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!


Changing Minds in These Changing Times

Changing Minds in These Changing Times

By Kylie Golden-Appleton, Sophomore, Hershey Montessori School


This past year has been one of much change, both internally and externally, for me, and throughout the world. A growing consciousness of power systems and how they are perpetuated is emerging.

As I entered the Hershey community this year and met new friends, I found a shared interest and calling in exploring these current and historic issues, specifically regarding racism, as a community. Two of these friends, Lucy McNees and Cecilia Carney, and I were particularly inspired by Colorado College’s antiracism initiative. Borrowing from that model, the three of us have worked as co-conspirators with the guidance of Jacqui Miller, Director of Montessori Programming and Operations for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and friend to Hershey, to offer a space for learning and unlearning the truth about racism and equity.

Our Antiracism Initiative offers weekly seminars, programs for significant events and historical dates, and various resources for sharing. This work prompts all of us for personal reflection.

We set up lunch-time seminars, which have created a space for anyone who chooses, students and staff alike, to hold deeper conversations.

Earlier this year, we planned many opportunities for community engagement in honor of Black History Month. The topics of focus were:

  • Why We Have Black History Month
  • Black History in the U.S.
  • African Folklore and Culture
  • History of Medical Racism

Students and guides have gotten involved in various ways, such as doing individual research of specific events and topics, exploring folklore, discussing medical charts, reflecting on the significance of history and how we can carry this energy forward throughout every month.

In March, to honor Women’s History and acknowledge the intersectionality of race and gender, we continued independent research and discussions.

As a book workshop, we are beginning Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and will meet weekly to process as a group.

I have learned that there is no right way to do this work or right path to take, and it has been beautiful to watch how each individual community member approaches this complex question of how to truly embody Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in a meaningful, practical way.

There is much work to do to make this intention — antiracism — a reality, and I hope the momentum from this past month can fuel our growth. 


Staff Spotlight: Valerie Raines

Staff Spotlight: Valerie Raines


We created a Staff Spotlight series to bring recognition of the many amazing guides and administrators while connecting with them in a personal way.

This month, we honor

Valerie Raines


Valerie Raines has been with Hershey Montessori School since 2015. She serves as our College Counselor to Upper School students and families. She works with students from grades ten through twelve as they make plans for their life after high school. Valerie provides advice and support in navigating college selections, college admissions, scholarships, and financial aid.

Valerie’s career includes three decades of service in education and philanthropy with positions at Laurel School, Oberlin College, Connecticut College, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, United Way, and KeyBank Foundation. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University and her master’s degree at Case Western Reserve University. She is also president of VRaines Consulting.

Her knowledge, expertise, and passion for what she does makes for an invaluable gift we are all grateful for at Hershey.

Check out our interview with Valerie below.


Where are you from and where do you now live?

I grew up in Cleveland, and lived in Illinois and Connecticut. I have traveled to most U.S. states and across Canada. I’ve also been to South America, Africa, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.


What did you do before coming to Hershey?

I worked in admissions at Connecticut College and Oberlin College. I was college counselor at Laurel School (my alma mater). At KeyBank Foundation, I facilitated grants for education programs.


What brought you to Hershey?

I met Laurie and Jim Ewert-Krocker at a gala for Montessori High School in Cleveland. At the time, Hershey was looking for a college counselor for the new Upper School.


What drew you to Montessori?

My son attended Ruffing Montessori School in Cleveland Heights. As a college admissions recruiter, I visited hundreds of schools that felt like cinderblock tunnels where students had factory-like experiences. I knew I didn’t want that for my child and that all children deserved better learning environments and experiences.


What is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

I love celebrating with 12th graders when college acceptances arrive. I also love getting started with 10th graders because we begin earlier than other schools and the students are so excited!


What is your favorite Hershey memory?

Our day trips on the Hershey bus to visit nearby colleges with our students: Allegheny, Wooster, Kent State, Hiram, Cleveland State, Case Western Reserve, Lakeland Community College, Oberlin, John Carroll, and Mount Union. I love hearing their oohs and aahs as they discover what is possible at colleges.


Where is your favorite place to go?

