Voice of Hershey Blog

Thoughts, Insights, and Experiences from the Hearts of Hershey
Staff Spotlight: Jennifer Finan

Staff Spotlight: Jennifer Finan

We have the pleasure of honoring our longest-serving staff member, Jennifer Finan, in this Spotlight. Jennifer has been a part of the Hershey family for more than 30 years! She is our Early Elementary guide but has also had the opportunity to teach in the Upper Elementary for six years. Many years ago, along with teaching in the elementary, Jennifer also worked in Morning Care. She ran our summer camp program for a few summers and even worked at the front desk. For the past 10+ years, she has assisted Cheryl McGovern in the ‘Just Run’ program for students wanting to train to run a 5K.

Jennifer grew up in Stow, Ohio, and currently lives in Concord Township. She and her husband, Chris, will be celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2023. Jennifer fondly remembers her Upper Elementary class attending her wedding in 1998. She has a daughter named Erin, who attended Hershey her entire life. Erin is currently finishing up her senior year at Ohio University (Jennifer’s alma mater) and will be graduating with a major in Journalism and a minor in Linguistics in May. Jennifer’s family also has a very loving and large 17-pound cat named Archie. Jennifer loves when she, Chris, and Erin are together. The three of them have been to many places together hiking, camping, and exploring. Those times when just the 3 of them are together are her happiest moments.

A fun fact about Jennifer is that she is an only child, grandchild, niece, and cousin. She is also someone who loves candy corn in the fall and jellybeans in the spring. Her favorite things to do are hiking and camping, reading, exercising, and traveling to new places.

Enjoy our full interview with Jennifer below:


Hi Jennifer, do you have a nickname?

My closest and dearest friends usually call me Jen.


Can you briefly explain your position?

I would say aside from following my AMI albums, supporting children with their follow-up work, and educational/emotional growth, and giving key lessons throughout the curriculum, I love to tell the children stories and help support them with a task they originally thought impossible to complete. Telling stories sparks the children’s interest in a variety of ways and most of these ways even surprise me. I tell personal stories (probably their favorites), stories about historical figures that came before us, stories of the earth and the animals and plants that live here with us, stories of cultures and civilizations, inventions, etc. The list is endless. I also love to see the pride on a child’s face in their accomplishments or successes, especially when it was something that was thought impossible and/or done independently. Letting a child know that they can do BIG work and accomplish BIG tasks on their own, is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.


We agree! What did you do before coming to Hershey?

I attended Ohio University and graduated with a degree in Hearing & Speech Sciences in 1991. I worked for one year at Hudson Montessori School as an elementary assistant and fell in love with the Montessori method of education. The following year I took my AMI Elementary Montessori training at the Washington Montessori Institute and was then hired by Hershey in the spring of 1993.


Can you tell us what brought you to Hershey?                                

When I was finishing my training, I was looking for a teaching job and was so excited to find out that Hershey was looking for an Early Elementary guide for their new classroom. I knew the school had a good reputation and had heard about it when I worked at Hudson Montessori. I wanted to return to Ohio. It was already April, and they didn’t have enough money left in their ‘new hire’ budget for transportation (such as a flight) but said there was enough for me to rent a car. So, I drove from D.C. to my parents in Stow so that I could interview. I was the last interview they were having for the job. Jeanne Catalano (Early El. guide), who happened to live in Stow, drove me up to Hershey for my interview and always teased that she had hired me on the drive.


We are thrilled that she did! What drew you to Montessori?

I was in the Education College at Ohio University for a year but really did not enjoy it. However, after being a Montessori assistant for a few months, I was fascinated by the Montessori Method and wanted to learn more and begin taking my training. I love the focus on the whole child and I love having the same students for 3 years. You really can take the time to get to know how they learn and form a lasting relationship with each child.


That’s so true. Tell us what you do at Hershey that is unique to you.

Besides currently guiding one of our Early Elementary communities, I organize Professional Observations for Montessori professionals or individuals who are taking their training and looking for opportunities to meet their observation and student teaching requirements (at the Concord Campus). For many years, I was also on call to come to the school when the alarms went off (ask me about the time I walked through two feet of snow to meet the fire department in the middle of a snowstorm at 3:00 am). You can say I have worn many hats over my 30 years at Hershey!


I’m sure that is a story to tell! What would you say is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

The children. Seeing them grow through the program at Concord and graduate as young adults. The people. The staff, past and present, are an amazing group of individuals that I am grateful to have in my life and to call many of them my friend.


