The Tower Summer 2023

A magazine for Montverde alumni, family, and friends

A magazine for Montverde alumni, family, and friends


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Class of <strong>2023</strong> pg. 6<br />

Night for the Cure pg. 34<br />

Fine Arts Behind the Scenes pg. 46<br />

SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>


Mr. Jon Hopman<br />

<strong>2023</strong>-24 BOARD OF TRUSTEES<br />

Mr. Tim J. Bach<br />

Mr. Sean Parks<br />

Mr. Jon Frere<br />

Mr. T. Scott Ohmstede<br />

Mrs. S. Renee Lundy ’79 Mrs. Lori Specht ’84<br />

Mr. Michael Mason ’84 Mrs. Sandra O. Stephens<br />

Dr. Sydney McPhee Dr. Walter L. Stephens,<br />

Mr. Gregory L. Nelson Trustee Emeritus, 1999-2020<br />

STAFF<br />

Mrs. Clara Winborn<br />

Mrs. Ginny Holm<br />

Mrs. Nichole Smith<br />

Mrs. Kimberly Braden<br />

Creative Director<br />

Creative Editor<br />

Editor<br />

Photographer<br />

Contributors include faculty, staff, students, and<br />

parents of Montverde Academy.<br />



Montverde Academy<br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Tower</strong> Magazine<br />

17235 Seventh Street<br />

Montverde, FL 34756<br />


Cromer International Press<br />

Above: Seniors display their college acceptances on Senior Jeans Day!<br />

On the cover: Class of <strong>2023</strong><br />

<strong>The</strong> <strong>Tower</strong> Magazine is published exclusively for the alumni, parents, students, friends,<br />

faculty, and staff of Montverde Academy. It is intended to bring the latest news and<br />

information about the Academy’s growth and ongoing events.<br />

Every attempt has been made to present the information and listings in <strong>The</strong> <strong>Tower</strong><br />

magazine as accurately as possible. We apologize if there are any discrepancies and<br />

would ask that you forward any amendments to our office. It is our policy to correct<br />

significant errors of fact in a timely fashion.<br />


Are you looking for photos, events, news, and more? Montverde Academy provides the latest news<br />

and Eagle happenings on a variety of platforms. Follow us on:<br />







Visit montverde.org<br />

2 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> | VOLUME 7, ISSUE 2<br />


6<br />

Class of <strong>2023</strong><br />

34<br />

46<br />

Night for the Cure<br />

Fine Arts Behind the Scenes<br />


Message from the Head of School..................................... 4<br />

College Acceptances.......................................................... 8<br />

Class of <strong>2023</strong> Valedictorian.............................................. 10<br />

Class of <strong>2023</strong> Salutatorian............................................... 12<br />

Top of the Class <strong>2023</strong>....................................................... 14<br />

Student Spotlights............................................................ 16<br />

Parents' Perspective......................................................... 18<br />

Employee Spotlight.......................................................... 20<br />

Lower School Computer Coding and Robotics................ 22<br />

Lower School Teacher of the Year.................................... 25<br />

Kindergarten Graduation.................................................. 26<br />

Middle School Science..................................................... 28<br />

Middle School Teacher of the Year................................... 30<br />

Upper School Teacher of the Year.................................... 31<br />

Biomedical STEM SAC.................................................... 32<br />

Night for the Cure............................................................. 34<br />

Winter/Spring Sports Wrap-Up......................................... 36<br />

College Signing Day......................................................... 40<br />

Girls Basketball Wins GEICO Nationals........................... 43<br />

Fine Arts Behind the Scenes............................................ 46<br />

Middle School <strong>The</strong>atre...................................................... 50<br />

Alumni Relations.............................................................. 52<br />

Notable Alumni................................................................. 54<br />

Class Notes...................................................................... 56<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 3

Message from the<br />

Head of School<br />

By Mr. Jon Hopman, Head of School<br />

As we conclude the 2022-23 school year, it is only<br />

appropriate to express my gratitude and appreciation<br />

for the amazing team of faculty, staff, and administration<br />

who give selflessly to our school community. A school like<br />

Montverde Academy is incredibly dynamic and requires<br />

24-7 attention to support our students and their families.<br />

Thank you for a job well done!<br />

<strong>The</strong> closing weeks of the school year can be a contrast<br />

of both stress and celebration. Inevitably, it seems as<br />

though everyone is thrust into a mad dash of preparing<br />

for finals; AP exams; end-of-season playoff games;<br />

theatre productions; music concerts; awards ceremonies<br />

for the arts, athletics, and academics; team parties;<br />

senior showcases; field trips; and of course, our Senior<br />

Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremonies. It is an<br />

amazing time, and I hope our students and families can<br />

reflect on the past ten months and appreciate the growth<br />

that has taken place. I also wish a special blessing upon<br />

our graduates as they celebrate the culmination of their<br />

academic experience thus far.<br />

I am often asked, “What is next?” In the simplest form,<br />

we operate in cycles. We began planning for the <strong>2023</strong>-24<br />

school year months ago. <strong>The</strong> daily operational aspects of<br />

a day and boarding school require significant planning as<br />

we prepare for the new year. Our team has a very small<br />

window to coordinate multiple calendars, create class<br />

schedules, order new curriculum and supplies, install new<br />

technology, hire new staff, complete annual maintenance<br />

for our 130-acre campus, enroll new students, take time<br />

for professional development, and somewhere along the<br />

way, try to enjoy some personal time to rest.<br />

our strong academic foundation. As always, we continue<br />

looking for ways to improve our campus to benefit our<br />

students. We are in the final stages of completing our<br />

Innovation Center, and we are very excited about having<br />

that amazing resource available for our students next<br />

school year. Other projects on the horizon include a<br />

renovation of the Roberts Gym so that it can be dedicated<br />

to better serve the Lower School. <strong>The</strong> preliminary plans<br />

include additional classroom space, a dedicated dining<br />

and multipurpose room, new bleachers, office space,<br />

and a learning support classroom. In conjunction with<br />

the Roberts Gym project, we intend to move forward<br />

with plans for the new Legacy Athletic Training Center to<br />

facilitate more indoor athletic training space. Carpenter<br />

Hall will get some love with a few updates to benefit our<br />

boarding students. For grades 6-12, we will offer a dining<br />

hall similar to what you might find in college, with<br />

grab-and-go options available to students. Further<br />

down the road, we are looking at ways to expand the<br />

Sandra O. Stephens Auditorium to include a larger lobby<br />

or reception area.<br />

Since I first arrived at Montverde Academy in 2001, the<br />

growth and development of our school is nothing short of<br />

spectacular. <strong>The</strong>re is a great deal to be proud of and even<br />

more to get excited about as we look to the future!<br />

Thank you for your support and for being part of the<br />

Montverde Academy community.<br />

“What is next?” can also apply to a more strategic plan<br />

for Montverde Academy. First and foremost, we are a<br />

college preparatory school and will continue building upon<br />

4 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Since I first arrived at<br />

Montverde Academy in 2001,<br />

the growth and development<br />

of our school has been nothing<br />

short of spectacular. <strong>The</strong>re is a<br />

great deal to be proud of and<br />

even more to get excited about<br />

as we look to the future!<br />

Mr. Jon Hopman, Head of School<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 5

218 39<br />





graduates were accepted to 240 colleges<br />

and universities<br />

10,608 hours<br />

of community service<br />

completed by the senior class<br />

6 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

3.7<br />



17+ MILLION<br />

graduates were offered more than 17 million<br />

dollars in collegiate scholarships<br />

1+ MILLION<br />



40<br />


<strong>The</strong> Class of <strong>2023</strong> had<br />

40 countries represented<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 7<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 7

Our 218 graduates were accepted into top-ranked colleges and universities<br />

and amassed over 17 million in academic scholarships. Below is the<br />

complete list of acceptances for the class of <strong>2023</strong>.<br />

American University<br />

Amherst College<br />

Arcadia University<br />

Arizona State University (Main Campus)<br />

Auburn University<br />

Barry University<br />

Barton College<br />

Baylor University<br />

Bellarmine University<br />

Belmont Abbey College<br />

Belmont University<br />

Bentley University<br />

Berklee College of Music<br />

Bethune-Cookman University<br />

Boston University<br />

Bryant University<br />

Bryn Mawr College<br />

Bucknell University<br />

Butler University<br />

Carnegie Mellon University<br />

Catawba College<br />

Champlain College<br />

Clemson University<br />

College of Charleston<br />

College of the Holy Cross<br />

Colorado State University, Fort Collins<br />

Columbia College, Chicago<br />

Davidson College<br />

DePaul University<br />

Dean College<br />

Drexel University<br />

Duke University<br />

East Carolina University<br />

Eastern University<br />

Eckerd College<br />

Edward Waters University<br />

Elon University<br />

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University,<br />

Daytona Beach<br />

Emory & Henry College<br />

Emory University<br />

Flagler College<br />

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University<br />

Florida Atlantic University<br />

Florida Gulf Coast University<br />

Florida Institute of Technology<br />

Florida International University<br />

Florida Memorial University<br />

Florida Polytechnic University<br />

Florida Southern College<br />

Florida State University<br />

Fordham University<br />

Franklin & Marshall College<br />

Full Sail University<br />

Furman University<br />

George Mason University<br />

Georgetown University<br />

Georgia Institute of Technology<br />

Georgia State University<br />

Gonzaga University<br />

Goucher College<br />

Grinnell College<br />

High Point University<br />

Hillsborough Community College<br />

Hofstra University<br />

Huntington University<br />

IE University<br />

Illinois State University<br />

Indiana University, Bloomington<br />

Jacksonville University<br />

Kalamazoo College<br />

Kent State University<br />

Lander University<br />

Lehigh University<br />

Lenoir-Rhyne University<br />

Lindenwood University<br />

Long Island University (Brooklyn)<br />

Long Island University (Post)<br />

Louisiana State University<br />

Loyola University Chicago<br />

Lynn University<br />

Marymount Manhattan College<br />

Massachusetts College of Pharmacy<br />

and Health Sciences<br />

McGill University<br />

Mercer University<br />

Miami University, Oxford<br />

Michigan State University<br />

Miles College<br />

Mississippi State University<br />

Missouri State University, Springfield<br />

Mount Holyoke College<br />

Mount St. Maryʼs University<br />

New Jersey Institute of Technology<br />

New York University<br />

North Carolina State University<br />

North Greenville University<br />

Northeastern University<br />

Northwestern University<br />

Notre Dame College<br />

Nova Southeastern University<br />

Pace University, New York City<br />

Palm Beach Atlantic University<br />

Penn State University<br />

Pepperdine University<br />

Providence College<br />

Purdue University<br />

Queen's University<br />

Queens University of Charlotte<br />

Radford University<br />

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute<br />

Rhodes College<br />

Rice University<br />

Rivier University<br />

Roanoke College<br />

Rochester Institute of Technology<br />

Rollins College<br />

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology<br />

Rutgers University<br />

SUNY College of Environmental Science<br />

and Forestry<br />

SUNY at Albany<br />

SUNY at Purchase College<br />

8 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Saint Leo University<br />

