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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!

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.

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!

Nature Notes for Parents and Children

Nature Notes for Parents and Children

By Cheryl McGovern, Outdoor Education Coordinator

Fall is in the Air

Praying mantis ootheca (egg case)

While our weather turns from warm to cold to warm again, the natural world is aware of winter’s approach. As the daylight lessens, plants and animals prepare for the changing seasons.

Wildlife have been plentiful on campus. All have watched the milkweed, first full of hungry monarch caterpillars, now devoid of these munchers, the air has been full of adult monarchs beginning their migration journey. Now the milkweed seeds on their fluffy strands float around ensuring the growth of new milkweed as the cycle continues.

Turkey with young (poults). Photographed by Shelley Morgan.

The troupe of wild turkey who roam our play area and woods, still have a few young ones mixed in. A hen turkey must have produced a second, later nest of eggs which can happen if the first attempt is unsuccessful. Seeing the poults size change from the end of August until now shows just how quickly they grow.

Captured by the Upper Elementary trail camera.

 

White-tail deer fawn have also changed before our eyes as their camouflage of white spots have slowly faded into their growing bodies. Students are noticing insects as they are at their most mature size. Praying mantids have been seen on the building and plants as they females search for a good spot to create their egg case, called an “ootheca.”

An abundance of black walnut will help many animals in their preparations. Trees, most notable in nut trees, go through “mast years” where they produce a greater amount of fruit than in other years. It’s a natural phenomenon that is not completely understood since it often includes trees of a particular species in a large region all producing greatly at the same time. And, of course, we all await the show of fall colors produced as leaves shut down their food production factory for a winter’s rest. With chlorophyll no longer needed for photosynthesis, the other pigments can be displayed.

Take time in your own yard, neighborhood, or nearby park to take in all the sights and sounds of the season.

Look Up!

International Observe the Moon Night 2021 is coming up. On Saturday, October 16th, your family can join citizens and scientists around the world in observing the moon. It’s an opportunity to unite people from all over our planet in observing our nearest neighbor in space. There are virtual events, live streams, and live events too. However, observing from your own yard is perfect too. If the sky is clear the viewing should be good with many lunar maria, or “seas” of solidified basaltic lava, visible to the unaided eye. The moon has a slight apparent wobble in its orbit, and on the night of observation a small amount that we normally cannot see will be visible, just a peek at the edge of the far side of the moon!

To discover more about the moon, including printable maps, activities, and highlights, visit https://moon.nasa.gov/observe-the-moon-night/