“I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”–Dr. Melanie (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian, Class of 2000

SEL teachers are always making a difference in the lives of their students, although they may not realize how much of a lasting difference they’re making every day. Melanie Kay (Ferrara) Finkenbinder, Valedictorian of the Class of 2000, spoke with us recently about what she’s been up to since graduation and how her  teachers and her time at South Euclid-Lyndhurst Schools influenced the person she has become.

Working now as a primary care physician at Lower Lights Christian Health Center in Columbus, Melanie serves the Latin American immigrant population. She is also a medical student educator and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Global Public Health. “The part of Columbus our clinic serves is a food desert. There are few grocery stores in the area and many of our patients are food insecure. One new initiative in our health center is the addition of a free ‘grocery store’ right in our building.” Melanie is devoted to improving the health of Columbus’s Latino population—making sure they have equal access to health care in spite of the poverty and discrimination she sees her patients face everyday.

After leaving Brush, Melanie attended Washington University in St. Louis and went on to medical school at The Ohio State University. Melanie is married to David, a structural engineer, and they have two sons: Paul (3) and Henry (1).

Melanie’s Spanish language classes at Brush have paid off, as did her semester abroad in Chile during college. She uses her foreign language skills every day as she speaks Spanish to her patients and to her children at home. In discussing her time at Brush, Melanie reflects on the classes and teachers that made a difference in her life and helped shape her future. “Ms. Doerder’s AP Biology class was hugely formative. It’s how I, and at least six of my classmates become interested in medical science, and decided to become physicians. melanie-finkenbinder-picture

The AP teachers and their hands-on approach influenced me to excel. Ms. Cassidy, Mr. Welsh, Mr. Mastrobuono, Mr. Nemecek, and Ms. Clemson helped me to become a leader and learn to work as a team member.” In addition to her AP classes, Melanie was very involved at Brush, serving on Student Congress, participating in the theater program, and being part of the softball, soccer, and swimming teams.

Melanie’s future goal is to move with her family to a developing country to help set up a health system from the ground up. This desire to help the underserved and level the playing field is common among many Brush graduates. Melanie feels that attending SEL Schools made a difference in her perspective about the world. “The more that we continue to segregate ourselves by skin color and religion, the more we will continue to misunderstand each other.  I believe that it will be the kids who grow up and learn in diverse communities who will solve the problems of inequality and injustice in the United States.”

“We don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world?” –Mary Noakes Mosquera, Brush Valedictorian 2010

In her 2010 Valedictory speech, Mary Noakes Mosquera had some sage advice for her fellow Brush graduates: “We define greatness and success for ourselves.” Mary has been defining her own success in the years since her graduation. After graduating summa cum laude from the Dietetics program at Ohio State University and completing her Dietetic Internship at Bradley University, Mary moved to Long Island in New York where she accepted a position as a Registered Dietician at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center. She hopes to someday open her own private practice, centered on nutrition education and stress management through yoga and meditation.

Mary considers her SEL school career to have been a positive experience that helped shape her world view and set her up for success in life. “Attending a diverse school and making friends with people who were different from me helped in my academic career as well as in my professional life”. She mentioned that when she arrived at Ohio State some of her classmates had a harder time interacting with different kinds of people and seemed less open minded. “Attending SEL Schools made me realize that no matter what someone looks like, we all have the same wants and needs.”

When she thinks back on her school career, Mary recalls many memorable teachers who made their subjects come alive for her. “I had Mr. Beck for freshman English. He challenged everyone to do their best and inspired me to work hard and find meaning in what I was learning. That’s why he was my favorite teacher.” She recalled his creative lesson plans and the way he would go above and beyond every day to make students want to learn. Mary acknowledges that the negative perceptions of SEL Schools caused her and her classmates to work harder to prove that those perceptions were unfounded. “The perception of being ‘less than’ made us work harder to be ‘more than”, recalls Mary.

In August of 2014, Mary married her OSU classmate, Juan Mosquera, who now works at a non-profit devoted to helping kids learn to cope with negative emotions through yoga and meditation, called YES! For Schools. The couple hopes to someday move back to Ohio, but for now are enjoying their lives in New York.

In closing, Mary offers these words: “To any parent who is worried about the diverse environment at SEL Schools preventing their kid from getting a good education, don’t be. Sure, diversity can be messy and complicated, but we don’t live in a world where everyone is the same, so why should our school experience be any different from what’s out there in the real world? I’ve heard it said that ‘our diversity will not be a barrier, but rather a reason for our success’.  And in my educational experience, that’s been completely true.”Mary Mosquera

A Place for Everyone

Laurie Kowalski tells a story about the Brush Track team that sums up her feelings about South Euclid Lyndhurst Schools.  “When my son Charlie, who has special needs, arrived at a track meet and realized he had forgotten his money for concessions, he became openly distressed.  Members of the track team saw how upset he had gotten and they all ran to him opening their wallets and making sure he knew that they would  take care of anything he needed. The generosity and acceptance from the students at SEL Schools has been amazing.”

