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Staff Spotlight: Luisa Mendez

Staff Spotlight: Luisa Mendez

This month’s staff spotlight honors Luisa Mendez. Luisa has been with Hershey Montessori School since 2008. She started at Hershey as the Spanish teacher and Library coordinator. She then went on to earn her AMI diploma in Denver, Colorado. Luisa now works as a Young Child Community guide where she spends her days guiding and supporting young children in their development as well as supporting their parents in their journey of parenting.

 

Hi Luisa, do you have a nickname?

My family calls me by my middle name; Yanina and Lu. 🙂

 

Tell us what you do at Hershey that is unique to you.

This is really hard to answer! I guess that would be that I speak Spanish with the children and teach them songs in Spanish.

 

That is unique! I bet the children love it. What is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

My favorite part is seeing how much the children change in such a short period of time. To see them discover the world through the material in the environment; to build relationships with their peers and the adults that support them; to be able to support them in developing the joy for work from a very young age. I love having fun with them by dancing and singing, going on our daily morning walks, and connecting with nature.

 

Tell us about your family. 

I am married to Patrick Lauriano. Patrick was born in Brazil. We met when I started working at his family restaurant while going to college. We have two daughters, Gabi and Isa, and they are both at Hershey’s Huntsburg campus. Gabi is 16 and is in her 10th year, and Isa is 12 in her 7th year. We also have a cat named Nalo.

 

Where are you from?

I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States with my mom and three sisters when I was 12 years old. I grew up on the west side of Cleveland and moved to Painesville to go to Lake Erie College. I have been living there ever since.

 

What did you do before coming to Hershey?                                                        

I was a Spanish teacher at another school and worked as a waitress in a Mexican restaurant.

 

What brought you to Hershey?                                

I came to interview for the Spanish position and felt so connected with the Montessori approach. I knew then that I wanted my daughter, Gabi (that was 2 at that time) to grow up with these principles.

 

So you were immediately drawn to Montessori?

Yes, during the interview, I was invited to observe a Children’s House community. I instantly fell in love with the joy I saw in the classrooms. The concentration and the collaboration between the children — all the grace and courtesy that happened during my observation was mind-blowing. I knew then that I wanted this way of life for all my children.

 

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?                     

When I was the Spanish teacher, I used to come in quietly into each room. I used to greet every child that joined my lessons by shaking their hands and saying good morning in Spanish, “Buenos Dias.” I remember there was a child that used to always say and even share with all her friends, “Buenos Dias is here, Buenos Dias is here!” when I entered the classroom. She thought Buenos Dias was my name.

 

That is precious! Tell us where your love to go.

The beach is for sure my favorite place in the world. I love to visit the Dominican Republic every time I can and share my culture with my girls. The ocean and the sand have powerful ways of taking all my worries away, and bring me so much peace.

 

What is your favorite thing to do?

I love dancing to all types of music, but especially Latin music. I love cooking and sharing the food I make with others. I also love deep cleaning, especially the kitchen!

 

What is a little known fact about you?

I love snakes, especially the really big ones. I hope to one day be able to go to the Amazon River to see a big anaconda.

 

Oh my! What is your favorite book?

Holes by Louis Sachar.

 

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Be the change you want in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi.

 

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

My mom has made the biggest impact in my life. When we were growing up, she had to work so hard to provide for me and my sister. She instilled in me the value of working hard for our dreams.

 

How would your friends and family describe you and how would you describe yourself?

My closest friends would probably describe me as someone who is kind and always willing to lend a helping hand to those that need my help, that I probably put others before myself — and that I take too much on but somehow manage to accomplish most of those things and that I don’t know how to say no.

I would describe myself as someone who loves supporting and helping others; as someone with positive hopes for future generations. I love being with my family and sharing special moments with them.

 

Tell us about your happiest moments.

Going on vacation with family, to travel with them and share all the wonderful things this earth has to offer.

 

What is your biggest life lesson you would like to share with others?

That we should always fight for our dreams with hard work and dedication; that we can be the difference and change in the world, but it must start with change in ourselves. There is nothing that kindness can’t make better.

 

So very true, Luisa. Thank you for sharing your time and your personal side of life with us. It is such a pleasure to get to know more about you. We truly appreciate what you bring to your classroom and are grateful for your presence and work in our community!

