The Wheel 39.1 Fall/Winter 2020

Page 1



Creative Community


Letter from the Head of School


A Day in the Life




Feature: Together Across Distance

BOARD OF TRUSTEES 2020–2021 Catharine M. Cathey ’81, President Ralph J. Artuso ’71, Vice President Paul A. Hannah, Treasurer Lisa R. Frederick ’87, Secretary


Faculty Profile: Karen Koza


Golf Tournament


Community Updates


Spring Musical

Nathaniel D. DeRose ’97, Esq. Kristin A. Durkan Eric E. Elek, C.F.P. Edward Gaskey Pallavi Jain Patrick F. Koch ’96 John McConnell Ryan J. McHugh Edward Morgan Jessica Shirey ’96 Stephanie A. Van Norman


Alumni Virtual Coffee

Jonathan P. Strecker, Ed.D., Ex Officio


Overheard on Social Media


Professional Development


Student Art


2020 Awards



On the cover: 7th-grader, Phoebe Kelley, sketches beside one of Valley School’s trout ponds. Our students have always spent a lot of time outdoors, but this year, they’re more immersed than ever in Valley School’s beautiful natural surroundings. In nature, we are healed, calmed, stimulated, inspired, relieved of our stresses, and vitalized. Purposeful incorporation of outdoor time into the school day prepares children’s minds and bodies for learning.

CONTRIBUTORS Allie Arendas Jessica Barbera, Editor Katelyn Bruzda Claudia Clemens Joanne Copeland Sandra Kantor David Kirkland Tammy Kline Karen Koza Cindy Palmer Michelle Smith Candy Springer Jonathan Strecker Denise Temple Marlene Wasnesky Sesame Zamora Valley School Students, Faculty, & Staff PHOTOGRAPHY Jordan Good, Lovelight Photography Valley School Faculty, Staff, & Families GRAPHIC DESIGN Wall-to-Wall Studios PRINTING Unity Printing

Dear Valley School Community, CHILDREN BELONG IN SCHOOL. Here at Valley School, we know the importance of consistency in education, and believe unwaveringly in the vital stability a school community can provide for children. Guided by these certainties, Valley School responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by making thoughtful changes—structural and procedural—in order to increase the likelihood of having students on campus full-time during the 2020-2021 school year. The human spirit is, by nature, a creative one, and Valley School’s administration, faculty, and staff relied on their creativity to make inperson learning possible beginning in September. Together, we reimagined the Valley School experience. As we re-envisioned classroom spaces, we saw new opportunities to take advantage of our gorgeous natural surroundings. As we adapted schedules, we were reminded of the value of small group collaboration. As we explored innovative technologies, we discovered the potential for digital platforms to enhance our students’ access to distant people and places. And, amidst these augmentations, we studied state and CDC recommendations to ensure that all protocols and procedures at Valley School would maximize the safety and health of our community. PEOPLE BELONG TOGETHER. Children benefit socially, emotionally, and intellectually from interacting with their peers and teachers. Therefore, we incorporated meaningful socialization opportunities into our newly-formulated, physicallydistanced school days. The Valley Core Values Committee established routine touch points to maintain the work of our SEL (Social Emotional Learning) programs. As a result, the strength of our Valley School community remains evident. Masks don’t conceal the bonds that connect students with their classmates and teachers, or the joy that children experience as they grow and learn. Togetherness may look different than it did one year ago, but it is no less significant. In fact, it may be more so.

“Masks don’t conceal the bonds that connect students with their classmates and teachers, or the joy that children experience as they grow and learn.” Though we always prefer to teach and learn in-person, we also prepared assiduously for the possibility of closure. When regional conditions necessitated school closure in late November, we were ready. In the pages that follow, you’ll see and read about our time on campus, as well as the Valley School Distance Learning Program, and the ways in which our administration, faculty, staff, and students have contributed their talents to its success. Though our world circumstances are precarious, our commitment to the Valley School mission is resolute. Whether we fulfill the promises of our mission with our students on campus, or must pursue them via a distance learning model, Valley School will continue to provide the very best for our students—capitalizing on our creativity to foster and embrace teachable moments and stick together through it all.

Dr. Jonathan P. Strecker HEAD OF SCHOOL






ARRIVALS Sesame Zamora


Claudia Clemens


Claudia grew up in Greensburg, and recently moved to the Ligonier area. She graduated last May from Saint Vincent College, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education with a concentration in Special Education. Claudia was accepted recently to California University of Pennsylvania, where she will pursue a graduate degree in S.T.E.M. education. When she is not playing tennis, Claudia can be found indulging in her other passions—reading, cooking, and exploring the outdoors with her dog, Oddie. On weekends, you can expect to see her spending time with family and friends or attending Hempfield football games in support of her younger brother, Colton. A word to describe Claudia is “Innovator.” Whether in the classroom or in her daily life, she embraces the notion of doing things that have never been done before, and doing things differently than they are usually done. Professionally, she strives to create educational environments that push boundaries to achieve growth and capitalize on challenging moments as a means of cultivating memorable learning experiences.


Sesame has been a Latin teacher for more than 15 years, and has taught students at middle and high school levels at private and public schools throughout the country. She received her BA in Classics from Lawrence University and her MA from Rutgers. She enjoys teaching poetry most of all — especially the works of Ovid and Catullus. When not teaching, reading, or traveling, she can be found collecting and using both vintage and modern fountain pens. She is excited to have returned to the East Coast from Arizona and California, and to be teaching at Valley School.

Marlene Wasnesky KITCHEN AIDE

Marlene has already become well known around Valley School for her bright, outgoing personality and beaming smile. She joins Valley School after a 15-year tenure as a Manager at Pizza Siena in Latrobe. Marlene was born and raised in Latrobe, and resides there, still, with her husband and three cats. She loves living in the Laurel Highlands region, most especially because she very much appreciates the unique beauty that each season brings. The joy of Marlene’s life is her family—her two daughters and two granddaughters, who are 3 and 5.