Lyndhurst residents Laurie and Jim Kowalski have three children:  Kristen, 23; Alex, 19; and Charlie, 18.  Both Alex and Charlie have special needs.  The Kowalskis credit SEL staff for helping each of their children realize a  high level of achievement.

Kristen, class of 2011, is an Occupational Therapy student at the University of Pittsburgh. While at Brush she excelled at sports and academics, and thrived in many extra curricular activities.  She was accepted into the OT program at Pitt as an incoming freshman– an impressive accomplishment.  This summer she received a scholarship to work abroad for five weeks in New Zealand, working with adults with developmental disabilities.  She will then be interning at St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis and at the Cleveland Clinic for the remainder of the summer.  Kristen’s desire to help those with disabilities began when she was a child, influenced by her brothers’ special needs and the diversity she experienced first-hand during her SEL education.

Alex, class of 2015, has Down syndrome, and spent his SEL career in an inclusive classroom setting. He is currently working in the community through Cuyahoga East Vocational Educational Consortium (CEVEC).  This summer he is working at TJ Maxx and will be working next fall at the Mandel JCC and is exploring college options.

Charlie,  class of 2017, will be starting his senior year at Brush next fall.  He started his SEL career as one of the first students in the Autism unit at Sunview School, and has a special aptitude for computers and art.  He was accepted into the Excel Tech graphic design program, and is exploring college options to pursue a career in a related field.

Laurie, who is employed by The Upside of Downs, (an organization that provides support, education, and advocacy for people with Down syndrome, their families and communities) serves special needs families in 16 counties throughout Ohio, and feels that SEL Schools provide some of the best special needs programming in the state. “The inclusive atmosphere and acceptance of all kids has made our special education experience exceptional.  Our kids have been included not only academically, but their experience in extra curricular activities, particularly sports, has been amazing.”

Laurie credits the athletic department  for going above and beyond for her children. “The coaching staff has been amazing to our kids–in particular swimming, cross-country, and track.  The athletic director and staff always made our kids part of the team and made them better athletes as well.  Their encouragement and caring have made a big difference in their confidence.”  When asked what she wished people knew about SEL Schools, Laurie adds, “I wish that people knew what an incredible staff SEL has, and how they shouldn’t judge the schools by hearsay.   All of our children have different needs from advanced classes to special education needs.  The staff in the district has worked tirelessly to make sure all of those needs were met and to ensure that all of our kids excelled. People should experience the schools for themselves and they may be pleasantly surprised. At SEL Schools, there is a place for everyone.”

 

Kowalski family

Cleveland is Feeling the Love

The Love Siblings

There’s a back story to this alumni profile.  I admit that I have been harassing my colleague, Michael Love to complete one of our alumni profiles for quite some time.  I desperately wanted him to give us an update on what he and his two siblings have been doing since graduation because I think it shows, very clearly, the kind of graduates that come out of SEL Schools.  This is a profile I knew you would all want to read, and in keeping with Michael’s understated and modest style, I would say he’s holding back–just a little.

Having had the privilege of working with him since 2008, I can honestly say that he is a tireless and devoted servant of our community.  He has a resume that makes it obvious that he could work anywhere, yet he has committed himself to South Euclid and has purchased his own home here.  As Economic Development Director, he has accomplished so much.  During his tenure the city has seen over $100 million in new investment, and he was instrumental in establishing One South Euclid, the city’s community development corporation.  He has been a speaker at national conferences, a committed volunteer for many South Euclid and Cleveland causes, and works tirelessly to make South Euclid and Greater Cleveland the best it can be.

Michael’s brother Stephen is another Cleveland powerhouse! Formerly employed by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, the Cuyahoga Land Bank, and now as a Program Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, Stephen is establishing a name for himself in the region as someone who is instrumental to Cleveland’s Renaissance. The creative genius behind the Euclid Beach Blast, Stephen has spent untold hours cleaning up Euclid Beach and attracting scores of others to take up the cause. In his free time, you can see him putting his Brush Band skills to good use, playing the trombone in venues all over town with Son Gitano, the uber popular Latin Jazz band. Stephen and his equally accomplished fiance, Ali Lukacsy, have purchased a home near the lake in Collinwood that they are lovingly renovating. Both are committed to the Collinwood art scene and helping to create a more vibrant NEO.