Staff Spotlight: Doug Cornett

Staff Spotlight: Doug Cornett

This month’s staff spotlight honors Doug Cornett. Doug is Hershey Montessori’s Upper School ELA (English Language Arts) Guide. He is in his first year at Hershey and has integrated superbly into our community. Doug is originally from Hudson, Ohio. After graduating high school, he moved to New York for awhile before going to Portland, Oregon, where he earned his MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Creative Writing. Doug taught for ten years at Northwest Academy, an arts-based independent school in downtown Portland. He and his lovely wife, Anna, and their two children (both students at our Concord campus), returned to Northeast Ohio this past year to be closer to family.

Here’s our interview with Doug:

 

Thank you for your time, Doug. First, can you tell us what brought you to Hershey?

When my wife and I decided to move back to Ohio, I began searching for jobs. I saw Hershey’s job posting for an ELA guide, and as soon as I visited the website and saw pictures of the farm, I was intrigued. After having a conversation with Judy, Wes, and Paula, I knew it was a place I wanted to be.

 

It’s hard to not be drawn here, that is for certain. Share with us more about your role at Hershey and what that looks like.

I teach a blended 9-10 ELA class and a blended 11-12. At each level, students engage with a diverse range of texts from the ancient world to modern day. In any given week, we’ll have seminar discussions, play writing games, workshop essays, and create artistic responses. The students will often have a choice of which text they want to explore, so there’s a lot of variety in the class.

 

That sounds beautiful. What do you do here that you find is unique to you?

I led the Sci-Fi/Horror club this winter. I’m a big fan of the genres so it was fun to read and watch all kinds of texts with the small but dedicated student group. In our final meeting, we watched The Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1979 — one of my favorite flicks!

 

That sounds fun! So what is your favorite part of your work here?

I like the sheer variety of my days. One minute, I’m having a discussion about literature, the next I’m cleaning out the horse stalls, and the next I’m collecting sap from a sugar maple tree. It’s unlike any other place I’ve worked. Also, I’m grateful for the relationships I have with the staff and the students.

 

So true. The relationships are a gift here. What are some of your favorite things to do?

I love writing stories, playing guitar, drumming (learning slowly but surely), seeing live jazz, hiking, and having dance parties with my family.

 

Love that! We all could enjoy even a spontaneous dance party now and then. Can you share a little known fact about you?

Writing is a huge part of my life! My debut book, a middle grade mystery called Finally, Something Mysterious, was published by Penguin Random House in 2020. The next in the series, Finally, Something Dangerous, will publish in November 2022. I’m always working on a new project.

 

Wow, that’s exciting. Congratulations to you! Do you have a favorite place to go?

Some of my favorite places: the Oregon Coast, Powell’s Books, The Rocky River Reservation, and any place that serves breakfast all day. Recently, I have really enjoyed walking through the woods on the Huntsburg campus.

 

We’ll link those places so others can check them out, too. Ok, so as an ELA Guide and an author, we want to know your favorite book!

This is a cruel question to ask an English teacher. Here are a few that come to mind: Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles; Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game; anything by Jorge Luis Borges and George Saunders; Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. There are so much more, and it kills me not to name them all.

 

I’m sure! You’re relatively new at Hershey, but to date, do you have a favorite Hershey moment?

So many great memories here already! One that sticks out is from the first day of school, when my advisory group went for a hike in the woods surrounding the school. It was a great way to get to know the land and the students, and we didn’t even get that lost!

 

Impressive! And, yes, the woods are so beautiful here. Tell us what drew you to Montessori?

First, the Montessori approach within the close-knit community was really appealing to me. The farm location was a 180-degree turn from the urban environment of my last school. Since I’ve been here, what excites me the most are my relationships with the students and the staff. There are such great people at Hershey!

 

Agreed! What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote comes from my favorite short story — “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin. I think it speaks to the power of storytelling and the affirming nature of the creative act: “For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell; it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

 

That is a great quote, Doug. Do you have a favorite movie?

The Big Lebowski and There Will Be Blood.

 

Do you have a happiest moment?

My happiest moments usually occur when I’m hunched inside a blanket fort with my kids, munching quietly on a snack and getting crumbs on the carpet.