Denise Temple COUNSELOR

Denise Temple has been a school counselor for 11 years, having spent most of her career working in Marion County, West Virginia and ShanksvilleStonycreek School District in Somerset County. She attended Lock Haven University for her Bachelor of Social Work, West Virginia University for her Master of Social Work, and California University of PA for her Master of Education in Counselor Education. Denise grew up in Jones Mills and now lives in Donegal. When it’s cold outside, she loves spending time at home with her animals, curled up on the couch watching TV or movies, and reading books. When the weather is nice, she is guaranteed to be outside working in her vegetable garden or walking in the woods with her labradoodle, Lucy.

Marlene is loving her work here at Valley School, and is happy to have become part of our School community. She is reported to have mastered the art of PB & Js, and so our kiddos are thrilled to have her here, too!

Sandra Kantor


Sandra was born in Bogotá, Colombia. As a young woman, she followed in the footsteps of her older brother, and went to school to become a dentist. After graduating from dental school, she completed an internship in the Amazon as a dentist with the Colombian government. Sandra cites this job as being one of many great

experiences in her life. It was there, in the Amazon, that she met a young man from Derry, PA who later became her husband.

professional passions had taken a turn. She enjoyed teaching more and more, and so decided to go back to school to obtain her teaching certification.

Sandra had the opportunity to learn English and live in the United States at a young age. She had long had a fascination with the language and country, and planned to complete the necessary coursework to be able to practice dentistry in the United States. After moving here, she did take several courses in pursuit of that goal, and even worked as a dental assistant. After her children were born, though, she made the decision to stay at home until her daughter, Macy, and son, Antonio, were in school. When her daughter entered kindergarten, Sandra began to substitute teach at local schools. By the time her son started school, she realized that her

Teaching has been a part of Sandra’s life for a long time. Before becoming a teacher, formally, she tutored children online, and volunteered at her church’s Bible School. In recent years, she has held both long and short-term substitute positions. She also taught all levels of Spanish at Geibel Catholic Junior-Senior High School for two years.

Share the Gift of Valley School We know that our current parents, alumni, and alumni parents are among our best ambassadors. If you know someone who might be interested in Valley School, please reach out to our Admissions Team. We are excited to meet your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues whose children would make a wonderful addition to the Valley School community!

Enrolling now for the 2021–2022 School Year! Katelyn Bruzda





Personally, Sandra enjoys walking, spending time with friends and family, and entertaining. She loves to travel and try new foods. Sandra is passionate about the health of the environment, and tries her best at saving the environment through recycling and conscientious living.


Together Across Distance by Allie Arendas


Monday, March 16th, 2020. The classrooms of Valley School sat silent. Gone were the voices of children and the busy hums of campus that typically fill the air during the week before spring break. This is a time that normally is filled with traditions and excitement—the fourth graders’ annual puppet show, the fifth graders’ settlement unveiling, the anticipation of travel with family—but now the hallways were strangely desolate. To an outsider, the motionless tricycles on the playground, unfinished projects scattered throughout the classrooms, and the barren cubbies might have given the impression that our school had been forsaken. What happened to the learning, the activity, the excitement? It may not have been apparent, but Valley School had never been busier. Although not on campus, there was a busy frenzy among the faculty, staff, and administrators, and a new kind of learning was underway.

In just a few short days, thoughts shifted from sunshine, packing, and travel arrangements, to accomplishing the seemingly impossible—recreating the Valley School experience amid the COVID-19 pandemic without the physical school. If one hadn’t already known it, it quickly became clear that while they are beautiful and idyllic, it is not the buildings, stream, or woods that constitute Valley School; it is our people. These people quickly jumped into action to make a plan, learn online tools, brainstorm ideas, and create an excellent virtual experience for our K-9 students. After all, no matter where learning takes place, we are still Valley School. There was a palpable buzz throughout that week, as we thoughtfully crafted a vision for what would become the Valley School Distance Learning Program (VSDLP). In the weeks that followed, spring break plans were replaced with “how-to” videos and new memberships to online resources for education. Zoom became central to all activities and planning. Teachers and administrators spent many hours learning to navigate the new platforms and asking, “Can you hear me now?” as they shaped their virtual classrooms. It was an important opportunity for faculty to experience learning as their students would in just a few days.



As April 6 approached, suddenly it was everyone’s first day of teaching again. That morning, Dr. Strecker rolled out the VSDLP with a special virtual Chapel. The faculty’s focus expanded to include supporting Valley School families. The VSDLP—designed with many unique family circumstances in mind—revolved around flexibility and the well-being of people. Upper and Lower School teachers applied their expert knowledge to create asynchronous lessons, as well as synchronous lessons to connect with students and assess their learning. With a blend of digital tools and their passion for excellence, the faculty created dynamic and engaging lessons. As any good educator knows, learning can’t happen unless basic needs are met—the learner must feel safe and their emotions must be balanced. As such, the VSDLP prioritized “face-to-face” time with the children. Each morning began with Parliament for Lower School and Morning Meeting for Upper School, and as tradition dictated, Chapel on Fridays. Theme days were incorporated for added fun. Students took advantage of opportunities to share their poetry, talents, and stories through recorded performances and presentations. Families were supported through virtual Family Coffees. The Lower School children even enjoyed a virtual bedtime story, delivered from a homemade fort, complete with pillows and blankets. It was beginning to feel like Valley School again.


“ This experience has taught all of us that a strong and connected community is possible—even when we aren’t together—as long as we always put people first.” As time went on, the virtual classrooms began to feel familiar. The teachers’ personalities and creativity shined through, and a rhythm could be felt even from afar. Children were eager to log in to Chapel each Friday to learn about the history of Valley School. Students looked forward to Advisory meetings where they could share their feelings and plan fun Zoom activities. Virtual Trivia Nights became the new Rec Nights and a fun way to socialize with peers. One afternoon, as the 9th-graders reflected on the experiences they were missing, they determined that their annual Pizza Party with their kindergarten “Littles” was a most treasured event, and that they wanted to find a way to make it happen. So, at 11:30 AM on May 29, pizzas were delivered to the homes of our 9th-graders, and they gathered on Zoom to have lunch with their “Littles” (many of whom had made their own pizzas) and teachers from both grades. In keeping with the tradition of being good hosts and hostesses, the kindergartners were prepared with questions for their guests, along with hand-drawn pictures of themselves and their 9th-grade “Bigs.” Each teacher found ways of connecting with their students. The Specials teachers hosted live Physical and Creative Activities on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wellness Wednesdays were offered for the Lower School students. Upper Schoolers enjoyed their daily Mindful Minute. Our community maintained its connections, and the learning gained strength. After all, it is people that matter most for Valley School.

