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Class of '69 Alumna Inherits Fearlessness from Founding Headmistress

Valerie Morgan-Alston Current

Valerie Morgan-Alston ’69 graduated from The Colorado Springs School more than five decades ago, yet still considers the school’s founding headmistress Margaret White Campbell to be one of the most influential people she has crossed paths with throughout her life.

“She often comes to mind when I’m thinking about the past, and if people ask me about my life and my experiences, I always think of her,” said Morgan-Alston, currently a senior advisor in the Office for Civil Rights with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Morgan-Alston joined CSS as a 7th grader in 1963, after Headmistress Campbell fought for her to be enrolled as the school’s first African American student. Several Board of Trustees members reportedly threatened to resign if she was admitted and ultimately did resign when she enrolled.

“Knowing Margaret the way I did, I was not surprised she had done that. She was fearless, and she instilled that sense of fearlessness in us. She made us believe we could do anything,” Morgan-Alston said.

“Margaret’s action was one of those acts that helped change the face of America, that helped make America a place where a poor African American girl like me could have the opportunity to strive for and achieve a better life.”

Morgan-Alston attended Wellesley College, Pace University/New York Medical College, and the University of Colorado Health Science Center. Her degrees include a master’s in parent and child nursing and a master’s in nursing. She served as head nurse of a neonatal intensive care unit and as assistant director of nursing for obstetrics and gynecology.

When a friend mentioned she was thinking of attending law school, it piqued Morgan-Alston’s interest. She enrolled at Georgetown University Law Center, later earning a JD to practice law. She served as a prosecutor for the Denver District Attorney’s Office before serving as a magistrate judge in Denver Juvenile Court.

In 2000, Morgan-Alston joined the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a chief civil rights attorney. “Being able to fight for peoples’ rights called out to me,” said Morgan-Alston, who held several positions, including deputy director of enforcement and regional operations in charge of civil rights enforcement with HHS for the entire country. As senior advisor, she splits her time between Denver and Washington, D.C., and hopes to retire in 2023.

Valerie Morgan-Alston & Margaret White Campbell

She largely credits Campbell (shown here), a trailblazer who believed students learned best through experiential education, for her career journey. Morgan-Alston didn’t learn that the Headmistress had fought for her right to attend CSS until long after graduating.

“Because of Margaret, I have had the opportunity to try and make a difference like she did by standing up for people from all walks of life through enforcement of laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, gender, and religion,” she said.

In 2009, CSS recognized Morgan-Alston as the inaugural honoree at Founders’ Day, which is dedicated to a celebration of CSS’s history, character and values, as well as the accomplishments of those who have been a part of the school.

“Valerie is a model alum. Her success is representative of the experiences our alumni have had in the world,” said Susan Robbins, director of alumni relations at the time. “She is living a purposeful life and is having an impact and influence on the people around her.”

Morgan-Alston recalls her six years at CSS as full of extraordinary teachers who thought outside the box. “Some of my fondest memories are of my teachers and how they challenged me and made me think,” she said.

There were also struggles being the first and only African American student during her time at CSS. “I think any African American you talk to who integrated a school has mixed feelings,” she said. “It changed my life for the better and put me on a different trajectory – no doubt about it. It did a lot to help shape me. It opened my eyes to a world I had never seen, and it made me think that I could be part of it even if I wasn’t sure. But, it was definitely tough at times.”

One of her favorite memories is from Middle School on a winter day so cold the pond was frozen with a sky so clear that Morgan-Alston wanted to be outside enjoying it. So, she led a protest, asking the other students to join her in the hallway at a certain time.

“Margaret came down and said, ‘Girls, what are you doing?'” recalled Morgan-Alston, who explained that they were having a sit-in. When Campbell asked why, Morgan-Alston told her it was too nice of a day to be in school and that they should be ice-skating.

Valerie Morgan-Alston CSS

"She looked at me and said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ She called school off, and we went ice-skating. They made hot chocolate, and even the teachers were skating,” Morgan-Alston said. “We had the best afternoon.”

After Morgan-Alston graduated CSS, she wrote letters to Campbell, sharing updates about her college years and life because she wanted her to be proud. Campbell, who was headmistress from 1962 through 1974, died at age 95 in 2006.