 

Love that! How would your friends and family describe you and how would you describe yourself?

My friends would say I’m easy-going, creative, rarely punctual.

I would describe myself as open-minded. I’m absolutely sure that there are ideas I haven’t encountered and perspectives I haven’t considered yet, and I’m always looking for those.

 

What is one of your biggest life lessons you can share?

Confidence and self-assurance are essential, but maybe even more important is the realization that there is always more to learn.

 

So true … finally, who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

So many people have inspired and supported me. I’ve been lucky to have had some truly incredible teachers in my life at every stage. Any time I think back on some of them, I’m freshly inspired for my classes at Hershey.

 

Thank you for sharing with us, Doug. It has been a pleasure learning more about you. Congratulations on your book series. We will watch for the next release this fall. We look forward to many more years with you here at Hershey!

Staff Spotlight: Lakisha Wingard

Staff Spotlight: Lakisha Wingard

This month’s staff spotlight honors Lakisha Wingard. Lakisha is our Director of Admissions and Coordinator of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging circle. She joined the Hershey community in 2016 and is celebrating her 6th year with us. She and her spouse have been married for 10 years and are the proud parents of three young learners, Juliana (10), Elena (8), and Walter, III (7). She, and her family, also cherish the love of their 12-year-old dog Mosley. Lakisha grew up in Racine, Wisconsin and Toledo, Ohio, and currently resides in Lyndhurst.

Prior to joining Hershey, Lakisha came from Dover, Delaware, where she served as Regional Director for a national dropout prevention nonprofit. Before her nonprofit work, she worked in college admissions in Minnesota and Alabama for nearly a decade. Lakisha is a strong believer in Montessori education and is grateful that her own children and family can be part of the Hershey community. Her favorite part of her work is her daily interaction with Hershey’s adolescents, children, families, faculty, and staff.

We cannot thank Lakisha enough for her contributions to Hershey. She is a valued friend and graceful guide and mentor to her fellow staff and students. It is an honor to have her as a member of our Hershey family.

Here is a short video as an introduction to Lakisha. Her remaining interview continues below.

 

Thank you for taking time to share with us, Lakisha. Can you tell us what brought you to Hershey?

Divine alignment is the only way I can explain our journey here!  My spouse was an officer in the United States Air Force for 11 years and was separating the summer of 2016. We decided to set roots in our home state of Ohio, and we were seeking employment that aligned with our skills and personal values. I interviewed at Hershey Montessori School in July 2016 and was hired on my birthday. On our house hunting trip to Ohio, my spouse received a call for an interview with the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center. The rest is history. 😊

 

What do you do at Hershey that you find is unique to you?

What makes it unique is the perspective and experience I bring to the organization.

 

What has been your happiest moment to date?

The birth of my 3 children.

 

Do you have a favorite place to go?

The beach!

 

Oh, the beach! How about a favorite movie, do you have one?

I love, love, love the MCU. My favorite marvel movie is Black Panther. The first time I saw it I cried because of the representation on the screen.

 

Making a note to watch that now. And who has made the biggest impact in your life and what does that impact look like?

My mom and dad have made the biggest impact and are the most influential people in my life.

 

That’s beautiful. Do you have a favorite quote?

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” – Audre Lorde

 

What is your favorite Hershey memory?

Most of my favorite memories involve interacting with the students and learning from them. I have always loved the Montessori Live program. Because my office is based at the Concord Campus, I am often kindly invited to have the Elementary students practice their presentations with me in preparation of the program. I still get blown away at how confident and knowledgeable the students come across in these presentations.

 

Tell us your favorite thing to do.

Nap or rest. “Rest is a form of resistance and reparations.” – Tricia Hersey, founder of The Nap Ministry.

 

Love that! Care to share a little known fact about you?

I’ve run two half marathons: The Montgomery Half Marathon in 2010 and the Coastal Delaware Running Festival’s Half Marathon in 2016. I recently started back up running with a goal to complete a third half marathon in Spring 2022.

 

How would your friends and family describe you in comparison to how you would describe yourself?