Saint Louis University<br />

Samford University<br />

San Diego State University<br />

Santa Fe College<br />

Savannah College of Art and Design<br />

Seton Hall University<br />

Sewanee: <strong>The</strong> University of the South<br />

Shenandoah University<br />

Southeast Missouri State University<br />

Southeastern University<br />

Southwestern University<br />

St. Johnʼs University<br />

St. Thomas University<br />

Stetson University<br />

Stevens Institute of Technology<br />

Stony Brook University<br />

Suffolk University<br />

Sweet Briar College<br />

Syracuse University<br />

Tallahassee Community College<br />

Tennessee State University<br />

Texas Tech University<br />

<strong>The</strong> Ohio State University<br />

<strong>The</strong> University of Alabama<br />

<strong>The</strong> University of Tampa<br />

<strong>The</strong> University of Tennessee (Knoxville)<br />

Tiffin University<br />

Trinity College<br />

Tufts University<br />

Tulane University<br />

Union College<br />

University College Dublin<br />

University of Akron Main Campus<br />

University of Alabama at Birmingham<br />

University of Alberta<br />

University of Arizona<br />

University of Arkansas<br />

University of Arkansas at Little Rock<br />

University of British Columbia<br />

University of California, Davis<br />

University of California, Irvine<br />

University of California, Los Angeles<br />

University of California, Merced<br />

University of California, Riverside<br />

University of California, San Diego<br />

University of California, Santa Barbara<br />

University of California, Santa Cruz<br />

University of Central Florida<br />

University of Chicago<br />

University of Colorado, Colorado Springs<br />

University of Colorado, Boulder<br />

University of Colorado, Denver<br />

University of Connecticut<br />

University of Denver<br />

University of Florida<br />

University of Georgia<br />

University of Hartford<br />

University of Houston<br />

University of Illinois at Chicago<br />

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign<br />

University of Iowa<br />

University of Kansas<br />

University of Kentucky<br />

University of Louisville<br />

University of Maryland, College Park<br />

University of Massachusetts, Amherst<br />

University of Massachusetts, Boston<br />

University of Miami<br />

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities<br />

University of Mississippi<br />

University of Nevada, Las Vegas<br />

University of North Carolina School of the Arts<br />

University of North Carolina, Charlotte<br />

University of North Carolina, Pembroke<br />

University of North Florida<br />

University of North Texas<br />

University of Oregon<br />

University of Pittsburgh<br />

University of Rhode Island<br />

University of Richmond<br />

University of San Francisco<br />

University of Scranton<br />

University of South Carolina<br />

University of South Florida, Tampa<br />

University of Southern California<br />

University of Tulsa<br />

University of Utah<br />

University of Vermont<br />

University of Virginia, Main Campus<br />

University of Wisconsin, Madison<br />

University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh<br />

University of Wisconsin, Whitewater<br />

University of the Pacific<br />

Valencia College<br />

Valparaiso University<br />

Vassar College<br />

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University<br />

Wake Forest University<br />

Washington University, St. Louis<br />

Western Carolina University<br />

Western New England University<br />

Westfield State University<br />

Whitman College<br />

Whittier College<br />

Wingate University<br />

Winona State University<br />

Wright State University, Main Campus<br />

Xavier University<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 9

CLASS OF <strong>2023</strong><br />


By Mrs. Marcia Bernatavitz, Director of College Guidance<br />

<strong>The</strong> Valedictorian of the Class of <strong>2023</strong> is Trevor Scott<br />

Turnquist. Trevor is from Clermont, Florida, and has been<br />

a student at Montverde Academy since Kindergarten. In<br />

his valedictory address during commencement, Trevor<br />

acknowledged his appreciation for his teachers and<br />

administrators in his 13 years at MVA. Specifically, he<br />

recognized Ms. Cyndi Cunningham, MVA Lower School<br />

and Master Teacher, for her influence on his passion for<br />

computer science and technology.<br />

Throughout high school, Trevor maintained a 4.54 GPA<br />

and completed 13 Advanced Placement courses. Overall,<br />

Trevor took 31 Upper School courses and earned an A in<br />

each of his courses. Additionally, he scored a 1,550 on his<br />

SAT. <strong>The</strong>se academic achievements are balanced by his<br />

being a member of the MVA lacrosse team during his junior<br />

and senior years.<br />

Trevor will continue his education at the University of<br />

Florida this fall, studying computer science and electrical<br />

engineering. Dr. Anne Browdy, who was Trevor’s teacher<br />

for AP Calculus AB and AP Calculus BC, said, “I had the<br />

pleasure of teaching Trevor AP Calculus the last two years.<br />

Trevor was the quintessential calculus student. He was<br />

a careful listener in class and determined to understand<br />

all the concepts being presented. He will do well as he<br />

continues his calculus studies at UF.”<br />

Not only is Trevor an outstanding math student, but<br />

he also has a strong passion for physics. Additionally,<br />

Trevor displays a willingness to help his classmates. Mr.<br />

Stephen Whitfield, who taught Trevor’s AP Physics 1 and<br />

AP Physics C courses, said of him, “Complex concepts in<br />

physics come easily to Trevor, and he was always willing<br />

to help his peers when they may have been struggling with<br />

an assignment or activity. Even as the content became<br />

more challenging in AP Physics C, he had the same<br />

attitude toward assisting his peers and stepped up to<br />

become a leader for his group when working with others.<br />

Often, he would hold late night review sessions for the<br />

rest of his class so that they could pick up the necessary<br />

calculus skills that some did not have prior to taking the<br />

class. His willingness to step into that teaching role is a<br />

notch above any others I have encountered.”<br />

Trevor was very involved in a variety of clubs and<br />

organizations at MVA. He was a Distinguished Scholar;<br />

a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National<br />

Honor Society, and Science National Honor Society;<br />

a commended National Merit Scholar; and an AP Scholar<br />

with Distinction. Trevor was the President of the MVA<br />

Honor Council and a member of the Head of School<br />

Advisory Council, and he serves as a Youth Ambassador<br />

for the Tourette’s Association of America.<br />

Trevor Turnquist delivering the Valedictory Address<br />

10 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Mr. Stalma, Trevor’s AP English Language and<br />

Composition teacher, stated, “<strong>The</strong> valedictorian<br />

is a culmination of more than just the highest<br />

academic excellence over the course of a high<br />

school career. <strong>The</strong> individual who achieved this<br />

honor for this graduating Class of <strong>2023</strong> has<br />

consistently displayed his talent, intelligence,<br />

maturity, and grit. I persistently pursued Trevor<br />

during his junior year to take AP Language and<br />

Composition during his senior year. Rarely do<br />

teachers campaign to get a student into their<br />

class, but his current teachers repeatedly extolled<br />

his reputation as a brilliant and diligent student,<br />

the type of student I feel fortunate to have the<br />

opportunity to teach. Our Valedictorian is a young<br />

man whose legacy at Montverde Academy was<br />

firmly established prior to his rigorous senior year<br />

slate of six Advanced Placement courses. Trevor<br />

Turnquist embodies all the desirable qualities<br />

Montverde Academy instills in the future leaders<br />

of the world.”<br />

In his valedictory address, Trevor acknowledged<br />

the challenges that have faced the Class of <strong>2023</strong><br />

and praised them as “a strong, tight-knit class<br />

of talented students, athletes, and performers.”<br />

Trevor encouraged them not to settle for “lowhanging<br />

fruit.” Instead, he said, “Each one of us<br />

has a different set of goals in our lives. Some are<br />

shooting for an MBA, and some are shooting for<br />

the NBA. Some want to explore the world, while<br />

others just want to live a life of comfort. No matter<br />

how ambitious your goals may be, you should<br />

never settle for less.”<br />

In addition to being recognized as the<br />

valedictorian during commencement, Trevor also<br />

received one of the four top senior awards, the<br />

Dalton Monroe Award. This award is given to the<br />

senior who is always able to see the positive side<br />

and keep their sense of humor despite significant<br />

adversity in his or her life and has managed to<br />

conquer that adversity and attain success at<br />

Montverde Academy. This award also included a<br />

$1,000 academic scholarship.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Montverde Academy community is extremely<br />

proud of Trevor and his accomplishments thus<br />

far. His intelligence, kind nature, and passion for<br />

knowledge will certainly be great contributors to<br />

his future success.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 11

CLASS OF <strong>2023</strong><br />


By Mrs. Marcia Bernatavitz, Director of College Guidance<br />

Siddhartha (Sid) Somani is the Salutatorian of the<br />

Montverde Academy Class of <strong>2023</strong>. Originally from<br />

Bangalore, India, Sid has been a student at Montverde<br />

Academy since the eighth grade. He has a 4.53 GPA,<br />

has completed ten Advanced Placement classes, and<br />

achieved a 1550 SAT score. Sid is a Distinguished<br />

Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society and the<br />

National Science Honor Society. An athlete and captain<br />

with the International Junior Golf Academy, Sid has taken<br />

27 academic classes during his tenure in the Upper<br />

School at Montverde Academy and has achieved A's in<br />

each of these courses. He has also earned A’s in summer<br />

classes taken at the University of California, Santa Cruz.<br />

In March 2021, Sid combined his love for computer<br />

science with his love for golf when he began work<br />

on a project that attempted to improve or alleviate a<br />

widespread issue commonly faced by junior golfers: the<br />

inefficient entry of post-round statistics. <strong>The</strong> outcome<br />

of this project was a full-fledged app, which is available<br />

on the App Store and on Google Play. <strong>The</strong> app he<br />

created was able to efficiently enter metrics regarding<br />

an individual’s round of golf and was able to display a<br />

thorough summary of the stats of the round in an efficient<br />

and easily comprehensible manner, all while maintaining<br />

pleasant visual aesthetics.<br />

Sid will be attending the Georgia Institute of Technology<br />

this fall, studying computer science and computer/<br />

electrical engineering. Of his passion for computer<br />

science, Sid said, “As my programming and CS skills<br />

progressed, I became captivated by the seemingly<br />

endless potential of programming and the various<br />

components it entails, specifically using code to analyze<br />

previously gathered data sets to predict accurate future<br />

outcomes. As a result, I am keen and eager to develop my<br />

CS skills and deepen my knowledge about programming.<br />

I am specifically interested in studying machine learning<br />

and Artificial Intelligence at the undergraduate level.”<br />

Once he is equipped with a degree in computer science<br />

and data analytics, he hopes to create a machine learning<br />

algorithm that can effectively analyze a product’s historical<br />

success to predict future outcomes that may assist during<br />

the process of product selection for a business, facilitating<br />

advancement and growth in the efficient analysis of data<br />

using computer algorithms/programs.<br />

Mr. David Bernatavitz, Siddhartha Somani, and Mr. Jon Hopman<br />

12 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Sid is also a published researcher. His most<br />

recent exploration into the field of computer<br />

science consists of a research paper that<br />

is predicated upon the results of a survey<br />

conducted across Montverde Academy,<br />

which he conducted in May 2022. This survey<br />

establishes societal views and misconceptions<br />

regarding the improvements in technology,<br />

specifically the advancements in CS that<br />

are heading towards machine learning. In<br />

September 2022, this research paper was<br />

published to the Computer and Engineering<br />

Sciences and IT section of the North Asian<br />

Research Journal Center.<br />

Sid’s AP Statistics teacher, Mr. Mike Samide,<br />

says of him, “His consistent and persistent work<br />

ethic throughout was inspiring to see and had<br />

a positive impact on all of those around him.”<br />

His AP Computer Science teacher,<br />

Mr. Matthew Parets, also commented, “Sid is<br />

the personification of the word ‘potential,’ and<br />

his potential is limitless. Additionally, Sid is one<br />

of the hardest working students that I have ever<br />

had the pleasure of teaching. <strong>The</strong> tenacity<br />

with which he attacks a problem is a wonder<br />

to witness.”<br />

While he loves to pursue his own passions,<br />

Sid also values the importance of giving back<br />

to the community. He is a volunteer with First<br />

Tee, a nonprofit organization that provides<br />

underprivileged kids with the opportunity to<br />

receive an education, and he couples that<br />

education with golf lessons. As a volunteer for<br />

First Tee, Sid assists the hired golf coaches<br />

in setting up games and drill stations,<br />

discussing key learnings, and tallying<br />

attendance each session. As a volunteer<br />

for First Tee and a mentor to its students,<br />

Sid instills numerous life skills within<br />

them that are essential to one's<br />

character, such as integrity, patience,<br />

focus, reliability, and trust.<br />

Siddhartha Somani has made a<br />

tremendous impact on Montverde Academy,<br />

and we are eager to follow his path to Georgia<br />

Tech and beyond. Sid said of his experience at<br />

Montverde Academy, “MVA has prepared me<br />

to tackle challenges not only on an individual<br />

level but alongside a group of peers, as well.<br />

I am confident that the tight-knit environment<br />

that MVA fosters will benefit me while studying<br />

at a competitive yet collaborative school like<br />

Georgia Tech.”<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 13

TOP OF THE<br />

CLASS<br />

<strong>2023</strong><br />

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

Beyond the Valedictorian and Salutatorian of the Class of <strong>2023</strong> are ten students whose academic achievements and<br />

leadership skills are exemplary and worthy of recognition. <strong>The</strong>se ten students continually exceeded expectations in<br />

academics, service, and extracurricular activities. Congratulations to this dynamic group of students.<br />