“Margaret was a great role model for all of us. Through her vision, she molded [CSS] into a place where girls learned not only manners and etiquette, but also learned that girls should be valued for their minds, ideas, achievements, and creations,” Morgan-Alston said. “Because of Margaret, I left [CSS] believing that there was nothing that I could not achieve as a woman if I put my mind to it. That belief was a crucial component to my success.”

Puzzle Time with Grandma Inspires 1970 Alumna’s Passion for Architecture

Margaret Gilbert (Present)

One of Margaret Gilbert’s favorite activities as a young girl involved completing puzzles with her grandmother. This hobby sparked Gilbert’s passion for architecture and eventually led her to assist with the design of a Colorado Springs hospital.

“I was four or five when I started puzzles because they intrigued me,” says the CSS Class of 1970 graduate. “Architecture is the same as doing puzzles because everything has a space and everything has to fit around that space.”

Gilbert, who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1973 and a Master of Architecture in 1979 from the University of Colorado, developed a deep passion for healthcare architecture. During her 30-year career, she was credited with creating cohesive teams that functioned seamlessly to design and construct healthcare facilities. She encouraged active participation from all team members and guided them toward consensus in design decisions.

She understood the challenges and responsibilities facing healthcare leaders and enjoyed the problem-solving behind fitting disparate workflow processes into one facility, and determining the optimal configuration for everyone affected: patients, staff, administrators, nurses, and physicians alike. “Medical architecture really is a puzzle,” said Gilbert, now retired. “The nurse has to be between X and Y of the doctor, so I went right back to puzzles. It’s the only way to really describe it.”

Gilbert’s work with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services – including acting as a lead architect for its hospital in northeast Colorado Springs – earned her international recognition in her field, and she exhibited at the 2010 International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction. This $200 million hospital was based on patient and employee needs, featuring private rooms and decentralized nursing.

Some of Gilbert’s fondest memories include inspiring others to pursue careers in architecture.

The Colorado Springs School (CSS) recognized Gilbert at its Founders’ Day ceremony in 2010, celebrating the history of the school, its character and values that continue today, and the accomplishments of those who have been a part of the CSS community throughout its storied history. While on campus for the ceremony, Gilbert met with Middle and Upper School students to talk about choices and decision-making, and led them through the story of her own life and career after CSS. The focus of her lecture: making decisive decisions. “CSS was a saving grace for me because of the academics,” Gilbert says. “I’d found a place where I could move forward.”

Gilbert encouraged students to embrace the practice of setting goals, which admittedly kept her moving forward as she learned to shift during unexpected events. “Going outside of your comfort zone is hard, especially if you consider yourself as shy and introverted as I do, which has been confirmed by the plethora of personality tests I have taken,” she told students. “However, if you surround yourself with people who love and care for you, it can give you the strength and support to make bold decisions that you might not have thought yourself capable of.”

Margaret Gilbert (Past)

In part, Gilbert was sharing what she had learned as a student at CSS after enrolling as a high schooler. At her previous school, she had been teased for earning high grades.

“The biggest thing that CSS gave me was the fact that girls can be smart,” Gilbert says. “I think this generation of young ladies know that; I hope they do. Being at CSS was the first time I realized being smart was cool, and it was the first time I was really challenged.”

The Colorado Springs School left such an impact on Gilbert that she even enrolled her son, Ethan, for preschool. And, after many years at CSS, Gilbert’s son graduated as a Lifer in 2009. Many in the CSS community simply knew Gilbert as “Ethan’s mom.” She could always be found in the bleachers or on the sidelines cheering on the school’s athletic teams.

Ethan, a three-sport athlete, thrived at CSS, earning the Margaret White Campbell Award at his high school graduation. Each year at Commencement – in memory of the school’s first headmistress Margaret White Campbell – CSS faculty gift a small silver bowl to select seniors in recognition of their academic excellence, leadership, general character, and service to the school community.

“Ethan and I both had a great education at CSS. That’s a choice you make. I was so shy when I first got to CSS, and the school taught me resilience and to keep going. I was learning it was OK to be a girl, that I didn’t have to stand in the background,” said Gilbert, who excelled in a field largely dominated by males. “That was critical in my upbringing.”

Reading & Writing Come Full Circle for Class of '83 Alumna

Deborah Yaffe Current

Consumed by literature even as a young girl, Deborah Yaffe ’83 devoured classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, and others. She crammed a suitcase full of novels before heading off for a family vacation the summer she was 10.