“The emphasis on children and their unique emotional and academic well-being continues to be our priority.”

As spring gave way to summer, Valley School employees continued at a steady pace in preparation for the students’ return to the building in the fall. Processes and protocols were developed and redeveloped to ensure our community’s safety. The usual respite of summer was replaced by a massive undertaking to rearrange furniture, classrooms, and office spaces to enable social distancing. From arrival to dismissal and everything in between, procedures had to be reworked. Lunches, restrooms, water fountains, sports classes and practices, recess locations, manipulatives, supplies, cubbies, athletics, music, and curricula were adjusted. Teachers dedicated themselves to preparing for the possibility of another stint in the VSDLP. They analyzed their experiences with distance learning in the spring, and considered areas for improvement. They participated in professional development courses to improve their online instruction skills. Additional hardware and software were purchased to maximize learning potential, and a coordinated effort between the Technology Department, Division Heads, and Business Office ensured that every student would be equipped with the necessary technology. As late August approached, we eagerly awaited the return of the students. While no one was sure how long regional circumstances would sustain in-person learning, we were thrilled to be on campus for 12 weeks without interruption. When Valley School transitioned back to the VSDLP following Thanksgiving break, the months of planning and preparation were evident. The quality and rigor of the Distance Learning Program is representative of Valley School. The emphasis on children and their unique emotional and academic wellbeing continues to be our priority.

2020 has been an unprecedented year. One might choose to remark on the amount of missed instruction, the trauma and frustrations, or the over-abundance of screen time, but it is also worth noting the educational benefits of this experience. Many of the 21st-century learning skills that will help our students be successful in the future could never be taught on a whiteboard in a classroom. Our young learners, especially, will forever be empowered to personalize their educational journeys. They have embarked on an adventure into foreign territory. They have been learners in a brandnew environment, and may have failed a few times (perhaps, even shed tears), but they have also experienced success through perseverance and practice. They have navigated unfamiliar terrain alongside their teachers, and discovered that learning is a lifelong process. Our teachers have gained knowledge and skills, and reminded us that good teaching shines through in any environment. And finally, this experience has taught all of us that a strong and connected community is always possible at Valley School—even when we aren’t together—as long as we keep people first.




“A really good book will be as wonderful and as relevant in 50 years as it is today. Quality literature addresses human universals—truths, predicaments, pursuits. These things are common to us all, and they’re timeless.” — KAREN KOZA

Karen Koza Libraries are magical places. They offer every kind of intellectual satisfaction. Mystery and resolution. Question and answer. Ambiguity and certitude. Fantasy and fact. All the incontrovertible knowledge and experience a person could want, served up alongside the space for curiosity, questions, and exploration. Valley School’s library, however, is exceptional beyond the contents of its books. At Valley School, we have Karen Koza. She is the guide who leads children toward understanding, helps them make connections between disparate texts, and inspires them to reach their fullest potential as readers, writers, and people.

Karen Koza has been at Valley School since 1989—first as a 5th-grade teacher, and now, since 2012, as our Librarian. If you ask around about her, you’ll get a diverse array of stories from students, parents, alumni, and her colleagues. One of the times she reached out; one of the times she leaned in; one of the times she was patient; one of the times she was proud; one of the times she listened; one of the times she spoke up. It doesn’t take long to identify the common threads in the memories people are so eager to share about Karen. Generally, they can be distilled down to, “I felt cared for,” I felt believed in,” “I felt inspired,” and “I felt known.” Karen has a special gift for making people know they matter. Her students feel her care and support behind them. According to one student, as he reflected on his time as Karen’s advisee, “It’s like having a secret weapon in your back pocket. When Mrs. Koza believes you can do it, you believe you can do it.”


In her role as Librarian, Karen is a teacher to every child in the school. And she shows up for each of them in big and small ways. A few weeks ago, when a 4th-grade girl made her way into Valley School’s library on the first morning after our Distance Learning stint, Karen was interested in more than the book return: “Wait! How are you? Did you enjoy the holidays? How is your dance going? When is your recital? Remember, you have to give me the date so I can be there.” The girl beamed at the inquiry, and gushed about her upcoming competition, her expression revealing the joy she felt at the opportunity to share her passion with her teacher. Everyone knows that teenagers can be particularly challenging to reach. But for Karen, they’re almost a specialty. A grateful parent explained, “She has an astonishing understanding of the adolescent mind. When she was working with my son, she was able to push him toward his true capabilities. Her expectations were high, but never unreasonable. She wanted him to be his best, not anyone else’s. She helped him realize and achieve his own goals.” Karen’s colleagues also admire the way she connects with students. Gail Hugo, Valley School veteran 1st-grade teacher explained, “She has a distinct gift for looking at a student and seeing beyond a specific behavior or learning difficulty. She artfully peels away the surface layers in order to discover what exactly is at the core, and develops a succinct plan for each individual. Among her many gifts, it is clear that Karen loves her students and advisees unconditionally, sees the intrinsic value of each person, and strives to help each become his/her own best self.”



For Karen, a child’s “own best self” isn’t necessarily a matter of grades. “It isn’t only ‘A’ students who set the world on fire,” she says. Karen believes that the world is enhanced by all kinds of minds and talents and endeavors, and that each child reaches developmental achievements at their own appropriate and authentic pace: “Praise the effort, not the results. They’ll get there. Normal looks like a lot of things when it comes to child development.” Across all grade levels, she supplements her academic teaching with emphasis on character. She leads by example, both personally, and via the texts she teaches. She explains, “you can’t just tell a kid, ‘be a good friend.’ You need to inspire them to be a good friend.” Ethan Hawke’s Rules for a Knight, Karen Levine’s Hana’s Suitcase, and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe are among the books Karen has incorporated into her curricula, and which offer children positive character traits—like patience, honesty, resilience, humility, courage, and discipline—to strive for in their own lives. Conversations in Valley School’s library often lean toward the real-life application of the values children identify in books. Karen reminds her students that in everything they do they’re making choices. “I want them to learn to lead conscientious lives, both for themselves and others. There’s opportunity at the intersection of a book and a child. Any book instills values, so when selecting books for children, we’re selecting for our future, and we’d better make good choices.”