Leah Guerard was a member of the Science National Honor<br />

Society, the Environmental Club, and the Gay-Straight<br />

Alliance. Over the past four years, she has worked closely<br />

with a local nonprofit called Thrive Clermont where she plans<br />

events, hosts teen programs, runs social media accounts,<br />

and advises their Board of Directors on creating the <strong>2023</strong>-27<br />

strategic plan. She took 13 AP courses and is grateful for her<br />

teachers at Montverde Academy. “My chemistry teacher, Dr.<br />

Ramirez, helped guide me to the decision to study chemistry<br />

in college. My advisor and math teacher, Ms. Dietrich, and<br />

Dr. Browdy have always supported me in school and pushed<br />

me to be successful academically. And Mr. Samide, who puts<br />

jokes in his AP Math lessons and has a great class energy,<br />

cares about his students and their success,” said Leah.<br />

She will attend Bryn Mawr College to major in chemistry<br />

and minor in mathematics.<br />

Scarlett Gunasekera was in the Physical Science STEM SAC<br />

program and was also a Music Conservatory student. She is<br />

part of two community barbershop choirs—Sisters of Sound<br />

and Unaccompanied Minors—and she sings with Daphodyls,<br />

a quartet comprised of her, Hanan Geda, Olivia Fontana,<br />

and Daphne Gunasekera, and dances at Not Just Dance.<br />

She took 13 AP courses, and is grateful for the programs and<br />

teachers at MVA. “I could always go after school or during<br />

club time to ask questions,” said Scarlett. “<strong>The</strong> teachers want<br />

you to do well, so they will help out to the best of their ability.”<br />

Scarlett will attend Cornell University where she hopes to<br />

major in either chemistry or biochemistry with a minor in music<br />

and one day pursue a Ph.D.<br />

Colby Helms was on the weightlifting team and was a<br />

member of the Arts and Athletic Leadership Council at MVA.<br />

He was the founder of the Pep Band where he played guitar,<br />

organized practices, and taught members their parts. He is<br />

grateful for Mrs. Mary Mincy, the Middle and Upper School<br />

piano instructor and accompanist. “Mrs. Mincy has helped<br />

me to leave my legacy here at MVA as she agreed to sponsor<br />

the Pep Band and is now teaching a music production class,<br />

both of which provide new and exciting musical opportunities<br />

for the students,” said Colby. He will attend the University of<br />

Florida where he plans to pursue his undergraduate degree<br />

in preparation for law school. Beyond college, he hopes<br />

to become successful enough to where he can provide<br />

opportunities for others, especially through music.<br />

Mia Hornberger was the captain of the girls varsity golf team<br />

at MVA, the Girls Golf Ambassador on the Arts and Athletics<br />

Leadership Committee, a member of the Honor Council, and<br />

was a math tutor at MVA. She volunteered at South Lake<br />

Hospital, which inspired her to pursue a career in the medical<br />

field. She is grateful for the influence and support of Coach<br />

Kelly Golden-Neer. “Coach Kelly has always helped me stay<br />

positive and motivated throughout the golf season even<br />

though school was stressful,” said Mia. She will attend the<br />

University of Florida to pursue an undergraduate degree that<br />

will help prepare her for medical school.<br />

Hannah Huff has been a competitive dancer since the age<br />

of seven, and she was part of the Distinguished Scholars<br />

Program at MVA, along with the Science National Honor<br />

Society, Mu Alpha <strong>The</strong>ta, and the Environmental Club. She<br />

took 11 AP courses and is grateful for the life skills she<br />

obtained at the Academy. “MVA has challenged me to balance<br />

outside responsibilities while still keeping up with my work,”<br />

said Hannah. “At times, it was difficult managing everything,<br />

but the positivity of some of my teachers motivated me to<br />

keep up with all that was expected of me.” She will attend<br />

Florida State University to pursue a degree in psychology and<br />

hopefully a master’s degree and Ph.D. to enable her to find<br />

an enjoyable career where she can help others. Regardless of<br />

her career choices, she is certain that dance will be a part of<br />

her life for as long as possible.<br />

Natalie Nesmith was the President of the National Honor<br />

Society and a part of the Head of School Leadership Institute<br />

as a member of the Student Leadership Council. She was<br />

the Arts and Athletic Leadership Committee Representative<br />

for cross country. She participated in varsity track & field and<br />

cross country since the sixth grade and was the team captain.<br />

Natalie took 11 AP courses and is grateful for the teachers<br />

and programs at MVA that helped make her success possible.<br />

14 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Leah Guerard Scarlett Gunasekera Colby Helms Mia Hornberger Hannah Huff<br />

Natalie Nesmith Troy Scott Mason Shale Zackary Spangler Kendall Walsworth<br />

“Being a part of the track & field program helped me<br />

find my confidence and showed me the power of hard<br />

work,” said Natalie. “Coach Gerald Phiri, Coach Dustin<br />

Spanbauer, and Coach Michelle Howell have been my<br />

biggest supporters and mentors. Ms. Courtney Richardson<br />

has always been there to guide me and lighten my day,<br />

Mr. Stephen Whitfield taught me humility, Mr. Mike Samide<br />

showed me it is possible to enjoy math, and Mr. Todd<br />

Lamb influenced my decision to pursue law.” Natalie<br />

will attend the University of Florida to double major in<br />

psychology and food & resource economics before<br />

going to law school.<br />

Troy Scott was the captain of the lacrosse team, an<br />

officer of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and on the<br />

Honor Council. He took eight AP courses and is grateful<br />

for the lessons he learned from being on the lacrosse<br />

team. “<strong>The</strong> lacrosse program has helped me learn life<br />

lessons while allowing me to pe a part of a team and<br />

develop attributes that will help me throughout the rest of<br />

my life,” said Troy. He will attend the University of Florida<br />

where he will major in construction management.<br />

Beyond college, he hopes to set himself up for<br />

success throughout his life.<br />

Mason Shale played soccer for SIMA and enjoys going to<br />

the gym and playing golf in his free time. He took eight AP<br />

courses and is grateful to MVA for helping him to reach his<br />

dream. “MVA programs have allowed me to achieve one of<br />

my dreams, which is to play Division 1 soccer in college,”<br />

said Mason. “My teachers and guidance counselors<br />

have all helped me through tough times, and I’m very<br />

grateful for them.” Mason will play soccer at Lindenwood<br />

University where he will major in business marketing with<br />

a minor in business finance. Beyond college, he hopes to<br />

be a professional soccer player or work in the business<br />

field. He also plans to become a scratch golfer once he is<br />

no longer devoting as much time to soccer.<br />

Zackary Spangler was in the Biomedical STEM SAC<br />

and was a member of the Honor Council, National Honor<br />

Society, and Science National Honor Society. He played<br />

soccer for SIMA and was an Eagle Ambassador. He<br />

enjoys singing, lyrical writing, and graphic design. He<br />

took nine AP courses and is grateful for his teachers and<br />

the opportunities afforded to him at the Academy. “<strong>The</strong><br />

teachers are kind, patient, knowledgeable, and available<br />

to help at all times,” said Zackary. “MVA programs provide<br />

a great basis for gathering experience and knowledge<br />

that will most definitely be applicable in college.” Zackary<br />

will be attending the University of Florida to major in<br />

biomedical engineering. After college, he hopes to go<br />

to medical school while continuing to make music<br />

and perform.<br />

Kendall Walsworth was in the STEM Sustainability<br />

SAC program. She was President of the Environmental<br />

Club; and she was the Head Eagle Ambassador, a board<br />

member of the Advocates for Gender Equality, and a<br />

member of the Gay-Straight Alliance. She was also the<br />

head choreographer for the Pom Squad and a dancer at<br />

Relevé School of Dance where she trained in hip hop,<br />

jazz, ballet, and pointe and was part of their highestlevel<br />

performance team. She took 12 AP courses and<br />

is grateful for the many opportunities that have been<br />

afforded to her at MVA. “From the STEM SAC program to<br />

the Head of School Leadership program, I have had the<br />

opportunity to achieve my academic potential and connect<br />

with fellow students, faculty, and esteemed community<br />

leaders who have helped shape my perspective on the<br />

world and influence who I’ll grow up to be,” said Kendall.<br />

“Without these programs, I would not have had the<br />

same opportunities to push myself to achieve beyond<br />

the classroom, grow my abilities that will serve me in<br />

my future endeavors, and build relationships with those<br />

around me.” Kendall will be attending the University<br />

of Florida to major in sustainability studies. After her<br />

undergraduate studies, she plans to attend law school and<br />

become an environmental attorney.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 15



Student Spotlights were written by Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />


<strong>The</strong>atre goers in the Montverde Academy community<br />

might recognize Dylan Bova as Violet Beauregarde from<br />

the Middle School production of “Willy Wonka,” who<br />

transformed into a blueberry after chewing a defective<br />

piece of chewing gum. But off the stage, this eighth grader<br />

is a delightful force to be reckoned with, a student who is<br />

driven not only to succeed herself but also to empower<br />

others to find their own success.<br />

When Dylan was eight years old, long before she was<br />

a student at MVA, she and her mom were on their way<br />

home from a theatre competition, and her mom said,<br />

“Hey, [MVA] has a show today. Do you want to go see if<br />

they have any available seats?” <strong>The</strong> show was “<strong>The</strong> Little<br />

Mermaid,” and Dylan was so impressed with the show and<br />

with the Fine Arts program that she remembers saying to<br />

herself, “I want to be a part of this troupe one day.”<br />

Dylan enrolled in MVA her sixth-grade year and was eager<br />

to get involved. She took the Fine Arts rotation elective,<br />

and she also participated in Conservatory Shadow Day.<br />

In the seventh grade, she joined the Music Conservatory<br />

where she sang and played piano, and she also started<br />

performing in some of the <strong>The</strong>atre Conservatory shows.<br />

She first sang in the ensemble for “Secret Garden” and<br />

later played the role of Brigitta in “<strong>The</strong> Sound of Music.”<br />