In 5th grade, she sat cross-legged on the playground, absorbed in pages while other children played. With her teacher insistently reminding her that recess was meant for physical activity, she resorted to sneaking books outside beneath her coat.

Yaffe also discovered a passion for writing early on, partly fueled by her father, a writer and English professor at Colorado College. “There was a little of following in his footsteps,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in putting things into language and finding ways to say things in the most powerful and compact way.”

Today, Yaffe is an award-winning author and freelance writer living in New Jersey with an extensive journalism background in government, politics, education, and law. She credits the “intensive writing instruction” she received at The Colorado Springs School (CSS) for helping her hone those skills.

Yaffe, who joined CSS in the 7th grade, was assigned four research papers in Middle School and a handful in the Upper School division. Students followed detailed steps: choosing a topic, conducting research, using notecards to gather information, creating outlines, writing drafts, making revisions – as much as it took to get it right.

“When I think about how much our teachers had to grade, my mind boggles. But, it teaches you the process,” she said. “I outline everything I write now unless it’s incredibly short, and I have a bone-deep sense of structure as a result. I can see how useful it is when I see people who don’t have it.”

Yaffe recalls small classes where students received plenty of one-on-one attention from teachers who developed lessons based on their own unique interests. One such Upper School class that still stands out to Yaffe was on the English novelist D.H. Lawrence. Yaffe and her classmates spent several days exploring Taos, N.M., where Lawrence lived in the 1920s.

“How cool is it that high school students were getting a class on a single author? It sounds like a college class except it was being taught by a high school teacher passionate about the subject. There was a lot of stuff like that going on,” said Yaffe, whose two siblings also attended CSS. “Even at the time, I knew that was something special and unusual.”

Yaffe, who remains in touch with several of her former CSS teachers today, was a co-recipient of the 1983 Margaret White Campbell Award. Each year at Commencement, faculty gift a small silver bowl to select seniors recognizing their academic excellence, leadership, general character, and service to the CSS community. Yaffe’s bowl sits on a shelf in her dining room.

Deborah Yaffe - Past

After CSS, Yaffe went to Yale University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in humanities in 1987. She then went on to attend the University of Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship, awarded annually by the British government to American college graduates; she received a Master of Arts in politics, philosophy, and economics in 1989.

For nearly 15 years, Yaffe held several newspaper positions before authoring two books. Her first book, Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools, is a narrative history of the State of New Jersey’s efforts to equalize educational opportunities for rich and poor schoolchildren published in 2007.

Her interest was piqued while reporting on Jersey City schools and again while covering the statehouse. “I thought to myself, ‘Someone should write a book about this,’” she said. It received the 2008 NJ Studies Academic Alliance author's award for an outstanding non-fiction work about New Jersey.

Her second book, Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom, is an affectionate look at the quirky subculture of Jane Austen fans, published in 2013.

“I love [Austen’s] witty, elegant, and lucid prose, her deep psychological insight, and her uncompromising moral sense,” said Yaffe, whose collectibles include a Jane Austen action figure and bobblehead. “Her books seem fresh and contemporary two centuries after they were written, and I find something new every time I reread.”

Yaffe has been a fan for 46 years – since reading her first Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, at age 10. As a CSS student, Yaffe even convinced one Upper School teacher to add Austen’s novel, Emma, to the syllabus for a class on Women in Literature, which she mentions in her book.

Hands-on Learning Remains a Highlight of CSS for Class of 1995 Alumnus

Young Lee '95

Though nearly 25 years ago, Young Lee ’95 still remembers one specific physics lesson from his time as a student at The Colorado Springs School. A few students piled into Upper School Teacher Greg Johnson’s car and took a ride as part of a study on Newton’s law. As they drove around, they observed the counterintuitive behavior of a helium balloon, a lesson that Mr. Johnson continues to conduct with high school students in the present day.

“We weren’t just doing physics equations,” said Lee, noting that his classmates and he were frequently encouraged by their teachers to conduct second-level analysis and think critically. “Learning was always fun and memorable. It really set me up for my future successes.”

For nearly 10 years Lee has worked for the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In his current role as Director of Financial Transparency and Regulatory Policy in the Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, Lee and his team focus on systemic initiatives to enhance the transparency of domestic and international financial systems.