“ Whether you’re seeking understanding, or seeking to be understood, Mrs. Koza is the place to go.” — EVERYONE


Karen’s library celebrates the unique stage of life that is childhood. It’s a warm and engaging space. She welcomes the hum of children’s play, creativity, and growth. That’s not to say though, that her curricula aren’t rigorous. “In any education, kids want substantive stuff. They want meat they can relate to, and they have to be able to ask questions.” Karen shows Valley School students their input has value. They learn that they’re capable of grappling with—and offering valuable solutions to—serious problems. One of the tools Karen makes available to her students is the power of self-expression. She knows the efficaciousness of language, and encourages children to advocate for themselves, speak their truths, and be comfortable with who, what, and where they are. One Lower School teacher recalls that, “several years ago, Karen was the 5th-grade teacher of Maggie Elder, who had recently been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. It was an unprecedented time in our school. Karen worked with Maggie to pen her own story, Learning to Live with What You Have. She spent time with Maggie at her home to help her craft it. In true Karen style, she exacted the best from Maggie by encouraging her to check punctuation and choose powerful wording. This book has since become Maggie’s legacy. In addition to helping Maggie, Karen also helped the rest of the class confront the reality of Maggie’s situation. She taught them how writing can be an effective tool for dealing with difficult situations; she gave them a voice.” Karen has a special aptitude for reaching toward others to see, hear, and accept them for who they are. Sometimes, in education environments, the loudest voice in the room gets the most attention. And certainly, those who make themselves accessible are easiest to know. Karen, however, listens for the quiet voices, too. Last year, when an introverted Upper Schooler showed an interest in poetry, his quiet artform might have gone unnoticed. But not under Karen’s watch. She introduced him to a local author who’s written for the New York Times and contributes regularly to Pittsburgh Quarterly. They began to work together after school on a weekly basis, developing his craft and confidence. Soon thereafter, a 5th-grade girl joined them. She learned to use writing as a means of revealing herself. When schools closed due to COVID-19, that usually-reserved girl employed her new skills to express her confusion about living in a “disrupted pandemic world.” By recognizing the opportunity to make a meaningful connection for these children, Karen gave them what may turn out to be a lifelong gift. That’s one of the beautiful things about Karen; she sees possibility everywhere, and she strives continuously for the excellence she knows is obtainable for her students. Learning requires security and support. So, when a group of gleeful Lower School students bursts forth with adulations, telling you, “Mrs. Koza is a really great teacher, aaaaaand she’s our friend, too!” you know they are set up for success. When Karen’s colleagues repeat the sentiment again and again—“She is an insightful, faithful, talented, and committed educator and friend”—you see that she is a gift to the whole of our community. And though she claims to be the fortunate one, “to be a part of this truly incredible place,” we all know “it’s good people that make good places,” and that Karen is one of the people who makes Valley School the very best of places.

Save the Date

THE 16


for the 2021 Tournament:


Friends of Valley School Golf Tournament

September 15, 2021

Thank you

to our sponsors, golfers, and volunteers. Your support of the Friends of Valley School Golf Tournament enriches the daily educational experience of every Valley School student.

2020 Tournament Winners 1ST-PLACE TEAM Shallenberger Construction (Skylar Shallenberger, Rich Colborn, Tom Baxter, Doug Goodwin) 2ND-PLACE TEAM Resort Realty (DJ Rossi, Jeff Rossi, Frank Lucente, Shane Griffin) LOW NET MALE Scott Gongaware


LOW NET FEMALE Juanita Guzek





Valley School alumni and friends, we’d love to know what’s happening with you!

Sarah (Schiavoni) Catmur ’04 and her husband, John, welcomed their first child, Amelia, on August 20th. Sarah writes that she and John are enjoying the early days of parenthood, and are grateful for the bright spot that Amelia has been for them in this strange year. Sarah has been living in Memphis, TN—her husband’s hometown—for a little over 7 years. She and John married in 2016. Sarah has been working as the Venue Rental Coordinator



at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, helping to book events like weddings, corporate and nonprofit retreats, and private parties in various venues on the property. Sarah recalls the wonderful coincidence that, “when I first started working at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, we actually had a visiting exhibition on display from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. It was so fun—being new in town and finding a little piece of home!”

Prosser Cathey ’16 finished his freshman year at MIT last spring. He received the Pressman Award, which is given to “talented undergraduates to support summer research or summer internships in issues related to American politics.” The award, which comes with a stipend, was given to him to execute an original research design. He is researching topics in game theory. Traditionally, players in game theory are assumed to be opaque in the sense that they correctly believe that other players cannot observe their actions. He is studying translucent players, or those who believe that there is nonzero probability that other players can observe their move. More specifically, he will be experimentally introducing translucency to social dilemmas and examining the subsequent effect on cooperation.

After Valley School, Lucas Schilling ’04 attended Carnegie Mellon University and achieved a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Economics. Later, he went on to attain his Masters of Business Administration from The University of Pittsburgh. He is currently working for PPG Industries and lives in the Pittsburgh area where he continues to be an active member of the National Ski Patrol at Seven Springs. On a personal level, Lucas married his beautiful wife, Gabriela, in 2017 and they are proud to have welcomed their first child, Axel Schilling, in 2019. Valley School has always instilled a strong sense of wonder and exploration in its students and Lucas hopes to pass those values on to his growing family.

Kelsey Broker ’10 was married to Ben Shaheen, on June 20, 2020. The couple is living in Columbus, OH where Ben is working on his Doctorate of Music at OSU, and Kelsey has established a violin studio.