She also performed in the Vocal Salon, “Cabaret:<br />

American Top 40,” and “100 Years of Broadway”; and<br />

most recently, she played the role of Violet Beauregarde<br />

in “Willy Wonka.”<br />

She greatly values the sense of family at MVA. “<strong>The</strong>re are<br />

so many people that have the same passions and like to<br />

do the same things I do, so being able to collaborate with<br />

everybody and having people you can actively work with is<br />

really cool. And we’re all best friends, too.”<br />

She considers her own craft to be fine arts and community<br />

service, and she hopes one day to combine those two<br />

passions. “<strong>The</strong> arts can be a tough business for everyone,<br />

but particularly women, minorities, children, and other<br />

at-risk groups, so I want to start a theatre company and<br />

a record label that is a safe space for all artists, bringing<br />

inclusivity and opportunity for diverse communities and<br />

giving them a place where they can feel comfortable<br />

performing their craft and executing their art on their<br />

terms,” Dylan said.<br />

Her passion for community service developed in the<br />

sixth grade when she began volunteering. In the seventh<br />

grade, she joined the Builders Club and was inducted<br />

into the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) where she<br />

was elected secretary. Both the Builders Club and NJHS<br />

gave her opportunities to participate in various donation<br />

drives. By the time she was in the eighth grade, she was<br />

elected president of NJHS and had even formed her own<br />

nonprofit organization called Project Red Light. <strong>The</strong> goal<br />

of Project Red Light is to spread awareness about human<br />

trafficking in Central Florida. This spring, Project Red Light<br />

hosted a self-defense class here on campus, and the<br />

Lake County Sherriff’s Department volunteered to teach<br />

the class, which filled up with 20 eager participants very<br />

quickly. Project Red Light donated the nearly 500 dollars<br />

in the event’s proceeds to Nomi Network, a nonprofit<br />

organization that provides career opportunities for people<br />

who are most vulnerable to human trafficking. Dylan<br />

hopes to offer even more classes next year.<br />

“Ms. Benner was my sponsor for Project Red Light. She<br />

was always there to support me and give me advice,<br />

and she told me who to talk to. She’s been amazing,”<br />

said Dylan.<br />

Dylan feels that what has helped her to be successful in<br />

reaching her goals is Montverde Academy’s ability to let<br />

students explore new things. “Everybody here is so open<br />

to new ideas and new things. <strong>The</strong>y want to see everybody<br />

succeed. <strong>The</strong>y’re not here to see you fail.”<br />

16 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>


Alafair Scelfo, Class of ’30, has been attending Montverde Academy since Pre-K3. With an<br />

eclectic list of hobbies, from fashion designing to running cross country, she remains humble in the<br />

face of her successes. Instead of growing comfortable in her successes, though, she maintains<br />

a laser-sharp focus on having a growth mindset and is always looking for ways to improve and<br />

maximize her potential.<br />

Her current long-term goal is to be a<br />

fashion designer. “I really want to focus<br />

on design because when I get older,<br />

I want to have my own place to design<br />

one day,” said Alafair. “I want that to be<br />

my big future. I love it, and it makes me<br />

happy. But I don’t know the future, so it<br />

may change over time.” Alafair’s mom<br />

has helped fuel her burgeoning interest<br />

in design and has always told her that<br />

she has a great imagination and is very<br />

creative. She has a red sketchbook that<br />

she uses to draw outfits and jewelry, and<br />

she even asks her siblings to pick a color<br />

for her sketches. “Whenever I sketch, I<br />

feel like I’m in my own creative zone and<br />

I’m so positive,” said Alafair. “It makes me<br />

feel good.”<br />

Although she wants to focus on design<br />

when she is older, one thing she said that<br />

she will always have with her is running.<br />

She started running in the first grade.<br />

“I was always racing someone, and I was<br />

always second or third. But I didn’t like<br />

being second or third – I wanted to be<br />

first,” Alafair said. As her love for running<br />

grew, she and her family set up markers in<br />

their neighborhood and ran there together.<br />

Alafair began participating in various 5K’s<br />

with her family, including the Turkey Trot<br />

and the Disney ® 5K.<br />

Last year, she ran in the Junior Olympics<br />

where she qualified for the 1500 and the<br />

3000. She received a medal for qualifying.<br />

She learned quite a bit about herself as an<br />

athlete during that time, and at this year’s<br />

Lower School track meet, she pushed<br />

herself. “It’s in her to be an athlete,” said<br />

Damu Mitchell, Vice President of Star<br />

Athletics who assisted with the track<br />

meet. “But what I like about her is that,<br />

for the track meet this year, she really<br />

wanted to run the 800. I told her, ‘Alafair,<br />

I don’t know how we’re going to do this,’<br />

but she said, ‘I really want to run this 800<br />

because I have a time that I need to beat<br />

so I can practice and get ready for the<br />

summer.’ For a kid in fifth grade to have<br />

that mentality, that means that she’s going<br />

to be a great competitor. We ended up not<br />

doing the 800, but she still ran the 400.<br />

She went out there, and she ran every<br />

event like it was her last, like that was the<br />

only event she was doing, and she won<br />

them all. We picked Athletes of the Meet,<br />

and she was one of them. She’s a<br />

great leader.”<br />

When talking with Alafair, one can’t help<br />

but wonder where she finds her drive<br />

and desire to always be improving. She<br />

gives credit to her strong support system.<br />

One of the people who provided her with<br />

immense support was her first-grade<br />

teacher at Montverde Academy, Mrs.<br />

Dana Cook. “I really liked her, and I felt<br />

that she really pushed me in my reading.<br />

And all the other teachers I’ve had so<br />

much fun with. I love science.<br />

Mrs. Whiffen always makes it fun.”<br />

Her family, she feels, is the best support<br />

that she could possibly get. “My siblings<br />

really help me during tough times,” said<br />

Alafair. “<strong>The</strong>y’ll talk to me. <strong>The</strong>y’ll give<br />

me their honest opinion. <strong>The</strong>y really do<br />

push me. Even my little brother, he’s<br />

awesome.” Her dad is always pushing<br />

her to be her best and often says,<br />

“Alafair, if you want to be good at this, if<br />

you want to get better, you need to push<br />

yourself.” She says that he always gives<br />

her pep talks about life. Her mom helps<br />

her with her designs and with her running<br />

and also offers her suggestions on ways<br />

to improve in various areas, such as<br />

placing sticky notes on the mirror.<br />

<strong>The</strong> phrase that seems to touch every<br />

area of her life are the words from her<br />

mom, “Always be kind. Kindness is key.”<br />

Alafair’s kindness and drive will take her<br />

far in life, and those who know her are<br />

certainly eager to see how her<br />

future unfolds.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 17

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

18 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Dennis and Damu Mitchell have been a part of the<br />

Montverde Academy community for the past 12<br />

years. In 2011, their company Star Athletics began<br />

using MVA’s facility to train Olympic track & field athletes.<br />

After their daughter Aaleyah was born, it didn’t take them<br />

long to realize that MVA would be the best place for her to<br />

go to school, a decision that they never took lightly.<br />

Before they enrolled their daughter, Damu was also a<br />

gymnastics coach, and many of the students at MVA came<br />

to the gymnastics center where she worked to receive<br />

gymnastics training. She developed a great rapport with<br />

those students and was impressed by the amount of<br />

support they received from the school in their athletic<br />

endeavors. <strong>The</strong> Academy’s good athletic reputation,<br />

paired with its stellar reputation in academics, made the<br />

idea of enrolling their daughter more and more appealing.<br />

“My daughter isn’t even on that level yet,” said Damu, “but<br />

just the idea that if it ever came up, she could still pursue<br />

her academics and her sports and still graduate in a<br />

school setting and not have to be homeschooled.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> Mitchells enrolled their daughter at MVA at the<br />

beginning of her Pre-K3 year. Aaleyah is in the second<br />

grade, and looking back over the past five years, Damu<br />

can definitely see the positive effects an MVA education<br />

has had on her daughter. “When she first started Pre-K3,<br />

she was talking, but she wasn’t as expressive. I noticed<br />

within the first month or two, she wouldn’t stop talking,”<br />

said Damu. “It’s like she just opened up, and all of a<br />

sudden, she kept talking about all these things at school<br />

and all the things that were happening. And this was as<br />

a three-year-old. <strong>The</strong>n we started seeing her speech get<br />

better, her vocabulary, just little basic things. And from<br />

there, I noticed, as we were going through the Lower<br />

School, that each of the teachers was taking the time to<br />

get to know her individually. <strong>The</strong>y don’t place all the kids in<br />

a box – they actually take the time to figure out what they<br />

can do to help the child. <strong>The</strong>y’re always communicating,<br />

and if she’s having trouble, they’ll tell me and we’ll try to<br />

come up with a game plan to fix it.”<br />

One thing Dennis appreciates are the many extracurricular<br />

opportunities that are available even at the Lower School<br />

level. “<strong>The</strong> thing I like is that they keep the kids busy,”<br />

said Dennis. “When we pick her up in the afternoon, she<br />

doesn’t even want to leave. As a parent, you know that<br />

your child is comfortable when they don’t want to leave.<br />

You know that it is an environment that they see<br />

as a plus.”<br />

Students in the Lower School can be introduced to<br />

many different sports and clubs after school. Aaleyah<br />

has participated in choir, beach volleyball, basketball,<br />

swimming, and violin. “I catch her recording herself on her<br />

iPad. She’ll send the video to all my family, and they’ll say,<br />

‘Aaleyah just sent us a video of her playing violin.’” With<br />

these activities being offered right after school, she has<br />

time to devote to tennis and dance off campus.<br />

Dennis also appreciates how the students’ behavioral<br />

expectations are communicated to the students during<br />

assembly. “When you go to their assemblies or walk<br />

into the building, you can feel the energy in the air,” said<br />

Dennis. “All the energy is coming from Ms. Shackelford.<br />

She probably has been the biggest influence [in the Lower<br />

School]. Her vision sets the tone for everything that<br />

goes on.”<br />

One of the things that the Mitchells highly value is the<br />

Academy’s commitment to diversity. “What I like about<br />

Montverde Academy is the diversity and how they<br />

celebrate everybody’s culture. Especially with us being<br />

African American, it’s very important for our daughter to be<br />

mixed with all types of people from all different races. And<br />

I love that it’s celebrated here and that it’s not a problem<br />

that you are different and that you can learn about each<br />

other. For me, that is huge because I honestly don’t think<br />

she would get that anywhere else.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> Mitchells often find ways to give back to the Academy.<br />

Every year, they help Coach Golden-Neer train Lower<br />

School students who are interested in participating in the<br />

annual track meet. “It’s Coach Golden-Neer's program,”<br />

said Damu. “What we do is we start getting together about<br />

a month before the track meet, shooting emails back and<br />

forth. And then we get together and run the practices.”<br />

From there, Damu, Coach Golden-Neer, and<br />

Mrs. Melissa Tomlinson organize the track meet<br />

and create the heat sheets.<br />

<strong>The</strong> goal of the track meet is for students to have fun.<br />

“We don’t get into the technical details – we just make it a<br />

fun time because it’s really hot outside. If we know we’re<br />

going to run some 200s that day, we say, ‘We’re going to<br />

run a 200, and after that, you’re going to get a drink. Who<br />

can get the drink the fastest?’ We just make it into a game.<br />

‘I don’t care how you run it. I don’t care how you did it.<br />

Just finish. If you have to walk, that’s fine.’ <strong>The</strong> key is just<br />

to make it fun.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> many things that the Mitchells love about their<br />

daughter receiving a Montverde Academy education are<br />

working in tandem to prepare her for her future. “<strong>The</strong><br />

future for me is way past high school,” said Dennis. “Being<br />

part of this environment prepares her academically and<br />

hopefully socially, too, for when she goes to college. For<br />

a dad, the scariest time is when you send your daughter<br />

away for college. But these teachers and administrators<br />

are giving her the foundation to make good choices when<br />

she goes into that college arena.”<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 19

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

Mr. Walter Eksteen and Mrs. Natasja Eksteen were both<br />

raised in the beautiful province of the Eastern Cape in<br />

South Africa. <strong>The</strong>ir insatiable yearning to travel the<br />

world eventually led them to settle in sunny<br />

Montverde, Florida.<br />

20 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Mr. Walter Eksteen is the Dean of Students and Mrs.<br />