I long for the spectacular fireworks in Sydney, Australia every New Year’s Eve!


What is your favorite thing to do?

I love summer festivals for jazz and theater in Canada.


What is a little-known fact about you?

I’ve been cutting my own hair during COVID (don’t inspect too closely).


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

I have benefited from a loving family and strong network of educators my whole life. I am inspired by how they have gone extra miles to foster and celebrate my successes.


What is your favorite book?

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I still wonder about those characters.


What is your favorite quote?

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Dr. Martin Luther King in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.


What is your favorite movie?

Fences, based upon the play by August Wilson, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.


How would your friends and family describe you?

Caring, determined, always learning.


How would you describe yourself?

Always looking for ways to address big problems.


What is your happiest moment?

Seeing my son graduate (high school and college).


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

Adapt to what life calls upon you to do and find the lessons in each situation you are in.


That is great advice and profound wisdom, Valerie.

Thank you for taking time to share with us. On behalf of students, families, and all Hershey staff, we appreciate you and greatly value what you bring to our community!




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.



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.



 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!


Staff Spotlight: Venus Kohler

Staff Spotlight: Venus Kohler


Welcome to our Staff Spotlight series. We want to bring recognition to the many amazing guides and administrators while connecting with them in a personal way.

This month, we honor Venus Kohler.


Venus began her work in Montessori education in 2004 in Washington. She went on to pursue her AMI Elementary training in 2006 at the Montessori Institute of Milwaukee and worked as a guide. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the University of Mumbai and a Bachelor of Science in Education, as well as her Master of Science in Education.

Venus came to Hershey in 2012 and is an Upper Elementary Guide. She is a wonderful part of our Hershey family and we hope you enjoy learning more about her.


Tell us about your family:

I’ve been married for 18 years now to the most dedicated and supportive husband and father. I have three children Isaac, Eli, and Anouska who are 12, 9, and 6. I also have 14 chickens.


Where are you from and where do you now live?

I am originally from India. I now live in Concord, Ohio.


What first drew you to Montessori?

I vividly remember walking into a Montessori classroom 17 years ago, and I saw two 6-year-old girls working with the checkerboard on long multiplication. Their concentration was amazing. I looked around that classroom, the guide was in a corner giving a lesson and everyone else was working independently in a group or by themselves. There was a lot going on, yet their independence, the calmness in the room, and the sense of respect and responsibility toward each other and their work was amazing.


What brought you to Hershey?

I was planning a change in our lives. I wanted to be in a place where my children could be in a Montessori environment through most of their academic life.


What is your favorite Hershey memory?

This is a tough question. There are so many memories. You create them every single day. It is hard to choose just one. As a community (pre-COVID) we went on so many trips, camps etc.


What is your favorite place to go?

Home or to visit India.


What is your favorite thing to do when you’re at home?

Spend time with family and of course run my cake/baking business!


Little known fact?

I am a tree hugger! I’ve always loved trees and I’ve hugged some of the largest trees in America.


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

Well, there were a lot of people who made an impact on my life, but in terms of what I do now, it was my former administrator and mentor in Washington, Nikki Skinner. She told me that she knew from the moment she saw me that I need to become a Montessori teacher. She believed in me and my abilities and ever so lovingly coaxed me to get my training. I learned a lot from her, especially that the sky is the limit for each child. We, as society, place limits on what a child can do, but they can do so much more, you have to learn from observing them, guiding them and most of all believing in them.


What is your favorite book?

I have a few favorites, and I have always loved reading. Since one of my graduate degrees was in English Literature, I was exposed to tons of different genres: The Bible, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice to name a few.

Venus works with students in the Hershey kitchen.

What is your favorite quote?

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


What is your favorite movie?

I actually love action movies – Fast and Furious (Tokyo Drift) used to be my all-time favorite!


How would your friends and family describe you?

According to my husband and sister: Dedicated and creative as well as ambitious, personable, organized, and disciplined.


How would you describe yourself?

A minimalist.


What is your happiest moment?

I am truly blessed to have many happy moments; the birth of my children would definitely be one of them. 


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

I grew up in India, so I guess I bring my cultural uniqueness into my classroom. I grew up speaking multiple languages and have traveled a lot and bring those experiences with me.