After Alex Ferlan ’13 graduated from Valley School, he attended Ligonier Valley High School. He writes that he “very much enjoyed his time there, engaged in academics, seasonal sports, and the Air Force Junior ROTC program.” After graduating from high school in 2016, Alex moved on to Grove City College, majoring in Electrical Engineering. Last fall, he spent the first half of his senior year

Grace Noel ’13, graduated summa cum laude from St. Vincent College in May with a BS in bioinformatics where she also received the Academic Award for Excellence in Bioinformatics. Last October, Grace presented research with her mentors for the second time at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in Chicago. The title of the research was “Sexually diergic effects of environmental enrichment and removal on baseline and restraint stress HPA axis responses in rats.” Grace will be pursuing a medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She wants to thank all the teachers who taught her during her time at Valley School and the many cherished friends that she made there who still support and love her.

abroad in Nantes, France. He reports that it was an incredible experience (despite his inability to speak French!) and a fantastic way to cap off his college journey. Since Alex’s May graduation, he moved to Wisconsin, and has started work as a software developer for Epic Systems Corp. Alex is thankful for his good fortune and is excited to see what the future has in store for him!

Julia Daniele ’13 attended High Point University, where she was a member of two honor societies and served as a peer tutor. She was a captain of the club field hockey team, and was honored, in her senior year, to receive the University’s Extraordinary Leader Award. Now that she’s graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Educational Studies, she is looking forward to attending Loyola University Maryland for a master’s degree in Clinical Professional Counseling.

Where to Next? CLASS OF 2016

Timothy Creamer Grace Fiedler Kathryn Lawson Amira Maroulis Cole McNeil Emmett Nelson

Chatham University Sabbatical year Chatham University West Virginia University St. Vincent College Brandeis University

Skylar Shallenberger Brenna Springer Conrad Suppes Gabriel Thomas Eli Yaroch

Robert Morris University University of Akron Penn State University, Main Campus California University of Pennsylvania Miami Frost School of Music

We wish these alumni all the best in their studies! ISSUE 39.1 FALL / WINTER 2020


Faculty, Staff, and Friends

Johnette DeRose, former Valley School teacher and Head of Lower School (1977-2016), has written and published a children’s book. Released last October, Letters from Liza is the story of a beloved family pet and her adventures with her human siblings. The origin of Letters from Liza is rooted in Mrs. DeRose’s letterwriting business, “Puppy Liza,” through which children receive monthly letters in the mail from Puppy Liza, along with a small trinket. Over time, however, the idea of a book developed. “I decided to jump into the process of becoming a self-published author on Amazon. Letters from Liza is dedicated to Nathaniel, Chris, and Henry, my two sons and grandson, and has been a labor of love. I was also fortunate in that my sister-in-law, Joan DeRose, is a talented artist and created the artwork for the letters. Many of the stories reflect my experiences raising two sons with a Labrador, and my appreciation of my time spent with the children at Valley School.” Letters from Liza is available on Amazon. Visit for more information.


On July 25th, our 5th-grade teacher, Miss Kaley Burkardt, officially became Mrs. Zurawski! Congratulations and much happiness to Kaley and Nicholas.

Valley School’s 6th-grade homeroom, social studies, and language arts teacher, Sarah Fichter, and her husband, Erik, have become parents! Dillon Thomas Fichter was named in honor of Sarah’s late father. He was born on April 27, weighing 7 lbs. 3oz. and measuring 19 inches.

On May 9, after two years of full-time studying while working at Valley School as a graduate fellow, Hannah Earhart completed her Master of Science Degree in Special Education. During this program, Hannah was able to research typical and atypical neurological and physical development; implement advanced strategies for students with varying degrees of disabilities; examine best practices for aiding individuals of all ages during various life transitions; explore Special Education Law in the United States, England, and Scotland; and design framework for an inclusive preschool. Thanks to additional training from a beloved professor, she also completed the Applied Behavior Analysis training requirements to sit for the boards to be a Registered Behavior Technician. Hannah writes, “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity that Valley School has afforded me and I’m beyond excited to continue applying and learning as much as I can to support all of our students!”

Recently, Carole Wright (not pictured) earned a Certificate in School Leadership for Social–Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development. The 3-course, post-baccalaureate certificate program is offered through the partnership of Rutgers University and the College of Saint Francis. The concentrated course work—which emphasizes the cultivation of positive school climate, culture, values, leadership, student voice and engagement, and SEL skills—is designed to prepare school leaders to implement social-emotional learning initiatives and promote a positive culture and climate in their schools. The certificate includes a foundational course, a leadershipcentered course, and a project-based practicum, which is supported by an experienced mentor.

Brandon Palmer, son of Assistant to the Head of School, Cindy Palmer, was married to Ashley Davis, of Ligonier, on August 29, 2020, at a local private estate.

Valley School Sports Teacher and Athletics Coach, Lindsey Kauffman, was engaged to Brad Kanuch on February 28 in Philadelphia. Brad and Lindsey love hiking, exercising, fishing, and traveling to Penn State football games together, and are excited to start a family. Brad is the nephew of Rick Kanuch, Valley School’s Director of Facilities. Lindsey reports that she will benefit during their marriage from Brad’s culinary skills. The couple will exchange vows on June 5, 2021 in Huntingdon, PA.

This May, Brandon Snyder ’08 (not pictured), Valley School’s 6-9th-grade Science Teacher, completed his master’s degree program, earning his M.S. in biology from Washington University in St. Louis. “I am grateful for the experience to learn fascinating biology content alongside a cohort of biology teachers from all over the country. The online classes that I took over the past two years prepared me for our Distance Learning program this spring. Although graduation events were postponed, I am looking forward to the rescheduled ceremony in St. Louis in May of 2021.”

In Memorium Dolan C. Rummel, known to the Valley School community as Cornelia, passed away on June 18, 2020. Cornelia worked for over a decade at Valley School as Head Cook. She was preceded in death by her husband, Lester, who also worked at Valley School as Director of Facilities. Recalling Cornelia, former Head of Lower School, Johny DeRose, said, “while every cook has a specialty, the children loved Mrs. Rummel’s home-made pizza and chili best.”