Where is your favorite place to go?

I absolutely love our nation’s National Parks. I grew up camping and visiting our country’s parks, monuments, forests, and historical sites with my parents, and have continued the tradition with my own family. If I wasn’t a teacher my dream job was always to be a National Park ranger. I tell many stories of my adventures to the children and always encourage them to visit these national treasures. My favorite parks are Glacier, Acadia, Bryce, and the Grand Tetons. I have been to 32 and look forward to crossing the final 31 off my list.


Sounds incredible! What is your favorite book?

My absolute favorite activity to do with my students is to read aloud to them. “Read all the stories, do all the voices.” I love to read chapter and picture books alike. My current class and I are in the process of reading all 84 Caldecott Medal winners. Over the years I have read many chapter books to my students but some of the absolute favorites that I reread most often are The Tale of Despereaux, James and the Giant Peach, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, and with an upper elementary class Tuck Everlasting.


Do you have a favorite quote?

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” —Maria Montessori

“Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” ~ Brene Brown


Those are great quotes. Do you have a favorite movie?

There are too many at this point to choose a favorite.


That’s certainly fair. How would your friends and family describe you?

Determined, resilient, and understanding. The keeper of memories of the school, the ‘Hershey Historian.’ A dear friend and colleague shared the following with me, “Passionate and enthusiastic about teaching, loves being in the environment with students/children and is very nurturing, inspiring to those around, strong leader, committed, warm, supportive, highly devoted to the students and community and easily seen with so much experience, approachable and attentive when you need a listening ear, always gives good advice (gives an honest answer/opinion in a kind way), trustworthy, easy to collaborate with and a “sounding board,” read alouds are always fun and uses voices to read, her life’s work is to make learning a joy.”


That’s why we love you. How would you describe yourself?

Oh, my goodness this is a tough one….after reading the above, you can add humbled. I guess I would say easygoing and supportive. I am also an aspiring librarian (the saying is that I have a book on everything), and a National Park Ranger at heart.


Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?                     

After being a part of this wonderful community for 30 years, this is a very challenging question to answer and could possibly be an article all by itself. 😉

Here are a few that come to mind, although there are so many more that I could share with you.😊

  • Camping overnight in the field behind the Concord Campus with my upper elementary students and 3rd-grade students
  • Taking my upper elementary students to Washington D.C. for a week and having the tour guide at the Capitol compliment them on their amazing patience and mature behavior while waiting for 2 hours before our tour.
  • Also, taking my upper elementary students on a class trip to Mammoth Cave National Park — all 35 of them!
  • Putting on full-length plays for the parents with my upper elementary students.
  • Being blessed with FIVE amazing assistants during my 30 years!
  • Seeing my early elementary students go through the Hershey program and then see them graduate, go onto college and/or careers, get married, and begin families of their own.
  • Hearing the laughter of staff members through the hallways at the end of a school day.
  • Reading aloud with my children and crying at the end of a novel together because it was so good.
  • Being present and taking part in both the initial groundbreaking ceremony for the Adolescent Program at Huntsburg as well as the groundbreaking for the Upper School building.
  • Getting soaking-wet hugs from the 6th-year students after their celebratory 6th-year soak (and hugs from students in general)
  • Laughing with my students/children over a silly joke or a shared moment during the day.


Those are all beautiful. Can you now share with us who has made the biggest impact on your life?

My daughter. Seeing the world through her eyes as she has grown up has opened my eyes to many adventures and learning opportunities to better myself as a human being, parent, and teacher. I would also say all my students/children past and present.  Each and every one of them has taught me valuable lessons that have supported my growth as a Montessori guide.


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

Everything comes to you at the right moment. Be patient and present so you don’t miss these moments when they present themselves to you.


That is wonderful advice and worthwhile to remember, Jennifer. We are grateful for you and appreciate being able to recognize you among our Hershey community both near and far. You continue to contribute great and wonderful things to this school and all those around you. You pour so much of yourself into your work with students and it shows. We celebrate you!


Staff Spotlight: Stephanie Swank

Staff Spotlight: Stephanie Swank

We have the pleasure of honoring Stephanie Swank in this Staff Spotlight. Stephanie has been a part of the Hershey family for 25 years! She is our After Care Coordinator, Summer Camp Coordinator, and Children’s House Assistant. Stephanie grew up in Concord and continues to live in Lake County, close to our Concord campus. She lived in Breckenridge, Colorado for a short time and worked as a facility lead in their ski school program, which is when she fell in love with snowboarding.