Lee, who holds a law degree, initially relocated to Washington, D.C., for a position with the U.S. Department of Justice that unexpectedly fell through. He feels that he lucked out by instead getting a job within the Treasury. “It’s an interesting world that mixes regulatory work with national security, foreign policy and diplomacy work,” he said. “It’s a fun combination.”

The skills Lee learned while attending CSS served him well both in college and in law school. After CSS, he attended Harvard University, where he graduated in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Science. While at Harvard, Lee was active in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals, a theater troupe composed of Harvard undergraduates and founded in 1844 as one of the oldest theatrical organizations in the United States. Lee also went on to earn a Doctor of Law (JD) from Columbia Law School in 2006, where he was editor-in-chief of the Columbia Law Review.

Prior to joining the U.S. Treasury Department, Lee worked in New York City as an associate lawyer in private practice and served as a law clerk to three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Lee likewise acted as a law clerk for then-Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, later the nation’s first Black female Supreme Court Justice, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Lee continues to draw on the foundations of his CSS education while working for the U.S. Treasury Department, where he must often assess foreign counterparts’ statements on the fly and articulate a response that balances the interests of the Department, the U.S. government at large and foreign policy considerations. “I care increasingly less about grades and that sort of thing when hiring [for my team]. Rather, I look at judgment and ability to think critically. ‘Are you somebody I would trust to represent the United States at an international organization?’” Lee said. “These are the sort of things that are a little bit less tangible and some of the skills that rubbed off on me participating in theatre, speech, and other activities.”

Young Lee '95 Performing Arts

Lee, who joined CSS in the 6th grade and whose three brothers are also CSS graduates, remains grateful that the school continues to have a robust fine and performing arts program while offering extracurricular activities such as Model United Nations, Matchwits, and athletics. His was the first class to inaugurate the Louisa Performing Arts Center.

“A lot of schools have to cut arts programs or programs that are fundamental to making people well rounded, and I think that’s a real shame. CSS gave me opportunities,” he said. “The fact that we had all of these great extracurricular activities that we could participate in [at CSS] made us well-rounded people.”

More than anything, Lee recalls the connections he made at CSS that he likely wouldn’t have at larger schools. “There were so many opportunities – both in and out of the classroom – to get to know teachers and students,” he said. “Mountain Caravan was always a good time to bond.”

Each year at Commencement, faculty gift a small silver bowl to select seniors recognizing their academic excellence, leadership, general character, and service to the CSS community. At his Commencement in 1995, Lee was honored with this, the Margaret White Campbell Award.

“One of the most important skills that was foundational to my education was to not take anything at face value,” he said. “Our teachers did not treat us as people to be lectured to, but rather as partners in our educational experience. I had so many wonderful teachers whose lessons still stand out today.”

CSS Experience Paves Way for Class of 2008 Graduate's Future in Science

When she was a junior at The Colorado Springs School, Alexys Monoson ’08 showed a deep curiosity for science. After traveling with classmates to the Galapagos Islands to study evolutionary biology, she knew for sure it was the career path she would pursue.

During this Experience-Centered Seminar to the Galapagos, students lived on a boat and frequently ventured onto the islands to hike and snorkel. “I was amazed by the animals that I encountered on this trip, and the up-close experience really motivated me to learn more about them,” Monoson said. “I flew through a book about some basics of evolutionary biology that we were given, and I continued to learn more even after I returned home.”

Monoson, a Lifer who joined CSS in preschool, is now a pulmonologist and intensivist. Her clinical interests include patients with occupational lung disease and medical education in the intensive care unit. She is conducting research on the effects of air pollution on pulmonary disease. Her love of the intensive care unit is primarily what drew her to pulmonology and critical care medicine. She loves the physiology and doing her own procedures, as well as the incredible honor of caring for people who are close to death.

"With the aid of modern medicine, we have an arsenal of tools that we use to fight disease and prolong life as much as possible. Despite this, it often isn't enough. A large part of my job is to know when we have reached that point and to help guide patients and their loved ones so they can prioritize what is meaningful in their lives," she said.