Natasja Eksteen is the Administrative Assistant to the<br />

Dean of Students for Residential Life at Montverde<br />

Academy. Mr. Eksteen went to the University of Port<br />

Elizabeth to pursue a degree in human movement<br />

science, and Mrs. Eksteen went to Port Elizabeth<br />

College to study travel and tourism. When he was in his<br />

second year of college and she in her first year, they<br />

met at a church camp where they were both working as<br />

counselors. “We were busy peeling potatoes around this<br />

big basin. I put my hand in to pick up another potato, and<br />

he nicked my finger with a peeler,” said Mrs. Eksteen. “I<br />

was looking at her,” said Mr. Eksteen, “and wasn’t paying<br />

attention to the peeling, but luckily there was no blood!”<br />

“That’s where our journey started,” Mrs. Eksteen said.<br />

After they finished college, they were married in 1996.<br />

At the time, Mr. Eksteen was a professional tennis coach<br />

and Mrs. Eksteen was a travel agent when they received<br />

the amazing opportunity to travel and work in the United<br />

States as dorm parents at a tennis academy in Tampa<br />

where their daughter, Mikayla, was born. After living<br />

in Tampa, they moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where their<br />

son, Divan, was born. After having children, they often<br />

reminisced on their childhood when they played in the<br />

mud and in the trees back in South Africa. <strong>The</strong>y wanted<br />

their children to be close to nature and have a childhood<br />

similar to their own.<br />

In 2007, the family moved to South Africa, and<br />

Mr. Eksteen began working at St. Andrews College in<br />

Grahamstown. While in South Africa, they welcomed<br />

their third child, Steffan. Later, Mrs. Eksteen took a job<br />

as an administrative assistant to the director of the music<br />

school at St. Andrews College. “Music is one of my<br />

biggest passions, singing and music,” said Mrs. Eksteen.<br />

“I absolutely loved my job there. It was a very similar<br />

boarding environment to Montverde Academy. I think<br />

that’s why Walter and I fit in here so easily. This school<br />

reminds us a lot about what we had in South Africa.”<br />

Although South Africa delivered on the picturesque<br />

images from their memory, their jobs didn’t afford them<br />

with many opportunities to travel abroad, so the children<br />

had not been exposed to a wide variety of cultures,<br />

something that they both felt was of the utmost importance<br />

for their children. So, when an opportunity opened for<br />

Mr. Eksteen to coach tennis in Vermont for the entire<br />

summer of 2017, they knew they had to take it. During that<br />

time, they were able to show their children the Eastern<br />

Seaboard of the US, from Florida all the way to Canada.<br />

“It was the most incredible experience with our kids,”<br />

Mrs. Eksteen recalled.<br />

When the summer ended and the Eksteens returned to<br />

their home in South Africa, they knew they wanted to<br />

return to the US and settle permanently. Not long after<br />

their daughter graduated from high school, Mr. Eksteen<br />

received an opportunity for a position as Director of<br />

Student Care at International Junior Golf Academy (IJGA)<br />

in Howey-in-the-Hills. “For that kind of role at this stage of<br />

my career, based on my sporting background, educational<br />

background, and boarding background, it was a perfect<br />

fit,” said Mr. Eksteen.<br />

Mrs. Eksteen began her position at Montverde Academy<br />

in the residential life department. With her being at MVA,<br />

with their two youngest children being enrolled at the<br />

Academy, and with Mr. Eksteen having a connection to<br />

MVA through IJGA, it was only a matter of time before<br />

he would come on board as MVA’s Dean of Students.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eksteens knew they had found what they were<br />

looking for, a place where they could grow and thrive as a<br />

family and also contribute their knowledge and expertise<br />

to a diverse institution that shares their values.<br />

What both of them bring Mr. to Urquhart their position with grandson is a shared Charlie love<br />

of what they do and a desire to help others. “Walter and<br />

I have always had a love for children. We want to have<br />

a positive impact on their lives and see how we can help<br />

them on their journey as they grow from being children<br />

to adults,” said Mrs. Eksteen. “My day-to-day grind is<br />

organizing transportation for our boarding students to<br />

and from the airport. I love doing that – I enjoy it. And<br />

they come in and have ideas for weekend activities.”<br />

She’s had many conversations with students about ideas<br />

to be implemented in the future and wants to put those<br />

ideas into action. “I want them to leave twelfth grade here<br />

and miss their dorm friends and think, ‘<strong>The</strong> time I had at<br />

Montverde Academy in my boarding house was amazing.’”<br />

“I’m in charge of discipline,” said Mr. Eksteen, “but I have<br />

so many conversations with students to try to help them<br />

understand what’s right and wrong and how to avoid<br />

getting into trouble. What we think we bring is enthusiasm<br />

and I hope consistency. Natasja, Kirstin Coffman,<br />

Margaret Price, and I work extremely closely together;<br />

and we work hard to try to make our doors open and<br />

approachable enough for students to pop in and say,<br />

‘Hey, I need help with this or I need help with that.’ And<br />

that’s been good. Kids knock on our doors all the time,<br />

which is kind of the relationship that we all want to see.”<br />

<strong>The</strong>y are eager to see what the future holds for them.<br />

“<strong>The</strong> doors just opened up for us,” said Mrs. Eksteen,<br />

“and we know that there’s a purpose and a plan for us<br />

here. And we are just very excited.”<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 21


By Ms. Cyndi Cunningham, Lower School Technology & <strong>The</strong>atre Arts Master Teacher<br />

Twice a week, students in grades 1-5 enter the Lower School Computer Technology Lab to ignite 21st century<br />

skills – creative thinking, problem solving, collaborating, and effectively using technology to reach an end result<br />

with coding. Using two programs – Code.org and CS First with Google ® – students are building the skills and<br />

knowledge of what it takes to build a computer program in their computer enrichment class.<br />

<strong>The</strong> first words out of bright-eyed first and second graders’<br />

mouths are “Can we get started?” <strong>The</strong>y quickly log in to<br />

Code.org, a website that uses a structured format to help<br />

students to build and run code using blocks of instructions.<br />

<strong>The</strong> lessons are so engaging that students cheer and give<br />

themselves “self high fives” when they figure out a hard<br />

sequence of instructions or solve a difficult problem.<br />

Beginning in third grade, students move on to CS First,<br />

which uses Scratch, a popular programming site developed<br />

by MIT. Scratch is so useful as a teaching tool that it is used<br />

in Harvard’s CS50 Introduction to Computer Programming.<br />

Lower School students get to use the exact same tools to<br />

create digital stories and build games.<br />

Where Code.org is very structured with predetermined goals,<br />

CS First and Scratch let students use their creativity with more<br />

open-ended projects. “<strong>The</strong> thing I find most exciting about<br />

learning to code is that I can create characters and make a<br />

story that’s the way I want,” says Lower School fourth grader<br />

Vicente Pacheco.<br />

Fifth grader Evan Vogel agrees. “I enjoy the different sprites<br />

[characters] they use. I [also] like solving problems...coding<br />

makes you smarter.”<br />

Kendall Nailos, also a fifth grader, enjoys game design.<br />

“Computer coding is kind of arranging words or blocks in a<br />

specific order to make computers do thing. I like finishing it<br />

and seeing what it can do afterwards, and if it's a game, I like<br />

playing the game.”<br />

22 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Arjun Persaud, another coder from Kendall’s class, says,<br />

“What I liked best is the feeling you get when you finally<br />

finish a part of code [after] figuring out an error and getting<br />

rid of it.” He added, “Everything was so fun.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> fun and learning continue in the Lower School’s<br />

Robotics after-school activity for fourth and fifth graders.<br />

<strong>The</strong> activity is held once a week and uses Vex Go kits.<br />

<strong>The</strong> kits are made up of sets of parts and tools that allow<br />

students to construct and deconstruct a variety of robots.<br />

Working in teams, students build a variety of robots that<br />

range from simple machines to ones that can be coded<br />

on the Vex App on the students’ iPads. Jason El-Bacha,<br />

a fourth grader, his favorite project was building a robotic<br />

arm “because it’s like building an extension of your<br />

own arm.”<br />

Nevaeh Driscoll, a fourth grader who loves frogs, loved a<br />

project where students used robotic parts to construct the<br />

different stages of the life cycle of a frog. “It helped me to<br />

learn. When I was stuck, it helped me when I had to figure<br />

it out.”<br />

Thierno Diallo, a fourth grader, was another fan of the<br />

project. “<strong>The</strong> frog project was my favorite. My group was<br />

fun to work with, and it was my first time doing robotics.”<br />

<strong>The</strong>se students embraced teamwork and collaboration<br />

throughout the run of the activity. Fourth grader Isabell<br />

Wojnowksi said, “My favorite part about being in robotics<br />

is doing the building [and] being able to work together<br />

with other people.”<br />

“I find learning new things exciting and cool,” says another<br />

fourth grader, Juliette Kennedy-Diaz. “I get to work with<br />

my friends and, I learn things from them, too.”<br />

Abieyuwa Yisa-Salami, a fifth grader, and her team are<br />

taking collaboration a step further by making a time-lapse<br />

video of their building processes on their iPads. “We really<br />

like to do it so we can go back and look at everything we<br />

did to build our robots. Seeing the whole thing just makes<br />

you feel good.”<br />

Students also built mobile versions of the robots called<br />

“Base Models” that could be driven using a VEX app on<br />

their iPads. Student teams could be found around the<br />

classroom and in the nearby halls testing and driving their<br />

robots. Caylin Boyke-Bailey, a fifth grader, said she felt<br />

more confident in her abilities through the process. “When<br />

you build and code something, you get to see it move<br />

when it’s supposed to.”<br />

Evan Vogel, a fifth grader, is also a big fan. “I feel more<br />

confident about coding. I feel more confident about solving<br />

problems. I feel more confident that I can build cool things<br />

and learn how to make them work.”<br />

Fostering that confidence and student-driven excitement<br />

in building critical thinking skills is the driving force for<br />

both the Lower School Computer Technology enrichment<br />

and the Robotics activity. <strong>The</strong>se young learners have<br />

embraced problem-solving skills and collaborative<br />

experiences that they can take with them outside the<br />

doors of the Technology Lab and build and create for<br />

years to come.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 23

Lower School Honors Night<br />

24 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Mr. Jon Hopman, Coach Kelly Golden-Neer, Ms. Meristell Shackelford, and Mr. Yordin Robinson<br />

2022-23<br />


Coach Kelly Golden-Neer<br />

By Ms. Cyndi Cunningham, Lower School Technology & <strong>The</strong>atre Arts Master Teacher<br />

When teachers are compared to superheroes, one<br />

name that consistently comes to mind is Lower School<br />

PE Coach Kelly Golden-Neer. Coach Golden-Neer<br />

is a favorite among the students because of her fun,<br />

calm, level-headed demeanor she maintains amidst<br />

teaching all the Lower School students from our little<br />

learners in lessons on exercising their gross motor skills<br />

and movement to older students building volleyball<br />

techniques, learning to cooperate in team sports,<br />

and playing kickball with their whole heart.<br />

A talented softball player in her own right, Coach<br />

Golden-Neer is a Lee University alum who holds a<br />

place in the Lee University Hall of Fame. For four years<br />

she shared her leadership abilities at the college level,<br />

coaching at Lake Sumter Community College before<br />

joining Montverde Academy as the girls softball coach.<br />

During that time, she took on the additional role as the<br />

Lower School PE coach where she has been a natural<br />

fit, and we couldn’t be more grateful. Just ask any of<br />

her Lower School team members, and you will find we<br />

all think she has a superhero cape hidden under her<br />

clothes. Besides her amazing abilities in the gym and on<br />

the field, her dedication, flexibility, and kind-heartedness<br />

Virtual Reality<br />

to meet the needs of students and team members alike<br />

are second to none. Running so many activities from the<br />

hamburger grill at previous Night for the Cure events to<br />

the annual Lower School Track Meet, her heart and spirit<br />

are clearly evident.<br />

And if you are searching for Super Coach Golden-Neer<br />

over summer break, you may have to look to the water<br />

where she and her husband love to spend much of their<br />

time. But don’t look too hard. Even superheroes need a<br />

little break. Congratulations, Coach!<br />

Besides her amazing abilities in the<br />

gym and on the field, her dedication,<br />

flexibility, and kind-heartedness to<br />

meet the needs of students and team<br />

members alike are second to none.<br />

Ms. Cyndi Cunningham, Lower School<br />

Technology & <strong>The</strong>atre Arts Master Teacher<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 25