Stephanie has been married to her Husband, Mike, for 20 years this December, and has three beautiful children: Michael, Ava, and Carter. Mike and Stephanie became “dog parents” two years ago to Mabel and have a 15-year-old Calico cat named Belle. Her happiest moment was becoming a mother and her favorite thing to do is snuggle with her kids and have a movie night.

Enjoy our full interview with Stephanie below:


Hi Stephanie, do you have a nickname?

Almost everyone calls me Stephanie with a few exceptions. My father has always called me Stephie and when I first came to Hershey, YCC guide Ellen Molnar, who was like a second mother, called me Stephie as well. There are still a few staff members that pull out that name and it brings me comfort from childhood and my fondest memories of Ellen.


That’s beautiful. Can you tell us what brought you to Hershey?                                

A friend of a staff member (Karen Dorsey) at the time had shared that the school was hiring for an assistant role in the After School program … and so, it began 😊.


And we love that you are here. What drew you to Montessori?

What draws me to Montessori would be the love of learning.


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

I wear a few different hats at Hershey, and I absolutely love it! I feel so lucky to see the children, especially in After Care, grow and develop throughout all their years at the school.


That must be amazing to watch! What would you say is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

I would have to say that my favorite part would be observing a child move through the steps of independence. To see the smile of self-accomplishment or a small giggle of excitement when a child learns how to do something for themselves is breathtaking.


Where is your favorite place to go?

My childhood home! Getting together for Sunday dinners at my parents’ house with my siblings and extended family is the best!


We agree! What is your favorite book?

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein


Do you have a favorite quote?

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa


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

The Harry Potter series.


A very popular favorite! Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?                     

This is a difficult one to answer, I have such grand memories of so many children, their families, and the staff that have been a part of Hershey for the last 25 years. I feel honored to have a connection to so many beautiful people. One specific memory would be when I was sitting at my son Michael’s graduation from Hershey’s Upper School and remembering the same feelings of emotion when we had his first day in the Parent-Infant program.


That must have been truly emotional. Since we are in this personal space with you, can you share with us who has made the biggest impact on your life?

This would be my husband, Mike. He inspires me with his commitment to overcoming challenges with a positive outlook on life.


Those are great traits to have in a spouse! How would your friends and family describe you and how would you describe yourself?

I believe my friends and family would say that I am a kind and loving person, someone who always tries to find the best in a person or situation. I would describe myself as an open and understanding person who is kindhearted.


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

Take the time to enjoy the moment! We all have such busy lives, and I am grateful to have taken the time to stay in the small moments of life that are now beautiful memories.


That is excellent advice and a perfect way to conclude our time together. Thank you for allowing us to recognize you. It is truly a pleasure to get to know you better. On behalf of all the staff and families here at Hershey, we appreciate all that you do and all that you bring to our community. We are grateful to you!


Staff Spotlight: Cristina Echeverria

Staff Spotlight: Cristina Echeverria

This month’s staff spotlight honors Cristina Echeverria. Cristina is the Spanish Guide for Hershey Montessori School’s Middle and Upper School. Prior to joining our Hershey family in August of 2022, Cristina was a Spanish teacher at the Spring Garden Waldorf School, in Northeast Ohio. Cristina is originally from Bogota, Columbia, and enjoys sharing her native culture with her students. Every summer she likes to return to Colombia and stay at the beach as well as visit a small city there called Barichara.

Her favorite things to do include traveling with her daughter and friends, trying different types of food, hiking, dancing, meditating, and learning new things. She is currently residing in Orange. She is a single mom to her 9-year-old daughter who she says is the absolute love of her life!

Enjoy our interview with Cristina below:

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

I love sharing my Colombian culture with the school community. For example, sometimes I cook traditional meals from my country to share with the school and recreate traditional dances from my country.


What is your favorite part of your work at Hershey?

I like teaching Spanish, sharing about my culture and seeing how students progress in the language every day. I also enjoy the community work that we do on Fridays, as it is a fun way to develop new skills and connect with different members of the school.


What brought you to Hershey?                                

I was curious to learn about the teaching methodology of Maria Montessori.


What drew you to Montessori?

The further developing of several skills, including how to work independently and responsibly, critical thinking, and the learning of new skills every day.


Do you have a favorite Hershey memory?                     