Sarah Love is continuing her education by pursuing a Doctorate in Psychology, having recently been accepted into a prestigious program at Wright State.  We hope that she follows in her brothers’ footsteps and returns to Greater Cleveland upon completion of her academic career.

The Love siblings typify the kind of selfless devotion to service we see in so many SEL graduates.  In writing these profiles, what often comes to light is that our graduates want to make the world a better place and are willing to work hard to make that happen.  One thing  is for sure: we love the LOVE siblings! — Sally Martin

What are your names and when did you graduate from SEL Schools?

Michael Love:           2004

Stephen Love:           2006

Sarah Love:               2011

Where did you attend college, what was your major, and what year did you graduate?

Michael:       

Baldwin Wallace University, BA Communication Studies, 2008

Cleveland State University, Master of Public Administration (MPA), 2009

Stephen:

Baldwin Wallace University, BA Political Science/International Studies, 2010

Cleveland State University, Master of Public Administration (MPA), 2011

Sarah:

Ohio Wesleyan University, BA Psychology, 2015

Wright State University, PsyD Candidate, Doctor of Psychology, 2020

What are you doing now and where do you live?

Michael:

Economic Development Director for the City of South Euclid, lives in South Euclid 

Stephen:

Program Officer for the Cleveland Foundation, lives in Cleveland (North Collinwood)

Sarah:

PsyD Candidate (Doctor of Psychology) at Wright State University, lives in Dayton

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

Michael:

Model UN, Student Council, Peer Tutoring, Future Business Leaders Club

Stephen:

Band, Student Council, National Honor Society

Sarah:

Band, Key Club

In what ways do you feel that SEL Schools prepared you for your future endeavors?

We feel SEL Schools truly prepared us for future success. SEL Schools provided us with a truly well-rounded education which allowed us to be prepared for success in college and beyond.

All three of us attended SEL Schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade and feel our education was unmatched. The academic programs and offerings, particularly at the high school level, put students such as ourselves on a path to success in college. Graduating from Brush, one can be confident that success in college is very likely. The opportunity to earn college credit through enrolling in a diverse range of Advancement Placement Classes is big advantage SEL Schools offer. These classes do a great job in preparing students for college and through the college credit opportunity can allow students to potentially finish college early. Coming out of Brush, all three of us felt ready for college, and had successful college careers. This translated to all three of us enrolling in graduate programs and being on track for professional success.

Beyond the academic offerings at Brush, the range of extracurricular activities allowed all three of us to explore our different interests, being involved in everything from music to helping other students succeed. Of course, the diverse types and personalities of the student body in SEL Schools, truly prepares you for what you will encounter in the real world. Starting in college and throughout your professional career, you will interact with those different from you. Being educated in a diverse school district, and it is diverse in every sense of the word, allows these interactions to be enjoyable. We also feel SEL students are more likely to seek out these interactions in their post-school lives.

What are some of your favorite memories, teachers, or classes from SEL Schools?

All of us enjoyed our experiences throughout our time in SEL. One thing the three of us had in common was an appreciation for the foreign language curriculum. All three us began taking Spanish in the 7th Grade and took it throughout our high school careers. Being in the foreign language program is a great example of the practical skills an SEL education offers for students.

We also very much enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. We each partook in somewhat different activities with experiences that we continue to find useful today. Whether it be the teamwork skills learned in band, the leadership skills from being part of Student Council, or the commitment to helping others gained from Key Club, all of the activities we were part of provided us with valuable life lessons.

We believe our time and experiences in SEL Schools contributed greatly to the people we are today.

If there was one thing you wish people knew about SEL Schools, what would it be?

We wish people had a better understanding of the high quality education SEL Schools offer. We truly believe it is the amazing education we received through SEL Schools that allowed us to have great college and now professional career experiences. Continuing to share success stories is one of the best ways to get the word out about our school district and the opportunities it provides.  

Brush is truly an ideal sized high school. It offers many opportunities that could not be found in smaller school districts, such as the diverse range of AP Classes and extracurricular activities, while still being able to offer much individualized instruction and attention to fit the needs of all students. We feel there is a deep commitment in SEL Schools to student success.

Madeleine Hirsh, Class of 1999

We were thrilled to hear from Madeleine Hirsh and get the skinny on all the amazing things she has accomplished since her graduation from Brush in ’99.

Where did you attend college, what was your major, and what year did you graduate?

Duquesne University, Business/IT, 2003

What are you doing now and where do you live?

I’m a Project Controller for Benefitfocus which is a leading provider of benefits technology that supports more than 25 million consumers in the Benefitfocus Cloud.

I live and work in Charleston, SC which is part of the coastal Carolinas.

Prior to Benefitfocus, I spent about 10 years in the public and federal sectors of Deloitte where I worked as a Manager delivering award-winning IT solutions. I also worked for the U.S. State Department as an E2 Migration Specialist.