1 2<br />

3 4 5<br />

1. Mrs. Shirley’s Class<br />

2. Mrs. Shirley and Alexander Geffen<br />

3. Mrs. Shirley and Andrew Athans<br />

4. Mrs. Sinopoli and Edith Smith<br />

5. Nana Yaw Frempong, Gloria Griffin<br />

6. Mrs. Sinopli’s Class<br />

Congrats!<br />

6<br />

26 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

3<br />

1 2<br />

4<br />

5 6 7<br />

1. Anabelle Wang and Grace Young<br />

2. Mrs. Meder and Ava Sedo<br />

3. Lucia Provenzano, Lily Saint Amand,<br />

Alafair Scelfo, Alon Scelfo<br />

4. Mrs. Dougherty and Joseph Bobilin<br />

5. Mrs. Meder and Arjun Persaud<br />

6. Mrs. Dougherty and Alyssa Gil<br />

7. Fifth Grade Performance<br />

8<br />

8. Fifth Grade Performance<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 27

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

One of the goals of the Middle School’s science department is to teach students the<br />

process of the scientific method, enabling them to apply it to situations they encounter<br />

across all other disciplines and throughout other areas of their everyday life. <strong>The</strong> Middle<br />

School science teachers want students to ask important questions, to wonder why<br />

things work the way they do, to be responsible consumers of information, and to leave<br />

their classrooms as lifelong learners of science, forever sharpening their critical thinking<br />

skills and becoming informed citizens who interact responsibly with each other and<br />

with the planet.<br />

In sixth grade science, the curriculum focuses on the<br />

foundations of the scientific method. Students learn to<br />

ask questions and make observations; form hypotheses;<br />

make inferences; and predict an outcome based on their<br />

research, background knowledge, and class discussions.<br />

In the next stage, they design an experiment where they<br />

have the opportunity to use their gathered evidence to<br />

test their hypotheses and summarize their findings.<br />

Learning the foundations of the scientific method not<br />

only prepares students for their future science classes,<br />

but it also teaches them to be critical thinkers for the rest<br />

of their lives.<br />

Mrs. Casey Volpe, the sixth grade earth and space<br />

science teacher, said, “When students come in as sixth<br />

graders, not only am I teaching them science, I’m also<br />

teaching them how to be independent Middle School<br />

students. In the first quarter, students learn to work both<br />

independently and with a team.” Once the foundation<br />

of the scientific method is established early on,<br />

the curriculum moves through the earth’s systems –<br />

weather, water, ocean currents, the layers of the earth<br />

(plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.), and space.<br />

“As we go through each of the systems,” continued<br />

Mrs. Volpe, “we’re using all of the skills that they learned<br />

in the beginning to make observations and use handson<br />

activities to promote lifelong learning. We also cover<br />

Earth’s place in the universe, focusing on the interaction<br />

between Earth, the moon, and the sun, and how we are<br />

exploring other planets in our solar system and beyond<br />

to determine if there are any other habitable places<br />

out there.”<br />

28 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Alejandra Burgos-Valentin, a rising seventh grader,<br />

hopes one day to pursue a career in space or weather<br />

science. “I feel that sixth grade science has been very<br />

helpful in preparing me for more challenging science<br />

classes in the future,” said Alejandra. “One of the things<br />

I learned was to be independent in learning. I feel that<br />

this helped me figure out things even when I did not<br />

understand them. Also, I learned very important things<br />

like the scientific method and doing experiments<br />

that helped me prepare for harder experiments in<br />

future classes.”<br />

By the end of sixth grade science, students have<br />

an understanding of the earth’s surface, water, the<br />

atmosphere, and how they interact to support life on<br />

our planet. When they enter the seventh grade, they<br />

encounter the question What constitutes a living thing?<br />

as they continue to engage with the scientific method.<br />

Mrs. Joslyn Roberts-Judy, the seventh-grade life science<br />

teacher, said, “We start to talk about cycles. Most items<br />

that we deal with day to day are a part of a biotic system.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y either were alive, are alive, or may be a part of a<br />

building block that will be alive.” This leads into scientific<br />

laws and theories. One goal is for students to gain an<br />

understanding of how scientific laws and theories can<br />

change over time as new evidence emerges. One of<br />

Mrs. Judy’s favorite archaic theories that she enjoys telling<br />

students about is the theory of spontaneous generation.<br />

“<strong>The</strong>y always laugh at that,” said Mrs. Judy. “<strong>The</strong>y think<br />

it’s the silliest thing that that’s what we used to think.” But<br />

she uses this theory to promote the idea of the importance<br />

of being a lifelong learner and challenging their thinking as<br />

they discover contrary evidence.<br />

Eisha Cheema, a rising eighth grader, wishes to pursue<br />

a career in the medical field and feels that seventh grade<br />

science built a strong foundation for that career path.<br />

“Seventh grade science has helped me prepare for more<br />

challenging science classes in the future because many<br />

higher-level classes require a strong foundation in biology,<br />

such as genetics, evolution, and cellular structures and<br />

functions,” said Eisha. “Seventh grade science has<br />

aroused my curiosity and has helped me with problem<br />

solving, data analysis, and scientific writing. Doing<br />

experiments with my classmates has helped build my<br />

teamwork skills and communication skills with others<br />

in my class.”<br />

When students reach the eighth grade, they continue to<br />

learn and build on the scientific method, but the focus<br />

shifts to data. Students consider how they will represent<br />

data, how they will graph it, and how they will analyze it.<br />

<strong>The</strong>y begin to hone statistical tools that many students<br />

elsewhere do not encounter until college.<br />

I believe the Montverde<br />

Academy Middle School<br />

science program is inspiring,<br />

insightful, informative, and<br />

truly something special.<br />

Dhairya Rupareliya, Rising Ninth Grader<br />

Mr. Werner, the eighth grade physical science teacher,<br />

said, “<strong>The</strong>y learn how to use spreadsheets and tools<br />

that scientists use. <strong>The</strong>y look at actual published works<br />

and see that their writing is very similar to the published<br />

works.” For the first half of the year, students learn these<br />

skills and how science works. <strong>The</strong>y formulate their own<br />

experiments; sharpen their research skills; and learn how<br />

to find information, evaluate sources, and cite sources.<br />

“When they do projects, I want them to choose topics that<br />

they are very interested in,” said Mr. Werner. “We had a<br />

student this year who pulled up some research that was<br />

published in a biomechanics journal, and he actually<br />

critiqued it. He argued how it was wrong and gave good<br />

reasons why it was wrong. <strong>The</strong> student was dead on. And<br />

I said, ‘Hey, future sports scientist right there.’ He really<br />

knows his craft. All of these students will remember these<br />

experiments for the rest of their lives because they spent a<br />

week collecting data and doing all of this for the thing that<br />

they love. That’s the lifelong learner part. <strong>The</strong>y can see<br />

that you can use science for everything that you do.” In<br />

the second semester, students apply the skills acquired in<br />

the first semester to physics and chemistry, making them<br />

well prepared for Upper School science classes.<br />

Dhairya Rupareliya, a rising ninth grader, feels that his<br />

science classes in the Middle School have prepared him<br />

well for the classes he will take after entering the Upper<br />

School this coming school year. “I learned in the Middle<br />

School the basics and fundamentals of science – earth<br />

science, biology, physics, and much more,” said Dhairya.<br />

“Learning these basics and fundamentals, combined<br />

with my amazing teachers who taught them, will make it<br />

much easier in the Upper School to get a good grasp and<br />

understanding of the content. It will allow me to go deep<br />

into understanding the more complex concepts without<br />

having to trace back to the basics. I also believe that the<br />

Middle School science program sparked my passion and<br />

interest for science because of the many opportunities to<br />

explore, and it instilled in me an interest in many areas of<br />

science. I believe the Montverde Academy Middle School<br />

science program is inspiring, insightful, informative, and<br />

truly something special.”<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 29