"Though it sometimes feels like a Herculean task, the connection that I form with my patients during this tumultuous time is incredibly special. It makes the years and years of medical training worth it and provides me with a sense of fulfillment. I realized that the pulmonology aspect of my career allows me to continue close patient relationships on a longer-term basis, as most of my effort as a pulmonologist is in the outpatient setting. Getting to celebrate with patients I have known for years – and often met when they were critically ill in the ICU – as they recover from previously debilitating illnesses is amazing."

One of Monoson’s strongest memories from CSS dates back to the 8th grade when she went on Walkabout, a nine-day exploration of Utah’s canyon and river country emphasizing leadership lessons and growth. It was the longest Monoson had ever been away from home, and she was nervous at first. “I think the experience allowed me to gain a lot of confidence in myself. I felt like I not only conquered this great hurdle, but I actually had a lot of fun doing it,” she said. “I absolutely loved hiking and rafting, and I became very close with three of my friends who I consider like family to this day.”

Monoson received the 2008 Margaret White Campbell Award, a small silver bowl gifted to select seniors by faculty each year at Commencement in recognition of their academic excellence, leadership, general character, and service to the CSS community. After CSS, she attended Johns Hopkins University and obtained a bachelor’s degree in behavioral biology while completing her pre-medical requirements in 2012. She went on to become a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society and earn an MD from the University of Maryland.

Monoson completed a residency in internal medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia before being accepted to The Ohio State University in Columbus where, in June of 2023, she completed a fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. As a pulmonary and critical care fellow, she worked in the Medical Intensive Care Unit during the height of the COVID pandemic.

The most recent stop along Monoson’s professional journey in medicine has brought her full circle; back to Utah, where she had once thrived on Walkabout as a Middle School student. She accepted a job at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where she will be an assistant professor and attending physician in the Division of Respiratory, Critical Care, and Occupational Pulmonary Medicine.

She and her fiancé, an emergency room doctor, are excited to explore the hiking that Utah has to offer with their two border collies. They also share in the hobby of falconry, a passion of Monoson’s since her CSS days, and even own a peregrine falcon. At age 13, Monoson began volunteering for Raptor Education Foundation and continued to do so throughout Upper School, taking on added public speaking roles and responsibilities like handling one of the most challenging birds, the bald eagle.

Ultimately, it was CSS that helped Monoson learn to soar. “My experience at CSS was instrumental in shaping my young adult life. I felt motivated and supported by a group of people who genuinely cared about me and my future, and this gave me the strength to grow into the person I am today,” she said. “Throughout my time there, I also had a number of phenomenal experiences that introduced me to topics and concepts that inspired my future career.”

Grit & Perseverance Guide Class of 2015 Alumnus Through Global Pandemic

Carl Churchill '15 Present Day

Carl Churchill ’15 earned a master’s degree just four years after graduating from The Colorado Springs School. This is the story behind his fast track to higher education success and the pandemic that made him question everything.

As a junior and senior at CSS, Churchill took an impressive 11 Advanced Placement (AP) exams. He used these advanced standing credits to enroll at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs (UCCS) and – in three short years – graduated Summa Cum Laude with both a Bachelor of Arts in History and a certificate in GIS, a subfield of geography that focuses on its technological application. Not surprisingly, UCCS recognized Churchill as an Outstanding Undergraduate Student.

By age 21, he had graduated from an accelerated master’s program at Arizona State University and wasted no time entering the Geographic Information System field. Within six months, Churchill had secured a job as a cartographer preparing maps, figures, and applications for the Woodwell Climate Research Center in rural Massachusetts. Little did he know the emotional and physical toll the COVID-19 pandemic would have on his newfound role in the workforce. Churchill would spend the next 15 months in isolation, living and working alone.

“Going quickly from high school to undergrad, field schools, then a graduate degree, and professional work had mentally primed me to think that was ‘normal’ – and for it all to simply stop forced me to come to terms with what I really wanted out of life and my career,” Churchill said. “Living in an unfamiliar place with little to no support network locally also provoked deep soul-searching since I simply had no one else to distract me from my own thoughts.”

Churchill was resourceful, understanding that he had the confidence to trust he would move beyond this jarring and transformative time. “That helped me through the pandemic,” he said, “and CSS helped develop that in me quite a bit.”

In May 2022, Churchill took a job as a graphics reporter for The Wall Street Journal and is currently living in New York City. “I feel like a different person,” said Churchill, noting how satisfying his new career path has been. “It’s harder for me to draw a straight line. It’s a straight line that turned into a big, fuzzy scribble, then a straight line again starting in a different place. I’m sure many young people can relate to that feeling. But life takes unexpected turns, and you have to find meaning internally beyond simply the drive to check items off a list.”

