Sunstone Alumni

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Portraits of Sunstone Alumni

“It’s been more than a decade after my last day as a student in a Montessori classroom, and I still draw on my Montessori preparation to help define my goals in life and learning.”

Katy Rossing

Hansen Lian

Graduated Sunstone: 2013

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Northwest Academy, Caitlin Gabel, Georgetown University

Montessori isn’t just about learning. Montessori makes learning engaging. It teaches us to be academically curious and ask questions. After graduating from Sunstone my greatest fear going into Middle School was the homework, but it turned out to not be that difficult. I felt very academically prepared going into 7th grade. Despite not having a traditional education, the transition to homework was not that bad because I saw it as a challenge—an intellectual puzzle. My teachers at Sunstone pushed me to improve the things I thought I was bad at, like handwriting and art, and they really helped me slow down and realize that I could be good at things, even if I didn’t think so at first glance.
Overall I credit Montessori and Sunstone for cultivating a love for learning. School isn’t burdensome. It’s an exciting place!

Katie Laco

Graduated Sunstone: 2006

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Northwest Academy, Riverdale High School, Whitman College

I loved my experience at Sunstone! It was through the Montessori curriculum that I developed my most valued skill–intrinsic motivation–the ability to find what is interesting to me, and go deep into it, for no other reason than the joy of learning something new about the world or developing a new skill. Being intrinsically motivated, rather than externally motivated, allowed me to build the skills that were meaningful to me. One particular example was when a classmate and I sped through the entire math curriculum. After we exhausted all the math that was available to us in the classroom, the school had a professor come in and teach us upper-level math concepts (and cool math stuff like different ways of visualizing the fourth dimension). These were concepts well beyond the usual scope of our age group. Instead of leaving me stagnating, Sunstone provided an opportunity that propelled my excitement for math and set me on track to become a math major and, as of recently, published! If it weren’t for the way Montessori allowed me to go deep in one particular area, and the school going above and beyond to support my development there, I don’t know if I’d have gone so far in my math career. I’m very grateful for that experience.

Currently I’m a lead product manager at Redfin. I manage a team of product managers whose job it is to decide what software should exist on our website and our app, and how that software should work. I also work with a team of software engineers to build it. I love the job because it uses so many different skills simultaneously, including analytics, visual design, strategic thinking, interpersonal skills, and writing. I can stretch my brain in different ways every day! I also love the company because the culture and the people are fantastic; everyone is smart and cares deeply about our values.

Zack Swafford

Graduated Sunstone: 2008

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Arbor School of Arts & Sciences, Wilson High School, Stanford University

I finished my Bachelor’s and Master’s in Computer Science specializing in Artificial Intelligence from Stanford in 2017 and went to work at a startup near San Francisco called Plenty. We worked on controlled environment agriculture for leafy greens, strawberries, and tomatoes–growing healthier food at lower cost with less land and water. I built out a software engineering and data science team there. I wrapped up my work at Plenty and have since been working to found a company of my own!

At Sunstone—wow! I have so many great memories. I remember at the St. Barnabas location we would put on little plays and performances in the upstairs ballroom area. Tetherball and foursquare were the outdoor games of choice. When we moved to the Shattuck location we had to do a bunch of construction to get the site ready, including building new paths and lots of cleanup. It’s very fun to reminisce about the many awesome things that we did with the Sunstone community!

As for hobbies and free time–I don’t have much these days. I spend most of my waking hours working on my startup. When I do have free time I lift weights, go on hikes and backpacking trips, and read a lot of books. A few months ago I was in six different book clubs!

Julian Andrews

Graduated Sunstone: 2008

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Winterhaven Middle School, Cleveland High School, Bowdoin College

My time in Montessori helped me develop into, above all, an excellent learner. I really believe that the balanced and holistic approach to child development present in Montessori education equips children and young adults very well for transitions into college and higher education, and the workforce. We don’t live in a world where being good at one thing is enough anymore—people need to be able to use their creativity, logic, compassion, and communication in concert. Montessori is excellent at teaching these skills.

Niko Schoessler

Graduated Sunstone: 2015

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Jackson Middle School, Ida B. Wells Barnett High School

2021 Update from Niko’s mom, Deanna Rizzo:

Niko is really great! She worked all summer at Trackers Earth as a counselor and continues to work there on the weekends. I think this work has inspired and influenced her next steps.

She loves nature and playing with critters (still!). In fact, one of her college application essays was all about how she gets lost in the wonder of nature. Lately she’s been really getting into identifying local bird and mushroom species.

She is very creative and likes to make things to solve problems; always “by her own hands.” If there’s a hole in a shirt, don’t use our sewing machine! Sew it by hand. When I hurt my knee and was gimping around for a few days she came home from work with a cane of found wood that she made. Rigging up some lighting for her frog habitat? We’re not going to use tools MADE for that! She’ll pull together hooks, clips, ties, and tape. Need a costume for *anything,*she’s making it out of found objects, scraps of fabric, and dye.

Her focus beyond high school will have some sort of creative and artistic element to it. She loves painting (gauche is her favorite medium right now), and she’s learning some photography. She’s also fascinated by landscape design.

Ben Scholl

Graduated Sunstone: 2011

Schools Attended After Sunstone: Arbor School of Arts & Sciences, Notre Dame

Update from Ben’s mom, Margaret:

That’s the happy face of a kid who didn’t have to sit down in school from age 3 through 6th grade! I always tell people we picked Montessori for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one at the time was that I knew Ben well; he was a 3 year old who wouldn’t last in a standard classroom because he needed to move to think. Not ADHD, just a true kinetic learner. He can sit, he just thinks better when he’s moving.

I remember in preschool— we came to Sunstone an hour early so he could ride his bike on the covered area to be ready for quieter activities. In first grade he spent three hours every morning digging, then lunch, then recess and then serious MATH! After Sunstone, he went to Arbor, and spent 7th grade sitting in a tree much of the day. I saw nothing wrong with that because I KNEW Ben, and he ended up finishing high school with academic honors and then off to be a Division 1 athlete and STEM scholar at Notre Dame!