Ms.<br />

Melissa<br />

Benner<br />

By Ms. Courtney Williams, Middle School Social Studies Teacher<br />

Mr. Troy Urquhart, Ms. Melissa Benner, and Mrs. Emilie Fracker<br />

As the school year draws to a close, it is with great pleasure<br />

to announce that Ms. Melissa Benner is the <strong>2023</strong> Montverde<br />

Academy Middle School Teacher of the Year! Ms. Benner's<br />

passion for teaching mathematics has made a lasting impact<br />

on her students as she finishes her third academic year at<br />

Montverde Academy. Ms. Benner's approach to teaching goes<br />

beyond simply imparting knowledge. She is committed to<br />

creating an inclusive and supportive classroom environment<br />

that fosters learning and personal growth.<br />

One of Ms. Benner's greatest strengths is her ability to<br />

connect with her students. She makes a conscious effort to<br />

get to know each of her students individually, understanding<br />

their strengths, personalities, and learning styles. Her door is<br />

always open to help former, current, or future students alike.<br />

“Ms. Benner is a teacher that cares about the successes of<br />

her students throughout their educational journey, even after<br />

their time in the Middle School has ended. She cares about<br />

the MVA community and is always looking for ways to make<br />

an appearance to show support,” said Coach Caitlin Griffis,<br />

Head Softball Coach and Middle School PE teacher.<br />

Ms. Benner is also a master of making math fun and<br />

engaging. She uses a variety of teaching strategies, including<br />

games and real-world scenarios, to make math relevant and<br />

interesting to her students. This year, students were excited<br />

to test out their “Barbie Zipline,” dispelling the myth that<br />

learning about geometry and trigonometry is dry. Students are<br />

challenged to uncover math and apply the concepts learned in<br />

their everyday world.<br />

but she has also achieved her own as she pursued an<br />

advanced degree from the American College of Education<br />

in Curriculum and Instruction in 2022.<br />

Ms. Benner also teaches the Leadership elective, where<br />

she coaches students on how to foster their own effective<br />

leadership style in the Middle School. Through discussions,<br />

videos, and hands-on planning, students shape their own<br />

leadership initiatives to drive change in the community.<br />

Her dedication to her students' goals has provided them with<br />

valuable leadership and teamwork experience. “<strong>The</strong> number<br />

one word that comes to mind when I think of Ms. Benner<br />

is ‘support.’ She is always ready to support her students,<br />

colleagues, and administrators with positivity, practicality, and<br />

humor. She is solutions-oriented, and if she doesn't know how<br />

to help someone or how to fix a problem, she will persist in<br />

finding a solution,” said Emilie Fracker, Associate Dean of the<br />

Middle School.<br />

Ms. Benner's passion for teaching and commitment to her<br />

students have not gone unnoticed. “Ms. Benner brings the<br />

best energy and attitude to the Middle School. Her passion is<br />

contagious and inspires others to move out of their comfort<br />

zones in the best interests of the kids,” said Mrs. Sara Parets,<br />

sixth grade English teacher. Her dedication, passion, and<br />

commitment to teaching have earned her the well-deserved<br />

title of Middle School Teacher of the Year.<br />

Congratulations, Ms. Benner!<br />

Ms. Benner believes that every student has the potential to<br />

excel in math and strives to provide them with the tools and<br />

support necessary to achieve their goals. Not only has she<br />

encouraged her students to reach their personal goals,<br />

30 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>


Ms.<br />

Marca<br />

Hoyle<br />

By Kristy Khadka, Class of ’25<br />

Mr. David Bernatavitz, Ms. Marca Hoyle, and Mr. Jon Hopman<br />

Ms. Marca Hoyle is one of MVA’s highly qualified social<br />

studies teachers. Though this is only her second year<br />

at the Academy, Ms. Hoyle has already made quite the<br />

impact on the MVA community and has fully committed to<br />

enriching the school through her well-crafted courses and<br />

participation! Ms. Hoyle is a qualified Advanced Placement<br />

teacher, taking on AP Human Geography and excelling at<br />

helping her students through this rigorous course.<br />

Eros Sanchez, Class of ’25, who took Ms. Hoyle's class<br />

said, “She always made learning very comprehensive<br />

and fun. She is an extremely kind and helpful resource<br />

and always made me feel challenged and accounted for.<br />

Through the use of different case studies, she allowed me<br />

to have extensive preparation for my AP exam, leading me<br />

to feel very confident in my score.” Ms. Hoyle has helped<br />

several students achieve high scores on their exams and<br />

has fostered a strong educational environment. In addition<br />

to her AP class, Ms. Hoyle has also created several<br />

additional electives that showcase her passion for history<br />

and current events, such as medieval studies, philosophy,<br />

global politics, and Model UN, the latter being so popular<br />

that she now also teaches Model UN II Honors! <strong>The</strong>se<br />

diverse courses offer fun and challenging new ideas to<br />

students and are super enjoyable!<br />

Quinn Fitzpatrick, Class of ’24, described Ms. Hoyle as<br />

“one of the most effective teachers I’ve had. Having taken<br />

both her AP Human Geography class and global politics<br />

elective, I can definitely say that she has nurtured my<br />

interest in the political world and its issues. Ms. Hoyle<br />

fosters a professional and fun classroom environment as<br />

well as Model UN experience. I am so incredibly grateful<br />

to have her as my teacher and club advisor.” Ms. Hoyle is<br />

Montverde Academy Cross Country Invitational<br />

also a teacher advisor for the Model UN club, and with her<br />

time and support, the club has grown tremendously.<br />

Ms. Hoyle puts in a great deal of effort to help the Model<br />

UN club, such as chaperoning at conferences and<br />

helping at Night for the Cure! Lyder Reksten, Class of ’26,<br />

excitedly said, “Ms. Hoyle never fails to make you feel<br />

prepared, excited, and supported. She is one of the best<br />

teachers I have ever had, and although my time in AP<br />

Human Geography is over, I am thrilled for the next few<br />

years in Model UN. Ms. Hoyle is more than deserving of<br />

this award, and I am ecstatic for her!”<br />

Ms. Hoyle is more than just an excellent teacher and<br />

passionate club sponsor; she also has an amazing and<br />

unique personality that draws students to her and makes<br />

them feel safe and comfortable. Dimitri Tentomas, Class<br />

of ’25, mentioned, “In addition to [Ms. Hoyle’s] amazing<br />

teaching, I will always appreciate her sense of humor and<br />

how she is able to make me smile every day in class,” and<br />

Sophomore Class President Zoha Bajwa shared these<br />

sentiments, saying, “Personally, I have been in two of<br />

[Ms. Hoyle’s] classes and highly recommend them to any<br />

student who wants to take a class that is both challenging<br />

and intensely fascinating. Balancing this rigorousness,<br />

she is a very cheery and light-hearted person and never<br />

fails to make her students laugh.” It’s clear from these<br />

student testimonials that Ms. Hoyle is a fabulous educator<br />

and amazing person, and Carington Helms, Class of ’26,<br />

perfectly sums it up, saying, “Ms. Hoyle is a phenomenal<br />

teacher and mentor. She sets the bar high for her students<br />

and guides them through the process.... She was a<br />

wonderful teacher and so deserving of this award.”<br />

Thanks to all her hard work and dedication, Ms. Hoyle<br />

definitely earned this award, and it’s exciting to see what<br />

more she’ll accomplish in the future!<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 31

Biomedical<br />

STEM SAC<br />

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

Upper School students at Montverde Academy have the unique opportunity to select a<br />

Study Area Concentration (SAC) course of study that is in alignment with their interest<br />

area. Choosing a particular track early can help make the student’s college application<br />

more competitive by demonstrating the student’s high level of commitment to a<br />

particular area, something that is highly valued by college admissions officers.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Biomedical track is one of several offerings in the<br />

STEM SAC and is quite popular, boasting a total of<br />

30 students in the program, the largest group in the<br />

STEM SAC. “It grows every year,” said Mrs. Sarah<br />

Schlussel, the advisor for the biomedical track. She<br />

directs students in this track to take AP Biology, anatomy<br />

& physiology, kinesiology, biochemistry, along with a<br />

variety of math classes. Dr. Ramirez, whose background<br />

is in biochemistry, teaches the biochemistry courses<br />

that are required for the STEM SAC, as well as Polymer<br />

Chemistry, AP Chemistry, and Honors Chemistry.<br />

In addition to taking these classes, the biomedical<br />

students meet together monthly in a small group with<br />

Mrs. Schlussel. In this small-group setting, students<br />

have the opportunity to listen to guest speakers, watch<br />

surgery videos, and engage in a variety of hands-on<br />

activities to keep them informed and current on the latest<br />

developments in the field, including interpreting EKG’s<br />

and learning how to take blood pressure. In the spring of<br />

2019, students even received Stop the Bleed training to<br />

learn what to do in the event of an individual having a<br />

severed artery.<br />

This past spring, Dr. Akshay Naraine ʼ13, an MVA alum<br />

who now holds a Ph.D. in neurophysiology, spoke to<br />

the biomedical group and discussed his research. “In<br />

his lecture, Akshay reflected fondly on his time in the<br />

biomedical program, which helped him to narrow his focus<br />

when he got to college,” said Ms. Nyoshie Higgins, MVA’s<br />

Alumni Relations Coordinator. “<strong>The</strong> in-depth exposure to<br />

subject areas that are usually reserved for college-level<br />

students and the knowledge he gained helped him to build<br />

a strong academic foundation, which greatly enhanced<br />

32 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

his college applications. As a result, he was accepted<br />

into Florida Atlantic University’s pre-med program with<br />

a guaranteed spot in their medical school. Although<br />

life took him in a different direction, as he now holds a<br />

Ph.D. in integrative neuroscience instead of an M.D.,<br />

his experience at MVA played a crucial gateway into the<br />

biomedical sciences.”<br />

Students in this STEM SAC are also able to explore<br />

biomedicine beyond the walls of MVA. Mrs. Schlussel has<br />

taken students to urology and pathology conferences,<br />

and she has even arranged for students to shadow local<br />

physicians. Last year Mr. David Bernatavitz, the Assistant<br />

Head of School, connected the biomedical students with a<br />

plastic surgeon who invited the students to spend the day<br />

with him. All the juniors and seniors in the program were<br />

able to go. “[<strong>The</strong> surgeon] wanted to mentor them and<br />

encourage them,” said Mrs. Schlussel, “so he talked with<br />

them about what he was doing and what was going on.<br />

It was a really cool opportunity for them to spend the day<br />

with the surgeon. We do a lot of different things to help<br />

encourage them in their interest in biomedicine.”<br />

Zackary Spangler ʼ23, said, “I feel this program has been<br />

extremely beneficial as it provides an environment for<br />

students to bond over a shared interest while expanding<br />

upon that interest and developing it through exclusive<br />

experiences, such as medical shadowing, clinical tours,<br />

and guest speeches from those in the field.<br />

<strong>The</strong> experience of creating an original APEX project,<br />

a personal research study, was also a large benefit<br />

of the program.”<br />

Victoria Vivaldi ʼ23, said, “<strong>The</strong> Biomedical STEM SAC<br />

Program has elevated my high school experience<br />

and immensely prepared me for collegiate research.<br />

Throughout this program, I discovered my passion for<br />

equine-related research and medical sciences. Mrs.<br />

Schlussel was a fabulous mentor that provided endless<br />

guidance and support. From guest speakers to creating<br />

my own research project, I couldn’t imagine a better way<br />

to end my senior year.”<br />

Srishti Tandon ʼ23, said, “<strong>The</strong> Biomedical STEM SAC<br />

allowed me not only to elevate my knowledge and<br />

understanding of a potential career field but it gave me<br />

opportunities I wouldn’t be able to explore had<br />

I not been in the SAC program. For example,<br />

I was able to observe an in-person hand<br />

surgery, directly in the operating room, and<br />

shadow an acclaimed plastic surgeon!<br />

<strong>The</strong> program also allowed my peers and<br />

me to experience many aspects of a<br />

vast career field to weed out what we<br />

do and don’t want to pursue as we<br />

further our education.”<br />

Students conclude the program with<br />

their own research project known as<br />

APEX. “<strong>The</strong> APEX project is required of<br />

each graduating senior in the program,”<br />

said Mrs. Schlussel. “In their junior year,<br />

they begin working with their faculty advisor<br />

to start brainstorming ideas and doing some<br />

preliminary research. <strong>The</strong>ir project can be an independent<br />

experimental inquiry, a meta-analysis of several studies,<br />

or building of a prototype or model. During their senior<br />

year, they complete their projects, collect their data, or<br />

build their models. In the third quarter of their senior year,<br />

they write up a formal research paper of what they did and<br />

discovered through their project, and then they present<br />

their projects to the entire STEM group around March<br />

each year. It is kind of like a science fair project, but a little<br />

more specialized and in depth. We want it to be closer to<br />

what they will experience in college if they are involved in<br />

scientific research.”<br />


By the <strong>2023</strong> NFC Leadership Team: Srishti Tandon, Lenny Polcaro, Sophie Ressler, and Mrs. Kristine Walsworth<br />

Cancer is a disease that affects countless individuals across the globe – a disease<br />

that can strike anyone, regardless of age, gender, or race. That’s why the student<br />

directors of Night for the Cure are proud to host an event that brings all three divisions<br />

of Montverde Academy together to raise funds for cancer research and care within<br />

our community.<br />

Through merchandise sales, donations, and event<br />

participation, we generate significant donations for<br />

our three beneficiaries: UF Shands Cancer Research<br />

Center, <strong>The</strong> Greater Clermont Cancer Foundation, and<br />

Cornerstone Hospice. Hosting this annual event provides<br />

an opportunity for everyone to unite and contribute to a<br />

cause that affects us all.<br />

As an event, Night for the Cure is a combination of an<br />

early evening carnival and later evening community<br />

connection. With the help of 25 teams and clubs from<br />

across all three divisions, the evening was one to<br />

remember! From hamburgers and hotdogs to basketball<br />

hoops to duck ponds, donuts, and lemonade, Night for the<br />

Cure opened with food, fun, and fellowship for all.<br />

In addition to our carnival-like part of the event, Night<br />

for the Cure strives to recognize and celebrate survivors<br />

of cancer. Members of the MVA Community who are<br />

cancer survivors, along with their families, are invited to<br />

attend the event as guests of honor. We welcome them<br />

to the Heroes Tent to enjoy a quiet space with a catered<br />

dinner sponsored by Outback Steakhouse of Clermont.<br />

<strong>The</strong> presence of our heroes and their families serves as<br />

a reminder of the fight against cancer. It is our honor to<br />

serve those who have battled the disease and won, and to<br />

inspire hope and courage to those who are still fighting.<br />

After faces have been painted, prizes have been won,<br />

and the sun has gone down, we highlight the community<br />

connection with a guest speaker. This year we were<br />

34 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Trinity Clarke<br />

Molly Smith<br />

Class of 2020<br />

<strong>2023</strong><br />

blessed to have one of our own, Molly Smith, MVA Class<br />

of 2020, return to share her story with us. In January<br />

<strong>2023</strong>, at just 21 years old, Molly was diagnosed with<br />

ovarian cancer. Based on her experience with surgery and<br />

chemo, Molly wrote and shared “10 Lessons Cancer Has<br />

Taught Me.” Through her moving address, she reminded<br />

us to be grateful for our support systems and to be<br />

thoroughly present in our own lives. As an award-winning<br />

filmmaker, storyteller, and student at Yale University, Molly<br />

is currently working on a documentary of her journey. We<br />

can only imagine its impact as we got an incredible look<br />

into what will surely be an impactful film.<br />

As Trinity Clarke’s voice rang out with Rihanna’s “Lift Me<br />

Up,” we silently walked the track, thinking of all those<br />

touched by cancer. To be in such a place at such a time,<br />

we couldn’t be more grateful for our MVA Community and<br />

NFC <strong>2023</strong>, Lighting the Way to a Night to Remember!<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 35

By Mr. Michael Damon, Sports Information Manager<br />


<strong>The</strong> Montverde Academy girls soccer team took on<br />

all comers and reached the summit by season’s end,<br />

collecting the state’s top prize in winning the <strong>2023</strong> FHSAA<br />

Class 3A state championship.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles finished the year with a 15-2-2 overall<br />

record, which included a pair of victories in winning the<br />

FHSAA district tournament and three wins in the regional<br />

tournament to qualify for the state championship.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles were led throughout the season by Antonella<br />

