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Alumni Spotlight: Makenna Venaleck

Alumni Spotlight: Makenna Venaleck

This Alumni Spotlight is devoted to Makenna Venaleck. Makenna is in her fourth year as a full-time student at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where she lives with her three roommates and Wybie, their “wonderful” cat. She will graduate in May with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and a minor in Applied Mathematics. Makenna is originally from Concord, and upon graduation, she will be relocating back to the Cleveland area to begin working as a Systems Engineer for RoviSys, an automation engineering company in Aurora.

Enjoy our interview with Makenna, below.

 

Hi Makenna, thank you for your time today. Let’s start with first things first. What brought you to Hershey Montessori School and how long were you here? 

I came to Hershey because my mom worked/works there and used to bring me to school with her as a baby. I officially started Hershey in the YCC (Young Child Community). I spent all my school years at Hershey — From YCC to 12th grade — from 1 year to 18 years old!

 

How amazing. What did you like most about your Montessori education?

I liked the holistic approach to every topic of education. Being able to see the connection between the abstract concepts being taught and the physical land that was present was very valuable and kept me invested in my own education solely for the purpose of learning. I was able to dive deeper into every topic purely because it was interesting to me and because I felt the joy of learning.

 

Yes, it’s an incredible approach. Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?

My favorite Hershey memories are from community work and cooking in the kitchen. I loved the sense of community and feelings of accomplishment involved with community work — whether it was cleaning out the cow stalls or painting murals for the play. I also loved cooking in the kitchen because it was fun to get to know the people I was in the kitchen with, and it felt great to help provide something for the whole community.

 

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

The real power of Hershey is the community that is fostered and the compassion that it builds. I was able to care not only about the educational concepts I was learning but for the people that I was learning about as well. The designated seminar periods where everyone was encouraged to share their thoughts on a subject broadened my view on what a respectful discussion should consist of and how to listen to differing opinions. The genuine care that everyone (both the students and the guides) had for each other taught me to hold that compassion and maintain curiosity for everyone I encounter. All of these things, other than just the education, are what have really helped me as I’ve carried on in life.

 

Where is your favorite place to go?

When I’m home, I love going to Lake Erie. I love the sound of the waves and the serenity of the water.

 

We’re fortunate to be so close to the lake! So, what is your favorite thing to do?

I love to travel and experience new cultures, food, and activities. But on a day-to-day basis, I love getting outside and going on hikes with my family and friends!

 

I see the connections to nature Hershey provides has not been lost on you! Now, we know you have a mathematical mind by your chosen career path, but do you have hobbies or other specific interests?

I enjoy taking time off to do my creative hobbies like playing piano and drawing.

 

It’s great that you still make time for those creative expressions. Can you share a little-known fact about you?

My favorite bird is an indigo bunting.

 

How neat! Do you have a favorite book?

I love to read all book genres from Harry Potter to Pride and Prejudice. It’s too hard to pick!

 

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Life is available only in the present moment.” (Thic Nhat Hanh)

 

Excellent quote and reminder! What is your favorite movie?

I love a good documentary/docuseries about nature/culture/true crime, but also could re-watch any Marvel movie any day.

 

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

My mom impacts me every day through her constant example of intentional mindfulness. It has taught me patience, compassion, and given me tools to see joy in every day.

A previous Hershey legend, Jim Ewert-Krocker, has also impacted me by providing an example of diligence and hard work. His example motivates me to place my full effort into the work that I do so I can produce results that positively affect the people around me. Using this diligence, I can be proud of myself daily because I know that I did my best at whatever task, big or small.

 

That is beautiful, Makenna. How would your friends and family describe you, and how would you describe yourself?

This is a tough one, but probably that I’m driven, creative, and loyal.

I would say that I simply care a lot about what I contribute to the world, how I do that, and who that affects. I’m motivated by personal success but mostly by achieving the big picture goals. I also place a lot of value on the creation of interpersonal connections along the way.

 

Love your intentionality. What has been your happiest moment?

Any moment spent with my friends and family outside in the sun is where I am happiest.

 

That is perfection, isn’t it?! Do you have a life lesson you would like to share with others?

It’s not only okay but is essential to take breaks. We define what productivity and success mean to ourselves and sometimes that means actually taking a moment for ourselves. Stopping to take a breath, to cook a meal, or to get outside are all investments in yourself and are just as important to personal success as completing a physical task on your to-do list.

 

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

I really would not be the person I am today without Hershey and I am constantly grateful for the experience I had there. My sense of self and desire to cultivate community can be attributed to my time there. The small daily human connections I’m encouraged to make due to my experience in the close Hershey community directly impact the prioritization and achievement of my daily and long-term goals.

 

That is such a beautiful way to wrap up our interview. We are grateful for your time and continued contributions to school and community, Makenna. We are glad to know you and admire your continued growth and success in all areas of your life. Thank you for sharing with us today. We wish you all the best!

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!

Alumna Update: Melissa Kwitowski, PhD

Alumna Update: Melissa Kwitowski, PhD

Melissa Kwitowski, PhD, Hershey Alumna

Hershey Montessori School would like to recognize Hershey alumna Melissa Kwitowski. Melissa began her first full-fledged position as a PhD clinical psychologist at the University of Colorado Department of Psychiatry in December 2020.

Melissa is now a clinical health psychologist in the Women’s Behavioral Health and Wellness service line in the Department of Psychiatry at University of Colorado School of Medicine. She received her graduate degree in counseling psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University with an emphasis in health psychology. She completed her internship at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and postdoctoral fellowship at Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Melissa has expertise in women’s mental health and the management of chronic medical conditions. She provides outpatient psychotherapy services within the Department of Psychiatry with an emphasis on treating perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Melissa also serves as the psychologist on the Perinatal Behavioral Health Pathways program which provides mental health services for patients hospitalized on the labor and delivery and mother/baby unit at UC Health. Another of her roles in the Department of Psychiatry is conducting psychosocial candidacy evaluations for patients seeking auto-transplantation procedures for conditions such as Nutcracker Syndrome and Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome. In this position, she assists in connecting medically complex individuals with appropriate care and coping resources before, during, and after surgical intervention.

Melissa says she is very proud of, and thankful for, her time at Hershey and how well it prepared her not only for higher education, but for working collaboratively and thinking critically.

Congratulations, Dr. Melissa Kwitowski, on all your hard-earned success. Your life-changing work gives us more hope for humanity, knowing young people like you are in leadership roles like this. We are all inspired by your achievements!