I am an entrepreneur and started my own business, Cakes Inc. by Venus, in 2017, so I enjoy teaching children different aspects of being in the kitchen and encouraging the children to experiment.


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

I love puns, my kids (school and home) roll their eyes.


Venus and her students enjoy movement in the outdoors.


What is one of your biggest life lessons you would like to share with others?

Never give up, persevere, and work hard. C.S. Lewis put it best “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – C.S. Lewis. 


Thank you, Venus. It has been an enjoyable experience getting to know you better, watching your incredible work with students, and sharing this journey of life together. We are grateful for your work, your passion, and your compassion.




Staff Spotlight: Aaron Miller

Staff Spotlight: Aaron Miller


We created a Staff Spotlight series to bring recognition of the many amazing guides and administrators while connecting with them in a personal way.

This month, we honor:

Aaron Miller


Aaron is from Mentor-on-the-Lake and now resides in Painesville. He attended John Carroll University and Lake Erie College earning a degree in History. He was a two-sport athlete at JCU playing baseball and basketball. Aaron is in his eighteenth year with the United States Coast Guard now serving as a reserve at Station Cleveland Harbor, Ohio.

Aaron was led to Hershey by other staff members whom he admires. Those staff members trusted Aaron and saw the gifts and talents he possesses as traits that would be a great contribution to the Hershey adolescent community. For the past two years Aaron worked part-time at our Middle School teaching Humanities and Physical Expression. This year, he is a full-time guide and classroom assistant at the Middle School. 

Aaron is a valued member of our Hershey family. We invite you to get to know him.


Tell us about your family:

I’m married to Michelle Miller. Our oldest son, Ethan, is 11 years old.  We have nine-year-old twins, Jonathan (Johnny Boy) and Alec. We have a dog named Chewy, a cat named May-May, a Beta fish named Bubbles, and two Hermit crabs.


What brought you to Hershey?

It was my wife, Michelle, and [staff members] Tania and Judy. Once I started working here, I could see really quickly how the environment was positive, open, and exciting. You don’t see that many places, let alone in a school setting.


Aaron Miller engages student in “Rock, Paper, Scissors” during first day of school activities.

What is your favorite Hershey memory?

Personally – getting hired full time.

With the students – challenging them during projects and watching them grow through them. Competing with the students during Physical Expression is one of my favorites each week. The different hikes, playing sports against each other, or building shelters are great. Those activities have already produced so many good memories.

On the farm – working with the animals and working the gardens. Making friends with Clay [the horse] was a great memory; so was the time he almost ran me down. 🙂


What is your favorite place to go?

Caribbean Islands – mainly St. Thomas and St. Johns. Locally, I’d say our fishing cabin in Potter, Pennsylvania.


What is your favorite thing to do when you are at home?

I like to play sports with my boys, and socialize with family and friends as much as possible.


Little known fact?

I like taking care of plants, growing herbs, and bird watching/identifying.


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

My parents, my coaches, my friends and family …  they are all different but surrounding myself with positive people has always worked best for me.


What is your favorite book?

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick.


What is your favorite quote?

The success you’ve had in the past doesn’t mean anything tomorrow.


What is your favorite movie?

A Few Good Men, Caddieshack, and Forrest Gump.


How would your friends and family describe you?

Active, spontaneous, sarcastic, a dreamer, a person who does not like the cold, and belongs on the water or at a beach.


How would you describe yourself?

A big thinker, traveler, and never at rest with ideas.


What is your happiest moment?

Holding my oldest son for the first time.


Aaron Miller guides student instruction during outdoor classroom time.


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

Success comes from dedicated work. Even though our country seems in chaos, it’s still one of the best places to live on this beautiful planet Earth. I had an admiral tell me when you live in other countries half your life, you realize how much America is like staying at The Ritz.


What is one of your biggest life lessons you would like to share with others?

No matter how bad something seems in the moment, the sun will rise tomorrow, and you get to start all over again.


Thank you for your work and dedication, Aaron. We appreciate all you do and the energy you bring to our community. We are happy to know you – and to now know you even better!