We sadly acknowledge the passing of Richard P. Mellon ’53, Valley School alumnus, alumni parent and grandparent, and long-time benefactor. Richard P. was the son of Valley School founders, General R. K. and Constance Prosser Mellon. An ardent believer in philanthropic engagement, he supported Valley School’s growth and stewarded a culture of purposeful giving. Because of generous involvement like his, Valley School provides students with an education rooted in a mission that emphasizes “doing good work for others.”

Elinor P. McLennan, mother of Deborah McLennan ’74 Scully and Courtney McLennan ’75 Myhrum, and longtime Valley School Trustee (1971-2000) passed away in September. Elinor was dedicated to the cause of education and served as President of Valley School’s Board of Trustees for many years. After her tenure as Board President, she remained involved with Valley School as a longtime member of the Finance Committee. Additionally, she served on the 2009 Head of School Search Committee and was an Honorary Co-Chair of Valley School’s 50th Anniversary celebration.




Spotlight on: Annie Jr. by Brian Jinks

Valley School understands the value of the arts in early education. In addition to conveying intellectual benefits, arts programs foster positive self-esteem, heightened motivation, appreciation for diversity, healthy emotional expression and social harmony, and enhanced creativity. Therefore, Valley School provides year-round quality music and visual arts programming for students beginning in kindergarten and extending throughout the Upper School years. Painting, drawing, ceramics, large and small choral and instrumental ensembles, hand bell choir, and percussion ensemble are just a few of the areas in which students engage with the arts at Valley School every day. Our elective program, created by former Upper School Head, Larry Clements, allows older students the freedom to choose their music, art, and technology course preferences. Invariably, the most popular elective course for 7th- through 9th-graders students each year is Musical Performance and Design. This elective provides students with opportunities to explore acting, singing, dancing, set and prop design, sound, lighting, and even costume design. Each year, approximately 90 percent of our 7th through 9th-graders choose to participate in the course, which culminates in March with the performance of Valley School’s Spring Musical. Last year’s presentation of Annie Jr. marked Valley School’s 23rd annual spring musical. Music teacher, Debbie Broker, has been involved with Musical Performance and Design since the beginning. “It has been an honor to have been with the musical since its inception,” Broker recently reminisced. “One of the most thrilling moments was after our first show, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, when students were signing their white canvas sneakers. The thrill of the theater was palpable amongst our students, and we knew we’d done something right.” Art teacher, Kelly Vallely, has been working with students in the musical for 20 years. “It is rewarding to see how far the kids come during the process,” said Vallely. “They learn a lot about themselves along the way. I always see them gain self-confidence, responsibility, trust in one other, and—after the process is complete—a sense of achievement and unity. It is truly exciting to experience such moments of growth with our students. So many amazing and talented people have been responsible for carrying on this tradition at Valley School.” Laura Varga, David Kirkland, Sandi Fryer, Jessi Yates, Mike Webb, Robin Wilkinson (Drummond), Brandon Snyder,

and many others have worked with students in the musical elective over the years. “We can’t discuss Valley School musicals without mentioning our current costume designer, Debbie Mewherter,” added Broker, “who has contributed her many talents for over 20 years as well.” Last year’s performance of Annie Jr. was Valley School’s first ever live-streamed production. Safety concerns regarding COVID-19 led to the decision to limit the number of attendees, but friends, extended family, and other members of the Valley School community were able to watch the show in its entirety from their homes. We were grateful to our licensing agency for quickly granting us an emergency live-stream license the morning of the performance. While we didn’t have a full house in the auditorium that night, the 2020 cast of Annie Jr. enjoyed the largest audience ever for a Valley School production! The students took the last-minute change in stride and delivered a beautiful performance on what turned out to be their last day in the building for the 2019-2020 school year. We were fortunate; thousands of schools across the country with later performance dates were forced to cancel their musical productions entirely. It’s unclear what the future holds regarding restrictions on live theater productions, but uncertainty won’t stop us from providing a musical theater experience for our students. In the weeks leading up to our transition to the Valley School Distance Learning Program, our 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-graders familiarized themselves with this year’s production—a musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1961 fantasy novel, James and the Giant Peach. Throughout the weeks of the VSDLP, they rehearsed their lines and choreography via Zoom, and brainstormed ways of realizing other elements of theater production. We are hopeful that our students will be able to perform on stage for a full audience this spring, but if that isn’t possible, we will find another way. This hallmark Valley School experience is just too important to miss. The show must go on!

Keep an eye on Valley School’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for updates on James & the Giant Peach!



Alumni Virtual Coffee ON SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 21, Valley School hosted our inaugural Alumni Virtual Coffee over Zoom with more than 40 alumni, faculty, and staff in attendance. Alumni spanning the classes of 1955 to 2020 engaged in a friendly Valley School trivia competition hosted by Mr. David Kirkland, Upper School Division Head, and then gathered in small groups by decade of graduation to catch up with their classmates. Attendees heard a quick update about the goings-on at Valley School from Head of School, Dr. Jonathan P. Strecker before saying their goodbyes.

Want to join us for our next virtual event? Watch your email and Valley School’s social media pages for announcements on future alumni gatherings. We hope to see you soon!


Rave Reviews! “I really enjoyed catching up with other young alums! It is amazing to see all the great things that Valley grads are doing!” “I had a great time with the Alumni Coffee call! I’ve been away from the Valley School community for a little while, so it was interesting to hear about so many things that have changed and the many wonderful things that are still the same :)” “The alumni event was so well done! I enjoyed the trivia portion and seeing old, familiar faces in the breakout session.”

OVERHEARD ON SOCIAL MEDIA Follow us on social media to learn about all the wonderful things happening at Valley School. Share what you love! These are hard times, but Valley School has been exceptional.

I want to acknowledge the amazing effort I witnessed [while] watching you all during distance learning. You all did an incredible job! Sincerely, A little boy’s nanny

Sometimes I wish I was still there! It is the most amazing place!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all students had these creative opportunities?

