar with Montessori and boarding school education while attending school.

Amaya is from the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is in her final year at Portland State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. Amaya is writing her undergraduate thesis on Montessori Pedagogy and the concept of culture in the classroom. She has begun applying to master’s programs as well.

She is a huge foodie who loves to travel and plans on traveling everywhere she possibly can.

Below is our full interview with Amaya:

 

What did you like most about your Montessori education?

I love that it has allowed me to be the person I am today. Montessori education cultivates individual and community growth in ways that complement each other.

 

What is your favorite Hershey memory?

I don’t think I can just pick one! Although I loved the academic/daytime parts of Hershey, my fondest memories are BY FAR within the boarding community and the family that was built there.

  • I am quite fond of my memories of roommates in 8th grade–we would laugh and not be able to stop.
  • I loved when I got the rare opportunity to wake up the boys boarding floor in the mornings by ringing this obnoxiously loud cowbell and then try and dodge them the rest of the day.
  • I loved when the school play was being put on and David McNees’ contagious and slightly overwhelming energy about the way somebody said a certain word sent us all into giggles. He couldn’t help but hop around onstage “projecting” in a grandiose demonstration.
  • I loved the coolness of the morning air as we walked to morning barn chores and the peace you got at night after evening barn chores.
  • I loved the satisfaction and the community I built as one of the consistent barn-cleaning volunteers for Friday community service. The consistency in who showed up always ensured work would get done quickly but properly so we could spend the remainder of the afternoon/evening enjoying each other’s company.
  • I loved watching the students who had never seen snow before running out of bed first thing in the morning to jump outside in just shorts, no shoes, no shirt. It reminded us seasoned snow students that it was a blessing! They would quickly change their minds after a week, but their childlike excitement was not lost on onlookers.
  • I loved packing and cleaning times in the boarding house. It was a time where you could bond with each other and with the houseparents specifically.
  • I loved our hug lines at night where every boarder would line up to give each other a goodnight hug before heading to their respective dorms.
  • There was one evening where our German students were preparing a traditional meal and I remember it was taking a while to make and all of us hungry boarding students stepped in to help.
  • I enjoyed waking up in the mornings for breakfast and being met with our overly energetic yet begrudging breakfast chef Laura who if you weren’t a morning person let you know (we were all quite fond of her).
  • Elizabeth Seney would take me to yoga classes occasionally when she noticed my mental health was low and honestly it helped tremendously. Some students in the boarding community are lucky enough to feel seen by staff.
  • I loved our midnight feasts; we were always so loud but thought we were being so sneaky.

 

What is one thing about Hershey you would like others to know?

Boarding is worth it. Every experience at Hershey will be unique. There are no guarantees and boarding can be difficult at times but in my opinion, so so worth it. I cannot emphasize that more based off of my individual experience. The boarding community is small and good houseparents build an individual relationship with each student which allows you to feel part of a family. The connections formed in one year in boarding school are equivalent to years’ worth somewhere else. These connections stay with you — I still speak to my graduating class somewhat regularly in a group chat and have even visited some since becoming an alumnus. Although I chose to leave Hershey after the middle school program, I didn’t feel like it was big enough for what I needed as an individual at that time, I can confidently say it set me up to be a good person and citizen. I care about my environment and people — which is a Montessori trait that is lost on no one.

 

What is your favorite place to go?

Back home to my family’s farm or Barcelona, Spain.

 

What is your favorite thing to do?

Eat good food and be around good people.

 

What is your favorite book?

I don’t have just one! The last one I read and enjoyed was “Crying in H-Mart.” I am currently reading “Caste.”

 

Do you have a life lesson you would like to share with others?

Not a life lesson, but just an idea: It is okay to not be okay. You must treat yourself with grace and show yourself forgiveness. The power you have within yourself that comes from humble self-love is what drives your energy out into the rest of the world. If you show yourself compassion, it is inevitable that you will treat others with the truest form of compassion as well.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share or let others know?

Thank you to all the boarders and community members who were there during my years and are seeing this. I have so much love and gratitude for every one of you. We persevered through some eventful times, and I wish you all nothing but abundance and peace.

 

We are extremely proud of Amaya and will continue to support her in all of her growing accomplishments. Thank you for being a part of our Hershey family and good luck as you finish your final year of undergrad!

