2019 WMS Alumni Newsletter_final





Fall 2019

Tomorrow’s Leaders

Wilmington Montessori School


Lisas letter

Alumni News

A MESSAGE FROM Head of School Lisa A. Lalama

Dear WMS Alumni and Friends,

Members of the class of

2013 are college students!

See where some of them

started as freshmen this fall.

Yet another great school year — our 57th — is underway at Wilmington Montessori School. The past year

has been filled with much activity, some familiar and some new. WMS’s new Middle School Program opened

its doors last September, and now includes 15 seventh- and eighth-grade students who continue to add their

unique energy, ideas and innovative spirit to our school. Our middle-schoolers have traveled to Philadelphia,

Washington, D.C., and New York to learn about a variety of topics, many related to their studies on cultural

movements throughout history. They are continuing the long WMS tradition of individual studies guided by student interest

and supported by adults, teachers, parents and WMS staff.

Earlier this year, we also began our strategic planning process. Current and alumni

parents, WMS alumni, and educators from the tri-state area joined the WMS staff

for a day-long kick-off to this process, in which we explored our past, remembered

the hard work that has gotten us this far and dreamed about our future. It was a great

day to connect with some of you and begin the work that will set the stage for the

next three years. This year we will invite even more of you to join us and share your

experiences as we craft a plan for the future. Read more about our strategic planning

process in the “What’s New” section.

We continue to expand our students’ experiences with technology and STEAM

education, exploring new ideas and tools to support student learning in all areas.

Each year our relationship with Delaware Institute for Arts in Education grows even

stronger. Visiting artists engage our students, providing rich experiences in various

Learn more about our new

strategic planning journey -

a collaborative process that

will soon include even more

alumni input.

Catch up with two WMS

alumni as they reflect on

their achievements since

sixth-grade graduation.

WMS middle-schoolers visit the Historical

Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

art forms. In May, the Twin Poets, Delaware’s poets laureate, conducted a workshop for upper elementary and middle school

students, inspiring young poets at WMS and giving parents the opportunity to learn more about their work.

Parents began our school in 1964 and continue to enhance the richness of the WMS experience. Those of you who are

alumni parents may remember giving your time to the Parent Cooperative Program. You may have helped in a classroom or

with an event, worked in the library, or served on the board or other committee. Today’s WMS parents continue to support the

school in every way, showing their children and every child at WMS what it means to educate the human potential. As Maria

Montessori said, “These very children reveal to us the most vital need of their development, saying: ‘Help me to do it alone!’”

Thank you all for your support in helping the students at WMS “do it alone.”


This year, members of the WMS Class of 2013

graduated from high school. WMS alumni attend

a variety of colleges and universities, and this year’s

class is no exception.

Some of the colleges they are attending this fall


Delaware State University

Drexel University

Syracuse University

University of Delaware

University of Oregon

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Congratulations to the

class of 2019!

As WMS expanded to include a middle school program for the 2018-19 year, the Class of 2019 was WMS’s first eighthgrade

graduating class.

Graduate Addie Laster now attends the White Mountain School in New Hampshire and graduate Lydia Snyder attends

Charter School of Wilmington.


Planning for WMS’s Future

As many students’ and families’ wish for a WMS middle school became a reality last year, we’re constantly reminded that

achieving such goals takes planning.

One of the ways we plan for the years ahead at WMS is by developing a strategic direction. Earlier this summer, our staff,

a group of current and alumni parents, alumni and other educators embarked on this journey. We spent the day working

with author, facilitator and educator Grant Lichtman, learning about the strategic planning process and engaging in

activities that brought all of us together on behalf of WMS. There was tremendous energy and excitement in the room.

The day involved many Post-it Notes. When participants were asked to share one word that describes WMS, we saw

“community,” “innovative,” “experiential,” “caring,” “acceptance” and “creative” come up over and over again. We

learned from several alumni participants that the supportive environment that characterized their WMS education

set them up for success and laid the groundwork for future peak learning


This day marked the beginning of our strategic planning process. There is lots

of work ahead. As we work toward a meaningful and informative process for

our entire community, we will invite alumni to share their ideas and experiences.

We look forward to this collaborative process, learning more about

your ideas and sharing information with you as we take the next steps toward

our future.


Today’s Leader

Gabriele Betancourt-Martinez (WMS ’00)

Meanders Her Way Into Space

Gabriele Betancourt-Martinez’s earliest memory about

what she wanted to be when she grew up dates back to

her elementary school days at WMS.

“I got it in my head that I wanted to be a ‘doctor in space,’”

she said. “What that meant in my mind was a medical

doctor that took care of people in space.”

She didn’t dream of becoming an astronaut, although space

always fascinated her. Since that first notion that she should

be a “space doctor,” she changed her mind about her career

aspirations many times, as children typically do. She read

James Herriott books and wanted to be a veterinarian. She

made her own electrical circuits and thought maybe she

should become an engineer.