Carl Churchill 3rd Grade

Churchill, who attended CSS beginning in the 3rd grade, credits the experience for much more than developing his strong academic foundation. “It made me a more mature, worldly, and resourceful person for sure – and internally disciplined,” he said.

He participated in Model United Nations, Matchwits, and Academic World Quest, which competed in the national championship. “I got such a passion for learning because of the teachers at CSS. They’re unique and interesting,” Churchill said. ”They bring a certain color to the material that makes it alive; a level of passion.”

He acknowledges and appreciates that CSS allowed him to better connect with his classmates in ways he may not have at larger schools.

"During Middle School and Upper School, I interacted with every single person in my class. I knew them all by first and last name," he said. "It was a community. Not just that it was a community, but that it was a supportive community. The cool kids were the ones who studied hard. The cool kids were the ones who were nice to other people. You can’t say that about everywhere."

Inspired by CSS Faculty, Class of 2020 Alumnus Pursues Career in Teaching

Leggatt Kerek ’20 was a 7th grader at The Colorado Springs School when he had his first glimpse into the ins and outs of being a teacher.

"It was amazing," said Kerek, whose class was paired with 2nd graders as part of CSS’s service learning program, and helped with reading and other classroom activities. "That was the first time I was really like, 'I can do this. I can work with children, and I really like it too.'"

In Upper School, his interest in teaching was piqued again while serving as a mentor for the Full STEAM Ahead program, held on campus each summer and led by Program Director and longtime CSS English Teacher Amy Miller. "I ended up working two different summers because I loved it so much," said Kerek, now a college junior studying to become a teacher. "This [experience] would really kickstart my interest in working with children. Ms. Miller always believed in me and knew I had a knack for it."

Even so, the idea took a while to set in. When he began college at the University of Vermont (UVM), Kerek first declared a major in theatre – another passion fueled by CSS, where he performed in numerous productions throughout his Middle and Upper School tenure. Soon after, he began reconsidering his major and sought help from his teachers, including Miller, who gave him helpful advice that eventually led him to change to an elementary education major. “I decided I would not want to do anything except be a teacher,” he said.

Kerek joined CSS as a 5th grader in 2012, the school’s milestone 50th anniversary year. His most notable memories stem from the experiential learning opportunities he received and from the teachers who motivated him. He credits Middle School History Teacher Amos White for shaping his love of geography and learning; White’s 6th-grade geography class was one of Kerek’s favorites.

"Mr. White truly cares about each and every one of his students, and he is not afraid to have fun and make his students excited. I like to say he always knew where the line was. He could joke around with the students, but when it came time to learn, he knew how to control the classroom and foster learning," Kerek said. "This is not something they can teach you in college, but it is something that comes with practice and experience."

Retired Theatre Director and Teacher Sandra Bray, who dedicated 25 years of service to CSS, made such an impact on Kerek that it has become part of his every day. "She was the reason I fell in love with theatre and ultimately gave me the confidence that helps me day in and day out," he said. "Confidence in my daily life is great, but it has also helped me with being confident in front of a classroom. It is such an underrated skill that has come in handy as I try to become a teacher."

In February of 2023, Kerek traveled to New Zealand for a four-month study abroad program offered through UVM. He took a few classes in conjunction with Auckland University of Technology and received practicum credit through classroom experience at an elementary school in a foreign country. "I have always been a firm believer that the more you travel and see the world, the more accepting [of others] you become," he said. "I think a lot of that stems from what CSS has always tried to push through Experience-Centered Seminars."

Because the program didn’t begin until February, Kerek had an unusually long winter break. He reached out to Lower School Teachers Kim Jarolimek and Ellen Crow about spending time in their Kindergarten and 1st-grade classrooms to gain more experience. “Both are experts in their craft, making them great teachers to learn from,” he said. “I learned more from a few days in each of their classrooms than I have learned in some of my college classes, and I cannot thank them enough.”

It’s possible Kerek will return to CSS to teach future Kodiaks. "It's a tight-knit community; once you are a part of it, you can't leave," he said. "Once a Kodiak, always a Kodiak."