From Hershey Alumna to Hershey Guide – Spotlight on Saren Peetz

From Hershey Alumna to Hershey Guide – Spotlight on Saren Peetz

This month’s Spotlight is unique. We had the honor to interview Saren Peetz. Saren is a Hershey Montessori School alumna-turned-staff member. She is a Hershey Montessori Early Elementary Guide and Co-Chair of Hershey’s ISACS (Independent Schools Association of the Central States) Steering Committee. Saren attended Hudson Montessori School since she was three years of age and came to Hershey to study as a 9th grade student (Hershey did not yet have a high school in those years). She volunteered multiple times a week on the farm through high school and during her summers in college. Then, she came back two years ago as a guide. “I just couldn’t stay away!” says Saren.

Saren grew up in Hudson, Ohio, and she is currently waiting to close on her first house in Novelty. Before returning to Hershey as a guide, Saren moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, to attend College of the Atlantic for four years. After that, she moved to Maryland to attend Montessori training outside of Baltimore. Her first teaching position involved the starting of the first elementary classroom at a tiny rural Montessori school in Virginia, about an hour outside of Washington, D.C.

Saren loves watching the children she works with grow into their potential. When they first arrive in the elementary, it is as if she can look over their heads and see who they can become. To watch as little flickers of that future person become a more constant light is what she loves the most. She and her partner, Ian, have two bunnies, a blind kitty, a California king snake, and about 360,000 honeybees in six colonies! She also frequently visits her childhood horse and dog at her family’s home nearby.

Enjoy our full interview with Saren below:

 

What brought you to Hershey?

The community. The feeling that you not only know everyone in the school but care deeply for them. Also, the commitment to authentic Montessori pedagogy and continuous learning on behalf of the adults. There is no other place like it!

What drew you to Montessori?

I have been “in Montessori” for most of my life, but I think what keeps me so excited about it is the potential it has to be both life changing and world changing. Dr. Montessori lived in a time of much turmoil and saw the child, and the education of the child, as the solution. If the child can be both knowledgeable and at peace with themselves, then they have the power to change the world around them in those ways as well. We are once again living in a time of so many challenges, and this education affirms and supports children’s power to make a difference, now and in the future.

Favorite Hershey memory?

Another tough one! My favorite memory from a long time ago would be early mornings in the Farmhouse as an adolescent, talking with friends, reading the newspaper, and listening to guitar music before morning meeting. More recently, my favorite memory would be reading my children poetry and realizing how deep they are already able to think at eight years old.

Describe the work you do and how it is performed in your classroom:

Aside from giving key lessons, my two favorite ways of engaging with the children in my community are to do handwork with them and tell stories, particularly about history or biology. This year, a family donated a fleece of raw sheep’s wool and the children and I have been working on skirting, washing, carding, and spinning it in preparation for using it in their crochet, knitting, and weaving work. I have LOVED moving through this process with them! I also try to tell at least three stories to the class each week, and their most recent favorites have been about modern-day Native American heroes, the life cycle of honeybees, and how illuminated books were made during the Middle Ages. It always makes my day when a story really sparks their imaginations and motivates them to do some great follow up work.

What did you take away from Hershey as a student? How has that experience shaped what you are doing now as a Hershey guide?

I was an “official” Hershey student for just one year, when I was in 9th grade. However, I have to say that one year perhaps made more of an impact on my life than any other in my education. At the Huntsburg campus, I felt what it meant to have a community, a home base, while also learning so much about the world beyond the farm as many of my friends were from different backgrounds and cultures. The experience inspired me to be curious about the world – to want to travel, live away from Ohio for a time, and get to know different ways of life. I did a lot of that in college as I went to school in Maine, travelled around Europe, and later lived in an Appalachian community outside of Washington, D.C. I feel all these experiences are now what feed my lessons with the children. I always think, what interesting personal story can I bring to this concept? And looking back, I feel that is much of what my guides at the Middle School did for me – engaged me on a personal level and challenged me to apply my knowledge whenever possible.

Where is your favorite place to go?

The Maine coast, the mountains of North Carolina, or British Columbia, Canada.

Can you tell us your favorite thing to do?

Get kisses from my horse.