Facebook: @valleyschoolofligonier Instagram: valleyschoolofligonier

Thank you for giving & getting involved Educating children requires a confident vision, an exceptional faculty, a curriculum designed to provide diverse learning opportunities, and the meaningful involvement of many—trustees, parents, alumni, faculty and staff, grandparents, and past parents. That’s why, at Valley School, we are so grateful for the support of our extended community. Whether you are an engaged family member modeling the Valley Core Values at home, a volunteer playing a pivotal role in shaping the daily educational experience of our students, or a donor ensuring our ability to continuously fulfill our mission, we appreciate your involvement. Thank you for helping us to maintain the health of Valley School, our commitment to our students, and for making Valley School a place where children achieve academic and personal success. For more information about Valley School, visit:

So awesome. The VS Distance Learning Program has been amazing. I think we would all prefer to be back in school, but the learning these teachers are delivering remains TOP NOTCH! Thank you!


THE WRITING PROJECT I came seeing the world through the lens of numbers: Finding patterns in dates Noticing palindromes Doubling recipes Making change Watching the time Counting steps Balancing a checkbook Pricing sale items Investigating pi I leave sharing the world through the power of words: Finding my voice Using sensory details

The True Value of Words by Joanne Copeland, Spring, 2020

Thinking matters Speaking my truth Making connections Building community Being engaged Creating civil discourse Unearthing stories

“ Teachers who write are better teachers of writing.” This quote from the National Writing Project inspired me to participate in the 2019 Summer Institute for Teachers with the Western Pennsylvania Writing Project. A guiding principle of the National Writing Project is that writing is transformative. “Teachers and their students should use writing for learning, healing, taking action, and making art.” So, with that in mind, I spent my days writing. UNDER THE DIRECTION of Dr. Laura Roop, the University of Pittsburgh offers a professional development program that is networked with the National Writing Project. The class focuses on research-based practices for improving the teaching of writing across all grade and subject levels, including peer-to-peer professional learning, classroom resources, and formative assessment tools. As teachers, we were immersed in writing. One day, my class and I participated in a “Writer’s Marathon.” The thought of this activity was daunting. However, in reality, it turned out to be quite inspiring. For four hours, we traveled to Pittsburgh landmarks. At each site we wrote for a 30-minute period and then shared our pieces. For inspiration, we rode the incline to Mt. Washington, walked the riverfront at the Point, and meandered through the Carnegie Museum.


The course also offered the opportunity to listen to and interview guest speakers, including a journalist from the Pittsburgh Tribune, a local poet, and several other authors. They shared their journeys as writers and encouraged us to believe in ourselves as writers. At the end of class, our group of teachers published a book, Unearthing Our Stories: Cultivating the Voices Within. My pieces included reflections on my childhood, research on the importance of writing in the content areas, and two poems. I felt proud of becoming a writer, and I was excited to share a new passion for writing with my students at Valley School. On the first day of school, there was lively chatter as 4th-graders came into the classroom sharing their summer adventures. I know this is a perfect age to focus on developing strong written and oral communication skills.

“Building a community of writers gives students the opportunity to bond with each other as they share their thoughts and ideas.” As my students started to write, they began to find their stories. Their journals gave them space to voice their adventures, memories, hopes, and dreams. We worked through the processes of developing writing for an audience by drafting, editing and revising, and then presenting our final pieces. Poetry blossomed beyond the constricts of nursery rhymes in a Poetry Quilt. Creative writing was sparked by art, music, and nature. Through writing, they responded to texts they read. They reflected on novels’ characters and their actions. In social studies, students responded to current and past events, discussed aspects of different cultures, and described the nature and geography of a region by embedding facts in an adventure story. Writing in math class led students to realize that mathematics is more than getting the right answer. There are real life stories related to math, which is about making sense of problems and understanding concepts.

In collaboration with Mrs. Wehner, 3rd- and 4th-graders partnered for a weekly Writer’s Workshop. Our writing included interviews, word play activities, developing sensory images, and creative writing. This class gave students an opportunity to share their work with a wider audience. Building a community of writers gives students the opportunity to bond with each other as they share their thoughts and ideas. Reflective writing offers students a platform to voice their opinions using supporting evidence, and to develop empathy by writing from different perspectives. Through research, they learn how to present the facts of their newfound knowledge in their own words. In connecting our Core Values with strong communication skills, our Valley School students have the ability to express themselves with clarity and confidence.



The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program is a state-run program that provides companies or individuals with a state tax credit for making a contribution to a non-profit Scholarship Organization such as Valley School of Ligonier. All contributions through EITC are used exclusively for financial aid at Valley School. For more information regarding Valley School and the EITC program, please contact Michelle Smith, Director of Development, at 724.238.5028 or




Valley Voices

When schools across the state closed last March due to the spread of COVID-19, many students put pen to paper as a means of deciphering and articulating their feelings about the changes they experienced. Valley School celebrates creative self-expression and is proud to see students channel their questions, concerns, and challenges into beauty.

ODE TO THE WOODS by Curry Nye (current 7th-grader)

You, woods, are where I feel safe, strong, happy, sad, brave, scared. You are the place where all of my emotions are free. Where there is no judgement,



by Daniel Harper (current 6th-grader)

by Hunter Charlebois (current 6th-grader)

We are in Covid-19

Weeks without my teachers

It has us in quarantine

My loving caring teachers

It is not fun

It’s been harder without

At least I can play in the sun

My caring teachers

Quarantine is a bummer It is going to ruin summer I wish this was done I am ready to have some fun We are in Covid-19 Will it be over when I’m 13? We’ll set off fireworks to celebrate Opening our country’s gate iPad school is not the same My hair is wild and not tame I’m ready for this battle to be won With this poem, I am done.

But I still manage If I could I would give all my teachers

No rules, just freedom. Your place makes me feel like I am the king of the unknown. Your power so fierce that it is dangerous, Your power so soft that a cloud could rest on it and would not fall. Your place is so big that even the biggest things would get lost in it.

A big hug

The most powerful things cannot overcome your power,

And say thank you

the power of nature.

For all that you’ve done It is very life-changing

You are one of the most dangerous things that I can think of. You have a mind of your own. You call me into it and pull me into a different world, A world of violence, A world of dangers, A world of love and trust. You are the woods, The most mysterious place in the world, This is my ode to the woods.