“I got it in my head

that I wanted to be a

‘doctor in space.’”

But Gabriele kept circling back to her initial interest in

astronomy. In the mornings as she got ready for school,

she tuned in to StarDate — a daily radio segment about

astronomy and space-science topics that airs on WRTI 90.1

public radio. One day, as she listened, she realized StarDate

had her interest for a long time and thought “maybe this is

something I would enjoy.”

“That is big in my mind because I have always been interested

in way too many things,” she said. “I’m sure [WMS]

helped with that — from plays, to grammar, to making your

own electrical circuits.”

Today she is a doctor of astrophysics.

By the time Gabriele was a freshman at Westtown School in

West Chester, Pennsylvania, she had made up her mind (or so

she thought) to pursue astronomy. As a senior, she applied

only to colleges that had astronomy programs, but sought a

strong liberal arts base in case she changed her mind.

“My dad calls me a butterfly — I like so many things that I

flutter from flower to flower,” she said.

Gabriele poses at the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)

telescope site in Chile in 2006.

Gabriele was accepted at Yale University, where she began

studying astronomy and physics. After taking on a heavy

course load, she faced a steep learning curve during her

first semester. She took a summer class in Chile after her

freshman year and started thinking she should pursue

mechanical engineering instead of astronomy — it was the

first of a number of “meanders,” as she calls them, away

from her intended field of study.

“I started getting this idea that I might be more interested

in how the technology behind astronomy works,” she said.

But Gabriele stayed the course and graduated from Yale

in 2010 with a degree in astronomy and physics. Exhausted

after a rigorous four academic years, she decided to take a year

off before starting graduate school. During that year, she did

space policy research as an intern with the National Research

Council, taught space science to first- and second-graders at

a Quaker school in Costa Rica and took a summer job working

for the European Science Foundation in Strasbourg, France.

In fall 2011, she headed back to the U.S. to begin a graduate

program in astrophysics at the University of Maryland, with

an eye toward doing research work at the NASA Goddard

Space Flight Center in nearby Greenbelt, Maryland. Even

as a graduate student, it didn’t take long before Gabriele

would have a couple more “meanders” — questioning

whether astronomy was in fact what she wanted to study.

“Here I am set to get a Ph.D. in astronomy and I have a second

-year crisis,” she said. “I should be an aerospace engineer.

My last meander happened before I was about to graduate

— an awkward time to have one of these crises — I decided I

should be doing something related to climate change.”

But Gabriele’s cooler head prevailed and she realized she

had some great options to continue in astronomy. She

graduated in 2017 with her doctorate in astrophysics

and seized an opportunity to work in Toulouse, France,

to work on a European-led x-ray satellite project called

Athena at the Institute for Astrophysics and Planetary

Science (IRAP).

Two years into her job at IRAP, Gabriele is loving life in France.

Gabriele in 2011 on her last day teaching at Monteverde Friends

School in Costa Rica.

As she reflects on the path that led her to this point, she

fondly recalls her Montessori years and their role in helping

her reach her career goals.

“I appreciate Montessori and the freedom and creativity

and breadth of subjects and activities that we had available

to us,” she said. “And we learned time management. It is

awesome that we had to figure out how to get everything

done — it’s an amazing lesson to be taught.”

She also highlights former WMS teacher Helen Gadsby as a

strong influence. Helen introduced Gabriele to Shakespeare

and theater, which she grew to love and still cherishes today.

When she’s not working on making detectors for the Athena

project, she’s involved with the Nothing Toulouse Drama Club

— a troupe that performs in English with French subtitles.

(Left to right) Gabriele as a sixth-grader in 2000; attending a Montessori birth and life celebration; in the lab at NASA Goddard; after

successfully defending her doctoral thesis to earn her Ph.D. in astrophysics.


Today’s Leader

Ava Gulino (WMS ’10)

Jumping Head-First Into the Unknown

As Ava Gulino embarked on a multi-country

semester abroad program at the beginning

of the year, she was encouraged to “pay attention

to your intention” by a speaker she encountered

during her orientation in San Francisco. These

words became her mantra as she prepared to step

outside her comfort zone to explore life and culture

in Vietnam, Morocco and Bolivia.

Soon after she returned home to the U.S., Ava

offered these same encouraging words to WMS’s

first eighth-grade graduates in her graduation

address to the class of 2019.

“These words are so simple, but so powerful because they

are a straightforward reminder to be aware of your goals, to

be aware of how you treat others, and to be aware of how

you approach a problem,” she said. “I now use these words

to ground myself before an important decision or before I

jump into the unknown. So, I encourage you to make that

jump into the unknown with both feet. Do not be so afraid of

the unknown that you do not make the jump when the jump

is there to be made.”

Ava made that first leap three years ago when she left

her familiar Wilmington surroundings for Bates College in

Lewiston, Maine. Despite the colder climate, Maine is now a

home away from home.

“Montessori has

definitely fostered such

an appreciation for

learning and wanting

to learn more.”