What is a little known fact about you?

If I wasn’t a guide, I would have been an architect!

Who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

Definitely my middle school guide, Pat Ludick. She taught me how to push myself and that I was capable of more than I thought. I use so many of her strategies in my own classroom.

Favorite book?

It’s impossible to choose a favorite!

Favorite quote?

“…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Favorite movie?

Spirited Away

How would your friends and family describe you?

Workaholic for sure! Mothering and sensitive with a good sense of humor.

How would you describe yourself?

Probably same as my friends!

Happiest moment?

Graduating from college, and then again graduating from Montessori training.

Biggest life lesson you would like to share with others?

All hard things get easier.

 

Thank you, Saren. The Hershey community is grateful for you and your service to our school and students. Your positive energy and wisdom bring joy to our campus!

Alumni Spotlight: Elise Spintzyk

Alumni Spotlight: Elise Spintzyk

Featuring Elise Spintzyk

In this Alumni Spotlight, we celebrate 2018 Hershey Montessori School graduate, Elise Spintzyk. Elise now lives in Columbus, OH with two roommates and is attending The Ohio State University where she is studying to receive her B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Neuroscience. She currently works at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in an inpatient pediatric psychiatry unit. Elise grew up in Concord Township, OH, home to Hershey Montessori School’s birth through 6th grade campus.

Elise’s mother’s studies of early childhood education introduced her to Montessori education and prompted a visit to Hershey’s Concord campus. She was very happy with the way her daughter reacted to and embraced the learning environment around her. Elise loved her experience with her early childhood education and continued to attend Hershey Montessori School all the way through her middle and upper school years. In total, Elise spent 14 years as a student with Hershey until her graduation in the spring of 2018.

Below is our full interview with Elise:

What did you like most about your Montessori education?

            During Middle School, it was the connections between academic studies and the farm. In the Upper School, it was the academics and how they relate to real world problems. It was not just textbook studies. Montessori education really helped me adapt to my college education. During my Children’s House and Elementary education, I really enjoyed the hands-on learning concept. I felt engaged with my work, and I had the opportunity to choose the skills I really wanted to develop. Being able to choose my own path made me motivated to come to school and continue learning.

What is your favorite Hershey memory?

We took a class trip to Boston during my junior year. I was able to be the planner of the trip and really enjoyed being able to take on the responsibility of planning a large trip for everyone.

What is one thing about Hershey you would like others to know?

            The evaporative pond: I loved the stunning views of campus and have fond memories of this area in particular.

Favorite place to go on campus?

            Some of my favorite places at Hershey are the bioshelter and the garden. I loved the experience of working in them, alongside my guides and classmates. I also liked working for the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project.

Who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

            Laurie Ewert-Krocker because there wouldn’t have been an Upper School without her. Laurie created a well-rounded and expertly designed Upper School. Her impact extends well into my daily life and the lives of other students.

Favorite book?

            The Great Gatsby written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Favorite movie?

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

How would your friends and family describe you?

            Kind, creative, caring, and passionate!

How would you describe yourself?

I am dedicated in academics, loyal, and kind!

Is there anything else you’d like to share or let others know?

            Focus on the opportunities that Hershey provides you, not the opportunities that other schools offer their students.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and inspirations with us, Elise. It was a pleasure catching up with you, and Hershey Montessori School is so proud of you! Good luck during your senior year at The Ohio State University!

Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Harrington

Alumni Spotlight: Ryan Harrington

Featuring Ryan Harrington

Ryan Harrington, Hershey Montessori School Alumnus

Ryan Harrington, Hershey Alumnus

This month’s Alumni Spotlight features Ryan Harrington. Ryan has lived in many states across the U.S. during his life, including California, Ohio, Illinois and Michigan. He currently lives in Urbana, Illinois and is attending college at the University of IL at Urbana Champaign where he is pursuing his Master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering. While working on his studies, Ryan is also a Graduate Research Assistant at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Before moving to Illinois, Ryan completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at California Polytechnic State University.

Ryan came to Hershey Montessori School in 2001. He said his parents enrolled him at Hershey when the local kindergarten program wanted to hold him back until he had the proper communication and motor skills. 