My friends and family would describe me as curious and thoughtful. I would describe myself as a Jack and Jill of all trades. I am a naturally curious person, and I am always learning new skills, reading books, and enrolling in courses and webinars to enrich my personal and professional life. For example, I recently completed an AMI 6-12 Orientation course and I am currently enrolled in the AMI 3-6 Orientation course.

 

We love that you are a forever learner, Lakisha. Finally, can you tell us what drew you to Montessori?

Many schools and programs offer a high-quality education, however, Montessori education is not only about the academics, but also about developing the whole child to become a capable, productive, and fulfilled person who makes a positive contribution to the world around them. Since working at Hershey, I began studying about Maria Montessori, her philosophy, and her educational method. The idea of educating the whole child to prepare them for peaceful global citizenship strikes a deep chord within me.

 

Thank you for sharing so much about yourself, Lakisha. It has been a pleasure learning more about you. We appreciate all you do and your excellent book recommendations!

 

Staff Spotlight: Sharyn Laux

Staff Spotlight: Sharyn Laux

This month’s Staff Spotlight features Hershey Montessori School Residential Guide Sharyn Laux.

Sharyn grew up a Montessori child and was encouraged by her parents to be herself, to ask questions, to be independent and follow her own path. She has done just that.

In her early twenties, she underwent Montessori training and received her AMI Primary certificate in 2001 and has since worked with both younger children and adolescents. Sharyn has studied theater, art, French, philosophy, business and English literature.

She has a genuine curiosity about life and people. Capturing Sharyn in simple text was not going to be easy, so for her interview, akin to Sharyn’s unique personality, we chose to do something different from our previous spotlights — we interviewed her in podcast format.

We hope you enjoy listening. You will see why Hershey students, parents, and staff embrace Sharyn as a warm, passionate, intriguing soul that lights up our school community.

Click this link and get ready to turn up the audio.

Thank you for all that you carry and exude, Sharyn. We appreciate what you do and who you are!

Staff Spotlight: Karen Hannan-DeWalt

Staff Spotlight: Karen Hannan-DeWalt

This month’s Staff Spotlight features Hershey Montessori School Children’s House Guide, Karen Hannan-DeWalt. Karen first joined the Hershey family in 1993 as a parent before obtaining her Montessori diploma and starting work at the school in 1998. As a Children’s House guide, Karen’s job is to observe the children’s interests, needs, social interactions, and readiness for lessons. Using these observations, she seeks out the most effective ways to connect children to work that offers just the right amount of challenge to engage their bodies and minds. She wants her students to work toward success and to feel like their presence in, and contributions to, the community are meaningful. She enjoys supporting the development of good citizens and thoughtful leaders.

Having been trained in biology, she offers a unique perspective to Hershey students. “I love to connect the children to nature, and I revel in their discoveries,” says Karen. Her favorite part about working at Hershey is the connections she makes with her students. She loves working with the same children for 3 or 4 years as it gives her the opportunity to know each student deeply. Karen views it as a privilege to witness her students’ successes and growth over this span of time and to watch them become leaders in the community.

Before coming to Hershey, Karen was a stay-at-home mom with her children for several years. Prior to that, she worked as a cytogenetics technologist, a college biology teaching assistant, and an environmental planner. Karen grew up in Wickliffe, Ohio, and currently resides in Hambden Township near Chardon. She is married and has three grown sons who all went to Hershey from the age of one all the way through middle school. She also has one granddaughter who participated in Hershey’s Parent-Infant program.

Below is our full interview with Karen:

 

What brought you to Hershey?

I was introduced to Hershey by the founder of its precursor, Western Reserve Montessori, who recommended the school for my oldest son. After one visit, I was hooked. The children seemed happy, engaged, and peaceful. After many observations of my own children at work in their environments, I felt compelled to become trained as a guide.

 

What draws you to Montessori?

Children are respected as individuals and the whole child is nurtured. Mixed age groups in one community creates a family-like atmosphere where older children generously share their skills with younger children. Maria Montessori was ahead of her time, and her observations and ideas have now been confirmed by modern neuroscience. I get very excited talking about it!

 

Favorite Hershey memory?

Seeing my sons happily working in their classrooms when they were younger.

 

Favorite place to go?

Any creek or river. That is my happy place.

 

Favorite thing to do?

The most peaceful thing I have ever done is snorkel in the Cayman Islands. I also like to kayak and work in my yard.