Last spring, the Ligonier Valley Writers announced the 29th annual Student Poetry Awards. Students throughout Western Pennsylvania in grades 4-6 and 7-9 participated. We congratulate the Valley School students who were recognized for their authorship: THE AZTEC ANIMAL


Alana Poponick (current 6th-grader)

Jana Smith (current 5th-grader)

1st place winner of the Walter McGough Memorial Award for “Best of the Best” in grades 4-6.

2nd-place winner of the Chestnut Ridge Literary Award for unrhymed verse.

3rd-place winner of the Chestnut Ridge Literary Award for unrhymed verse.

Sonya Verbina (current 5th-grader)


Permanent Art Collection Last May, 9th-grader Maggi Durkan’s acrylic painting, Star Gazing, was chosen to be the 2019-2020 addition to the Valley School Permanent Art Collection. Kelley Vallely, Chair of the Fine Arts Department, explained the special appeal of Maggi’s piece. “This painting struck me for its originality—simple, yet powerful. I immediately connected with Star Gazing because it opened my imagination; it has so much to say. In my opinion, a painting like this speaks volumes to larger-than-life concepts, symbols, and metaphors. It seems to represent how we can find beauty in something larger and more mysterious than us, be it art or the vast universe.”

Congratulations, Maggi!





The School Prize is awarded by the faculty to the top student in the graduating class.


The Peter C. Messer Scholarship honors our first headmaster who served Valley School for 32 years. While Mr. Messer valued scholarship, it was his concern with the formation of strong moral character that shaped this award. In selecting recipients, the award committee considers qualities such as honor, kindness, responsibility, and respect. Also valued is the general contribution students have made to the life of their class and school community.

Congratulations, Krishna Lakkimsetty!

“It has been a real honor to watch Krishna grow into the young woman and student she has become. Her unparalleled dedication to her studies and passion for knowledge are inspiring and set a high bar for her classmates. Krishna’s love for learning is evident in all that she does, and I’m so excited for her to continue to unlock new opportunities at Shady Side Academy next year.” — Cassie Nolfi, 9th-grade Homeroom Teacher & Advisor.


The Founder’s Award is given to a student whose consideration of others, effort, contributions to his/her class and school, character, citizenship, and integrity have made him or her a valuable member of the Valley School community.

Congratulations, Hannah Spahn! “Hannah’s contributions to Valley School over the years have been numerous. I believe her greatest contribution is that she has always been an outstanding role model for those around her. Young children love being with her because she is so warm, friendly, and engaging. Upper School students respect her because she is fair, kind, dependable, trustworthy and fun. Teachers admire her because she is such a genuine and honest person with a perpetual smile on her face.” – Karen Koza, Librarian & 7th-grade Advisor.

Congratulations, Maggi Durkan!

“While each of the 9th-graders was considered for the Founder’s Award, Maggi’s moral consistency throughout her years at Valley School solidified her as the most deserving. Maggi is constantly thinking of others and has made massive contributions to her class since Kindergarten. Maggi is the definition of integrity, with a sweet side of empathy and compassion. I had so much fun advising Maggi and her classmates this year.” — Cassie Nolfi, 9th-grade Homeroom Teacher & Advisor. 26

Alex G. McKenna Science Award Theater Arts Prize

Deeded Sports Awards

This award is presented annually to two students in the 7th-grade class who, in the opinion of the Award Committee, manifest keen interest in the life and/or physical sciences. Considered are the students’ curiosity, powers of observations, and interest in scientific pursuits. The award seeks individuals who are open-minded, hard-working, enthusiastic, and eager to think for themselves.

The Theater Arts Prize is presented to the 9th-grade student who has made significant contributions to dramatic productions throughout his/her years in the Upper School. This award recognizes the student as an inspiration and role model to others in his/ her display of a positive attitude, cooperation, sense of responsibility, and dedication to the entire process of theatrical productions at Valley School.

Hackett Soccer Cup Nea Mentor

Congratulations, Maggi Durkan

8th-grade Athlete of the Year Maria Rihn

Congratulations, Ryan Eckenrode and Addie Strauss

Barbara R. Mannion Art Prize

8th- & 9th-Grade Prizes

The Barbara R. Mannion Art Prize is given in loving memory of Barbara Mannion, art instructor at Valley School from 1978 to 1990. The prize is awarded to a 9th-grade student who values and encourages the talents of fellow students and who shares his or her creativity and love of art with others.

Peter C. Messer Latin Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty 8th-grade winner: Piper Anke

Congratulations, Maggi Durkan

National Latin Exam Awards Each year, Valley School’s 8th- and 9th-grade Latin students—along with thousands of students from across the nation and many foreign countries—participate in the National Latin Exam. Congratulations to these students who earned medals acknowledging their achievements in the study of Latin. Latin I Piper Anke, Maxima Cum Laude Lucas Orsatti, Maxima Cum Laude Maria Rihn, Maxima Cum Laude Cole Brunton, Magna Cum Laude Latin II Krishna Lakkimsetty, Summa Cum Laude

Macdonald Field Hockey Cup Lilley Fiedler

Girls’ Sports Award 9th-grade Athlete of the Year Lilley Fiedler

Boys’ Sports Award 8th-grade Athlete of the Year Cole Brunton

Algebra I Prize 8th-grade winner: Ava Wheeler Geometry Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty Larry Hutzell History Prize 9th-grade winner: Lilley Fiedler 8th-grade winner: Ava Wheeler Spanish Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty 8th-grade winner: Piper Anke Biology/Science Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty 8th-grade winner: Ava Wheeler English Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty 8th-grade winner: Piper Anke and Maria Rihn Technology Prize 9th-grade winner: Maggi Durkan 8th-grade winner: Lucas Orsatti Music Prize 9th-grade winner: Krishna Lakkimsetty 8th-grade winner: Maria Rihn Art Prize Winner: Bridget McHugh




Congratulations to our 2020 graduates Emma Herrington

Greater Latrobe High School

Lilley Fiedler

St. George’s School

Nea Mentor

Western Reserve Academy

Maggi Durkan

St. Andrew’s School

Krishna Lakkimsetty

Shady Side Academy


“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.�

PO Box 616 Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658-0616