“My parents thought it was unacceptable that the school would hold their autistic child back for these deficiencies when their child could draw roadmaps for every freeway in the greater Cleveland area,” said Ryan. “My parents brought me to Hershey Montessori School because the program allowed students to learn topics by proficiency and rarely by age.”

Ryan stayed at Hershey for ten years, from 2001 through 2011, when his family moved to Chicago.

Below is our interview with Ryan.

 

How would your friends describe you and how does that compare with how you would describe yourself?

My friends would describe me as someone who could introduce you to any academic topic. I would describe myself as a down-to-earth realist.

What are your favorite places to go and favorite activities to do?

My favorite place to go is Bay View, MI, where I love to sail! I also enjoy hiking. The last mountain I was able to hike was San Gorgonio, which has an elevation of 11,503 feet! I also enjoy solving Rubik’s Cubes.

What has been your happiest moment to date?

My happiest moment was being re-elected as the president of my high school Science Olympiad team. It was a big deal not just because we achieved our highest placement at the state competition that year, but also because I had never known an autistic person who held a significant leadership position.

What is your favorite book and favorite movie? 

My favorite book is the Grapes of Wrath and my favorite movie is The Godfather.

What is your favorite memory from Hershey?

While I was taking a water quality class at the [Huntsburg Campus] farm, I asked my teacher about whether the treatment pond was filling up with debris over time. In response, she gave me access to a canoe, several feet of string, and a submersible weight to graph the profile of the pond. After comparing the data to that collected ten years ago, we found that the pond hardly changed. The “just go for it” attitude that I gained from that project is something I still carry with me.

What did you like most about Hershey?

I most enjoyed the lesson structure that Hershey Montessori School employed. Hershey helped me to learn by helping me to remember things. I learned by preparing and presenting my work to the whole class.

Who made the biggest impact on you and what was the impact that was made?

The person who made the biggest impact on my life was the principal [program director] at Hershey during my time there. She helped me to keep the fact that I was moving away confidential because I worried that students would treat me differently. Not only was she willing to convince the staff to keep that secret for an entire school year, but she was also willing to help me navigate a successful path onto my next school. The success of that agreement has allowed me to be a secret keeper for topics my friends and family do not want to discuss openly amongst others.

Tell us your favorite quote and your most important life lesson you’d like to share with others.

My favorite quotes is “The best and worst thing you can say to a student is ‘you can do better,'” and my most important life lesson to share is that everyone should live in a different location at least once in their lifetime.

 

And that is a life lesson that has definitely served you well, Ryan.

It has been great reconnecting with you. We are glad you are doing well. On behalf of your Hershey family, we wish you great, continued success in life and as you complete your Master’s program!

 

Alumni Spotlight: Maya Harwood ’20

Alumni Spotlight: Maya Harwood ’20

Featuring Maya Harwood, Class of 2020

Maya is from Cleveland Ohio and attended Hershey Montessori School for sixteen years. She began her Hershey journey back in 2004 in our Children’s House program when her mom, desiring a Montessori education for her, chose Hershey while in the process of house hunting.

Maya graduated from Hershey in the spring of 2020. She has since enrolled in the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia. She is currently studying to receive her Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Film & Television and her of Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Dramatic Writing. Maya is currently undergoing her studies remotely, living at home with her turtle, Fred, and her new Labradoodle, Sadie May.

Maya’s friends describe her as dedicated, hardworking, and responsible, and hardworking is an adjective she and those of us at Hershey would agree with. Along with her current school studies, Maya does video project work for Hershey.

Here are some fast facts about Maya. We wonder if her friends or fellow alumni know these things about her.

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Favorite part of attending Hershey?

The freedom that we were allowed to have throughout their day.

 

Favorite memory of Hershey?

My sixth grade trip to Washington DC and my ninth grade trip to Findley Lake, New York, which was part of her Education and Peace class.

 

Favorite space at the Upper School?

It was either the Upper School Café or the Community Room.

 

Enjoyed most about senior year?

Being able to go off campus for lunch.

 

Favorite book?

The Harry Potter Series.

 

Favorite movie?

The Devil All the Time and Harry Potter.

 

Happiest moment?

Being a camper during the summer, which later led me to become a camp counselor.

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 It was great to catch up with you, Maya. We wish you all the best and look forward to our continued connection.

Thanks for chatting with us!