Ava explores a Bolivian market during her multi-country semester abroad.

“Living in Maine has been very positive,” she said. “A lot of

people comment about how freezing it gets in winter, and I

always say, ‘I don’t know when else I would live in Maine.’ I’ve

learned a lot in my time here.”

As she heads into her senior year, Ava will be focused on

wrapping up requirements to fulfill her environmental

science major and religious studies minor. She’ll also serve

as a peer writing and speaking assistant for a first-year

seminar called “The Nature of Spirituality,” which she took

as a freshman. In this role, she’ll host weekly office hours to

help students with their work, teach workshops and meet

with first-year seminar professors and assistants to review


While she is still unsure of what career path she’ll pursue

after she graduates in May, Ava has immersed herself in

the nonprofit world as an intern with Lutheran Community

Services (LCS) over the past two summers. In 2018,

she handled intake paperwork for the LCS food pantry at St.

Stephen’s Lutheran Church, and tended the Lutheran

Church of the Good Shepherd’s community garden

(established by her younger sister, Adele) and organized

volunteers. This summer, Ava worked for the LCS main

office, doing research about a 10-week empowerment

(Left to right) Ava with her father, Rick, and sister, Adele, as a young WMS student; during a classroom birth and life celebration;

addressing the class of 2019

program they hope to implement for people who use the

food pantry system to teach them public speaking skills.

She also learned more about how a nonprofit works and had

opportunities to shadow different employees.

At Bates, Ava has also been involved with the radio station

since her freshman year as both a board member and radio

show host. She was elected the station’s general manager

for the 2019-20 school year.

“I’ll be the face of the station, in a way,” she said. “I’m the

one who sends emails, goes to student affairs meetings, runs

weekly meetings and keeps the station afloat.”

More importantly, she got her first choice of time slots for

her own show, and opted for a 10 p.m. to midnight time slot

over the 6 to 8 a.m. slot she started with her freshman year.

Nine years after graduating from WMS, Ava often draws

from lessons she learned as a young Montessori student to

guide her decision-making. As she told the 2019 graduates:

“I am reminded daily, that the things I learned at WMS, and

the way I learned them, have lasting value and still help me to

this day ... WMS is the kind of place that allows you to make

the decision as to what kind of experience you want it to be.

Even when you are one of the little kids, you have agency

over what you want to do. You have the ability to choose

which activities you want to do, you are able to work on new

skills, and you are always supported by an environment with

peers and teachers who want you to succeed. This kind of

environment lends itself to success after your time at WMS

and will help you for many years to come.”

Ava has also learned plenty since her time at WMS. After graduating

in 2010, Ava attended Talley Middle School, where she

enrolled in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years

Programme — a rigorous, academic program that encourages

students to make connections between their studies and the

real world and to become critical thinkers. She went on to

attend Mount Pleasant High School, where she earned her IB

diploma through the IB Diploma Programme — a continuation

of the Middle Years Programme — in 2010.

While in high school, Ava also earned her Girl Scouts Gold

Award — the highest achievement in Girl Scouts. Her Gold

Award project served Family Promise of New Castle County,

a nonprofit that supports homeless families and helps them

find permanent housing. Ava was instrumental in creating

a system to better organize the glut of household items in

the Family Promise attic — a space where families can find

items like silverware, bedding, baby toys, lamps and more

for their new homes. She also organized a bedding drive to

collect blankets, comforters and sheets — the items in highest

demand for families once they secure permanent housing.

Reflecting on her years since WMS, Ava knows her Montessori

experience has influenced many choices she’s made. She

still clings to the early love of learning WMS instilled in her

as a Primary and elementary student. She’s also remained

closely connected with WMS over the years through various

alumni events, as well as through her parents. Her mother,

Becca, has helped organize alumni events, and her father,

Rick, recently joined the WMS Board of Directors.

“Montessori has definitely fostered such an appreciation for

learning and wanting to learn more,” she said. “Montessori

allows you to be curious and interested in different things and

ask questions. I find myself in class really excited to learn.”


Your support makes

a difference!

Your gift will help WMS thrive for years to come!

Visit wmsde.org/annualfund to make your

contribution to support tomorrow’s leaders!

1400 Harvey Road, Wilmington, DE 19810


Visit www.wmsde.org/alumni

to update your contact

information today.



We would love to feature your

accomplishments in our next


Email us at

alumni@wmsde.org, visit

www.wmsde.org/alumni or

connect with us on Facebook

at Facebook.com/


In December 2017, WMS welcomed more than 30 alumni back for the Alumni Social & Amazing Race. Alumni from the classes of 2005

through 2017 — many home from college for the holiday break — came out for a rousing evening of fun and games.

On December 19 from 3-6 p.m., we’ll be hosting another Alumni Social and Amazing Race!

Mark your calendars and tell your WMS alumni friends. Race around campus with fellow

alumni as you uncover clues, test your WMS trivia skills and enjoy food, fun and nostalgia.

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