After three months of being in school, I had the pleasure of seeing my students from various different nationalities recreate folk dances from my country.


What is a little-known fact about you?

I am ambidextrous — I am left-handed, but I can also use my right hand to cut, and play sports.


What is your favorite book?

Americanah, a novel by Chimamanda, Ngozi Adichle


Do you have a favorite quote?

Never underestimate the ability to try. Trying can turn nothing into something because even the smallest steps have the chance to become Bigger Things” by Roger Lee


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

My mother is my biggest role model. She returned to college, after being married and having three children, to become a lawyer. She finished her degree with honors. She inspires me to be an independent woman and follow my dreams.


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

They say that I am a persistent, smart, disciplined, organized, sociable, sensitive, kind-hearted, supportive, passionate, brave, authentic, loving, affectionate, cheerful, spontaneous, and generous person.

I really am persistent because I like to reach my goals and fulfill them. I am very optimistic, sensitive, and passionate.


Tell us about your happiest moment.

The birth of my daughter.


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

I would say my biggest life lesson was learning how to support myself and start over from scratch when I immigrated to the United States. I left the comfort and security of a good job, family, and friends to come to America. I had to teach myself a new language and adjust to the new culture. It was tough to reinvent myself and create a new life, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.


Thank you for sharing your time and your personal side of life with us, Cristina. It is such a pleasure to get to know more about you. We truly appreciate your infectious energy and bright smile, and all that you bring to your students each and every day. We are grateful for your presence and work in our community!

Hershey Adolescents Masterfully Mural with Grant from Ohio Arts Council

Hershey Adolescents Masterfully Mural with Grant from Ohio Arts Council

Hershey Montessori School extends our gratitude and thanks to the Ohio Arts Council for approving a grant that will allow teaching artist Laurel Herbold to work directly with the 9th-12th grade students in our upper school community for a year-long residency. The yearlong project, titled Mastering Murals: Upper School Adolescent Mural Project at Hershey Montessori School, will provide students throughout our upper school community with the opportunity to learn, grow and mature in their understanding of mural arts. It will also help students develop their creative expression and build skills in areas such as filmmaking, photography, graphic arts, and entrepreneurship.

Laurel will be on campus for an average of 26 hours per week for 32 weeks. The residency will culminate in a permanent, large-scale wall mural with removable sections, videos, images, postcards, and posters that will be presented to the entire school community. For the project, Laurel will guide students through the entire mural creation process including the planning timeline, design, materials, paints and brushes, painting technique, and presentation.

Students working on this project will have the opportunity to share what they are learning with the Concord school community as part of community building and the mastery process, which includes students demonstrating their knowledge and growth through teaching others. Students may join this project throughout the year, and students who help Laurel through the first two quarters will lead a mural workshop for upper elementary (grades 4-6) during the fourth quarter.

This project will be accessible to students and families through both an in-person event and online communications and will be widely accessible from an ADA perspective. The success of the residency will be measured through student engagement, student articulation (the ability to clearly explain what was learned), and valorization (a Montessori term meaning that a student becomes strong and feels worthy, confident in their work, and capable of moving the work and themselves forward to pursue other ideologies) and guide observation.

Hershey is excited to share this opportunity with the adolescents and families in our community, and we are honored to have Laurel join us for the first two quarters of the 2021-2022 school year and the first 2 quarters of the 2022-2023 school year. Once again, we would like to thank the Ohio Arts Council for their generous grant and support for this project.

Hershey would also like to extend a special thanks to Martha Loughridge, a grant writer for Montessori Development Partnerships. Without her help, none of this would be possible. MDP was founded in 1990 by Debra Guren and David Kahn. MDP’s mission is to bring human and financial resources into a coordinated effort that results in greater support for Montessori schools in North America. Their vision is to bring more access to Montessori for more children. You can find more information about MDP by visiting their website, https://www.montessori-mdp.org/.

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!

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!

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!


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!

Stay connected!


About the Voice of Hershey Blog

Imagine a beautiful place filled with activities that are designed around your needs, calling to your curiosity and imagination. Picture a community where children are surrounded by people who understand, encourage and challenge their strengths. Envision a child learning each day, immersed in a culture of respect and a course of study based upon personal interest and engagement.

Serving children from birth through age 18, Hershey offers challenging, highly individualized programs that focus on the uniqueness of each child.

Hershey offers an exceptional experience on two campuses, including the truly unique, world class farm school.