 

Little known fact about you?

I love hardware stores and tools.

 

How would your friends and family describe you?

Loving, likes to laugh, and good listener.

 

How would you describe yourself?

An observer of human nature, an introvert, someone who likes to connect one on one.

 

What has been your happiest moment?

Seeing my sons grow to be good humans.

 

What is a big life lesson you would like to share with others?

If you live true to yourself with integrity, you won’t have any regrets.

 

We cannot thank Karen enough for her contributions to our school community. She is a friend, mentor, and role model to all of her fellow staff and students, and it is an honor to have her as a member of our Hershey family.

Staff Spotlight: John Buzzard

Staff Spotlight: John Buzzard

This month’s Staff Spotlight features Hershey’s Upper School Humanities Guide, John Buzzard. John grew up in Alabama and has lived in many places, but finally called Ohio home about 7 years ago. He is currently moving from Kamm’s Corner on the west side of Cleveland to Lyndhurst. He is in his fourth year at Hershey Montessori School where he loves having the opportunity to work on skills he wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else, like making maple syrup or carving wooden toy cars. His favorite part of working at Hershey is having the opportunity to work with thoughtful and courteous students every day. John is married and loves spending time with his wife and three children: Vivian, 12; Caroline, 11; Gideon, 5, and their dog, Mabel.

Below is our full interview with John:

What did you do before coming to Hershey?

I have worked at a number of small schools, almost always with a project-based, student-centered structure. I have been a Curriculum Director, a Division Head, and a Head of School, but teaching is and will always be the best job.

What brought you to Hershey?

An admiration for the program here, including Upper School Montessori education, which is a newly developing model. I love being a part of things that are new and growing, and despite being new to Montessori, I have grown in understanding and admiration for this pedagogy.

What drew you to Montessori?

The focus on students and letting them lead the way.

Can you tell us what it is like in your classroom or the topics you cover?

In my 9th and 10th year Humanities class, I present themes related to current issues such as elections, immigration, economics, and others. Currently, we are studying the role of the police in our society. Like with any issue we cover, we look at it historically, legally, and in comparison to other countries. Students then do independent research on their own topic related to that theme and ultimately present their learning and arguments in some fashion – a presentation, an event, a paper, etc. In the 11th and 12th year, students are given additional freedom to determine the topics we cover and the kind of presentations they do. This allows the students to stay engaged and they gain a global view to help form their perspective.

What is unique to you as far as your approach to teaching or interacting with your students?

I believe that part of my job as a guide is to make great, genuine experiences possible – above and beyond the usual. So, let’s meet someone really important or especially interesting. Let’s go on a trip to someplace where events actually happened. Let’s create a new experience for ourselves and for others. To me, things like this are memorable and that means what we learn will stay with us far longer.

What is you favorite Hershey memory?

I have always loved the pancake breakfast. Seeing the entire Huntsburg community come together to work this event, and with barely any ‘training’ or experience, suddenly we are running a restaurant like we had been doing it for years. It is so fascinating and it gives me such admiration for our students and staff.

Where is your favorite place to go?

Camping, wherever that may be.

What is your favorite thing to do?

I love cooking, I love music, and I love games so … singing while eating dinner around a game?

What is a little-known fact about you?

I briefly ran a cooking business where we hosted events in people’s homes.

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

It is hard to pick just one person, but I would say my first boss, John Potter. He hired me (with very little reason to do so) and gave me the space and support and responsibility to improve quickly.

What is your favorite book?

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

What is your favorite quote?

Moderation in all things, including moderation.

Tell us your favorite movie.

Whiplash

How would your friends and family describe you?

Probably as freakishly sane and boring.

How would you describe yourself?

A learner.

Can you share with us your happiest moment?

Every moment I get to be a dad – I know, cop out, but I’ll stick with it!

What is the biggest life lesson you would like to share with others?

Relationships matter more than policy, knowledge, or expectations. Learning and teaching are about relationships, not information.

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

As a guide, I see my role as being one that supports students in creating great learning experiences for themselves.

We cannot thank John enough for his contributions to our Huntsburg campus. He is an inspiration to his fellow staff and students, and it is an honor to have him as a member of our Hershey family.