Highlights of my career so far:
* Certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and twice-certified by Harvard University in Management and Leadership
* Served as the Application Manager for the Federal PCIP program
* Had the pleasure of working for clients all over the country including a month I spent living and working in Mumbai, India
* Implemented successful State Exchanges for the nation’s 2013 Health Care Reform as part of my work on the Deloitte Health Insurance Exchanges. Kentucky’s Health Insurance Exchange (HIX) system was featured in Time Magazine and specifically acknowledged by the President of the United States in his 2014 State of the Union address
* Certified by the U.S. CEBS / Wharton School in Group Benefit Design

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

Drama Club, Thespian Troupe #583, Student Congress, Orchestra, Key Club, Bible Study, SADD, Chorale, Computer Club, AV Aide

In what ways do you feel that SEL Schools prepared you for your future endeavors?

Drama Club and Thespian Troupe #583 (advised by Mrs. Jean Wall) shaped my high school experience – Mrs. Wall is an amazing person and I thank her to this day.

Brush also had a fantastic English Department which left me well-equipped for college and beyond

AP Computer Science opened doors for a career in IT

There were other experiences at Brush- such as learning Japanese, that were unique and exciting.

What are some of your favorite memories, teachers, or classes from SEL Schools?

Mrs. Jean Wall and Mr. Norm Rogozin were my favorite teachers at Brush – really, the entire English department was fantastic but they were my favorite teachers.

If there was one thing you wish people knew about SEL Schools, what would it be?

I would want people to know about the great opportunities in the public school system. I’d also want them to know about the great teachers and friends I made.Madeleine Hirsh

Catch up with Ashley Berman, Class of 2007

Thank you Ashley for taking the time to update us on your life since graduation!

Where did you attend college, what was your major, and what year did you graduate?

Bowling Green State University, Communication Sciences and Disorders, BS 2011
The University of Akron, Masters of Art in Special Education 2015
Florida Institute of Technology, Board Certified Behavior Analyst course sequence 2015
What are you doing now and where do you live?
I am wrapping up my work at Bellefaire JCB at the Monarch Center for Autism and am heading to Baltimore to work in the NeuroBehavioral Unit at the Kennedy Krieger Institute. I work as a behaviorist.

I own a home in South Euclid with my fiancé.

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

Almost every extracurricular activity, but primarily Soundsation showchoir, President of Thespian Troupe #583, and Marching Band!

In what ways do you feel that SEL Schools prepared you for your future endeavors?

SEL schools prepared me in ways that I began noticing right when I got to college. First, the diverse group of students I learned along side shaped who I am today. The learning opportunities at Brush were, and are excellent. Not only could I take fascinating coursework such as African-American History and Creative Writing, but I was privileged to learn from some of the most dedicated teachers. I remember sitting in writing 102 (thanks to Brush I didn’t even have to take the introduction course) and being astounded that no one knew how to write a thesis statement-Mrs. Falkenburg would have never let that slide in her classes! Thanks to my wonderful teachers I was able to flourish in college having the confidence to tackle even the most challenging coursework. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, being an SEL student afforded me opportunities to develop and express my love of music and theater. Our involvement with the International Thespian Society shaped me immensely into the person I am today.

What are some of your favorite memories, teachers, or classes from SEL Schools?

Ashley Berman 1

All of them? Advanced creative writing with Mrs. Kaprosy was definitely one of my favorite classes. Band camp, being in all-ohio musicals, directing shows, hanging out with Mr. Bubnow in the AV department, everything that happened with Mrs. Falkenburg…

If there was one thing you wish people knew about SEL Schools, what would it be?

Currently, one of my best friends is the vocal music director for Brush which keeps me involved  with the school. I wish people knew that it hasn’t truly changed. Fundamentally, all of the aspects that made my experience so great are still there; the teachers, the classes, and the extracurriculars are all still thriving. Education is what you make of it, and the SEL school district puts it all on the table, but it’s up to parents to instill the drive in their kids to take full advantage of what is being offered.

Tell us about your SEL Experience!

Tell us about your experience at SEL Schools, and we may share your story on our blog and on our social media networks. Please answer the following questions for each separate family member who you think we should profile and return to us at: selexperienceproject@gmail.com. Please include a photo and the best way to contact you for more information!

What is your name and what year did you graduate from SEL Schools?

Where did you attend college, what was your major, and what year did you graduate?

What are you doing now and where do you live?

What activities were you involved in while at SEL Schools?

In what ways do you feel that SEL Schools prepared you for your future endeavors?

What are some of your favorite memories, teachers, or classes from SEL Schools?

If there was one thing you wish people knew about SEL Schools, what would it be?