Mazziotto with a team-high 16 goals to go, along with five<br />

assists. Meanwhile, Estefania Gonzalez netted 14 goals<br />

and offered six assists. She scored three goals in the state<br />

championship game to put the exclamation point on what<br />

was a stellar year. Grace Sodermark led the Eagles with<br />

nine assists, while goalkeeper Genesis Perez Watson<br />

logged over 1,300 minutes in net and made 49 saves<br />

while posting 10 shutouts.<br />

Perez Watson and teammate Elsa Steadman were<br />

rewarded for their great seasons by being selected to<br />

compete in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association<br />

(FACA) Girls Soccer All-Star Classic after the season.<br />


MVA boys basketball had another great season,<br />

finishing 23-3 overall and winning the 2022-23 National<br />

Interscholastic Basketball Conference (NIBC).<br />

Once again, the Eagles competed against a nationally<br />

renowned schedule as they took on the best the United<br />

States had to offer en route to qualifying for another<br />

GEICO High School Nationals postseason tournament,<br />

earning the No. 1 seed in the process.<br />

Statistically, the Eagles were led by Liam McNeeley with<br />

12.4 points per game, while Derik Queen averaged 11.7<br />

points and led the team in rebounds, averaging 6.6 per<br />

game. Cooper Flagg averaged 9.8 points per game and<br />

led the Eagles in steals per game with 1.6 and blocks per<br />

game with 2.2.<br />

Girls Soccer wins <strong>2023</strong> FHSAA State Championship<br />

36 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Five players earned NIBC postseason awards, including<br />

McNeeley (First Team All-NIBC), Queen (Second Team<br />

All-NIBC), Flagg (Second Team All-NIBC & All-NIBC<br />

Defensive Team), Kwame Evans (Third Team All-NIBC),<br />

and Sean Stewart (NIBC Sixth Man Award). Additionally,<br />

McNeeley and Flagg were named MaxPreps<br />

Honorable Mentions.<br />


<strong>The</strong> girls weightlifting team had a solid season, which<br />

saw six of its team members qualify for the regional meet,<br />

including Skye Arcia, Ava Babington, Nyomi Drayton,<br />

Hannah Herbert, Olivia McLean, and Gabby Palanti.<br />

During the season, the Eagles competed against highly<br />

touted teams from around the state and earned two wins<br />

in the Olympic discipline and one in Traditional<br />

during dual meets. <strong>The</strong> Eagles also finished as high as<br />

second place in the multi-team meets. Herbert had an<br />

impressive turnout in the regional, finishing third in the<br />

Olympic discipline.<br />


<strong>The</strong> boys weightlifting team competed in seven matches<br />

during the <strong>2023</strong> season, including the Florida High School<br />

Athletics Association (FHSAA) Regional meet.<br />

Five team members, including Alejandro Caballero, Titus<br />

DeClercq, Jack Gherghel, Jameson Troy, and Javier<br />

Sarriera qualified for the regional meet.<br />

goals and had a team-high 30 assists. Zander Brasher led<br />

the Eagles with 83 groundballs while taking a majority of<br />

faceoffs this season. Andrew Chehansky logged over 600<br />

minutes in net and made 112 saves on the season.<br />


<strong>The</strong> Montverde Academy boys tennis team had a<br />

great deal of success this past season, and the Eagles<br />

competed against highly skilled tennis players throughout<br />

the United States.<br />

Amongst the competitions that MVA boys tennis players<br />

competed in include the Battle of Boca, Universal Tennis<br />

Ranking, and Premier Tennis Tour.<br />

Dylan Breen had a great season, which included going<br />

undefeated in team competition events. Additionally,<br />

Joaquim Domingues, Adam Townsend, and Pedro<br />

Mendonca earned first place at various meets throughout<br />

the season.<br />


<strong>The</strong> Montverde Academy girls tennis team competed<br />

against tough competition all season long during the<br />

<strong>2023</strong> spring season.<br />

Willa Polen and Erica Hagi stood out during the season.<br />

Polen earned first place at Lake Cane, while Hagi was<br />

undefeated during team competitions all season long.<br />

During the regular season, the Eagles won one dual meet<br />

and finished first overall in one multi-team meet. Each<br />

team member set new personal bests throughout<br />

the season.<br />


<strong>The</strong> boys lacrosse team finished the <strong>2023</strong> season with a<br />

9-7 overall record, and the Eagles earned a bid into the<br />

FHSAA Class 1A Region 2 tournament.<br />

<strong>The</strong> team was led in scoring by Coen Woodland with 57<br />

goals, while fellow teammate Seth Isenhour netted 41<br />

Nicole Sanchez<br />

Alexander Mounsey<br />

Coen Woodland<br />



<strong>The</strong> girls beach volleyball team finished the <strong>2023</strong> season<br />

with a 10-8 overall record and qualified for the regional<br />

tournament for the second year in a row. <strong>The</strong> Eagles took<br />

on highly skilled teams from throughout the region and<br />

state and picked up at least one win in 16 of the<br />

18 matches.<br />

<strong>The</strong> duo of Thalita Marangon and Gracie McClain<br />

competed together all season long and had the best<br />

record on the team, combining to go 16-2 at pair<br />

No. 1.<br />

MVA was ranked No. 26 in the state of Florida before<br />

entering the district tournament at the No. 1 seed.<br />


<strong>The</strong> boys track & field team had another fantastic<br />

season in <strong>2023</strong>, taking gold in the <strong>2023</strong> Citrus<br />

League Championship, as well as the FHSAA District<br />

Championship and Regional Championship. <strong>The</strong> Eagles<br />

then fought valiantly to a fourth-place finish out of 56<br />

teams at the state championship meet.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles had individual winners in each team meet<br />

during the season, including the state championship meet<br />

itself, when Alex Georgiev took home gold in the pole<br />

vault, winning by more than two feet over the event’s<br />

second-place finisher.<br />

Teammates Issam Asinga (100 meters, 200 meters),<br />

Jayvian Greene (100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters),<br />

Kyle Johnson (long jump, triple jump), and Riley Novack<br />

(1600 meters, 3200 meters) also earned wins during the<br />

course of the regular season.<br />

Additionally, several team members, including Asinga,<br />

also competed in national meets and earned wins in the<br />

process. He set a new record for the fastest 100 meters<br />

by a high school student in history (9.83 seconds). He<br />

also set a new national high school record for the fastest<br />

200 meters (19.97 seconds).<br />

Thalita Marangon<br />

During indoor season, Asinga earned the national<br />

championship and set a new national indoor record in<br />

the 60 meters (6.59 seconds) and 200 meters (20.48<br />

seconds). Meanwhile, Johnson was the national indoor<br />

champion in the triple jump (14.74 meters).<br />


<strong>The</strong> girls track & field team had another superb season,<br />

which included wins in the FHSAA District and Regional<br />

championships before a hard fought sixth-place finish<br />

of 57 teams at the state championship.<br />

Several team members earned individual wins<br />

throughout the season, including Ellise Dickinson (100<br />

meters, 200 meters, 400 meters), D’Asia Duncan<br />

(100 meter hurdles, 400 meter hurdles),<br />

Boys & Girls Track & Field<br />

38 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Adaejah Hodge (100 meters), and Michelle Smith<br />

(800 meters, 100 meter hurdles). Hodge and Smith also<br />

competed against highly talented athletes on the national<br />

scale and earning wins, both at the Texas Tech Corky/<br />

Crofoot Shootout. Hodge won the 200 meters (22.31<br />

seconds) and Smith in the 400 meter hurdles (56.55<br />

seconds). Additionally, Hodge was a national individual<br />

indoor champion, winning the 200 meters in a new junior<br />

world record (22.33 seconds).<br />


Back in the FHSAA for the first time in several years,<br />

the Montverde Academy baseball team dominated its<br />

opponents and went 25-4 on the season, including<br />

winning the FHSAA Class 3A District championship,<br />

before advancing to the regional championship game.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles took on the best the state and the nation<br />

had to offer in several ultra-competitive tournaments and<br />

challenging regular season games.<br />

MVA had a team batting average of .346 and was led<br />

by Manny Retana who batted .524. Meanwhile, Logan<br />

Chapman batted .416 and led the team with 29 runs<br />

batted in and 10 doubles.<br />

Pitching wise, Logan Bevis went 7-0 and had an earned<br />

run average of 0.80. He pitched a team-high 52 2/3<br />

innings and struck out a team-high 75 batters.<br />


<strong>The</strong> MVA softball team went 23-7 on the season and won<br />

their FHSAA district and regional championships to earn a<br />

spot in the state championship semifinal round.<br />

<strong>The</strong> regional championship was the first for the Eagles<br />

since the 2018 season. <strong>The</strong> <strong>2023</strong> season also marks<br />

the first time that MVA softball won its annual Montverde<br />

Academy Invitational Softball Tournament (MAIST).<br />

Logan Bevis<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles were led by Ari Jimenez with a .589 batting<br />

average, which set a school record for highest batting<br />

average by a Montverde Academy softball player in one<br />

season. Jimenez also set a new MVA record for stolen<br />

bases in a season with 38. Meanwhile, Luna Taboas<br />

batted .549 and led the team with 40 runs. Danika<br />

Spinogatti batted .442 on the season with a team-high<br />

four triples and team co-highs of eight doubles and four<br />

home runs.<br />

In the pitching circle, Nevaeh Williams logged the majority<br />

of the innings, tossing a team-high 100 2/3 en route to<br />

finishing with a 13-2 record, a 1.18 earned run average,<br />

and 101 strikeouts.<br />

Luna Taboas<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 39



Congratulations to our student-athletes who announced their college decisions during Signing Days<br />

on November 9, 2022; February 22, <strong>2023</strong>; and April 26, <strong>2023</strong>! Student-athletes earned a full or partial<br />

scholarship totaling over 1 million dollars!<br />

Issam Asinga<br />

Texas A&M<br />

Track & Field<br />

Micayah Holland<br />

University of Texas - Austin<br />

Track & Field<br />

Kyle Johnson<br />

<strong>The</strong> University of Connecticut<br />

Track & Field<br />

Zyaire Nuriddin<br />

University of Tennessee<br />

Track & Field<br />

Chih Yu “Aaron” Lin<br />

Lander University<br />

Golf<br />

Adam Gregg<br />

Lenoir Rhyne University<br />

Golf<br />

Eugene Kang<br />

Hofstra University<br />

Soccer<br />

Elsa Stedman<br />

East Carolina University<br />

Soccer<br />

Zach Nolan-Murphy<br />

Jacksonville State University<br />

Tennis<br />

Dylan Breen<br />

Siena College<br />

Tennis<br />

Erica Hagi<br />

Bellarmine University<br />

Tennis<br />

Pape Mar Boye<br />

Clemson University<br />

Soccer<br />

40 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Thalita Marangon<br />

University of Chicago<br />

Indoor Volleyball<br />

Oscar Hernandez Gonzalez<br />

Nova Southeastern University<br />

Baseball<br />

Jack Garvey<br />

College of Central Florida<br />

Baseball<br />

Micah Larry<br />

University of Georgia<br />

Track & Field<br />

Victor Jose Martinez<br />

College of Central Florida<br />

Baseball<br />

Tainá de Lima Nunes<br />

New Mexico Junior College<br />

Indoor Volleyball<br />

Luisa Ayub Caldeira Rios<br />

University of North Carolina<br />

Swimming<br />

Stephen Annor Gyamfi<br />

University of Virginia<br />

Soccer<br />

Ciara Grimes<br />

Bryn Mawr College<br />

Soccer<br />

Aiyana Leslie<br />

Daytona State College<br />

Soccer<br />

Vanessa Manoil<br />

Stetson University<br />

Soccer<br />

Alfred Baafi<br />

University of Kentucky<br />

Soccer<br />

Mohamed Larabi Cisset<br />

Penn State University<br />

Soccer<br />

Charles Logan Chapman<br />

Georgia Tech<br />

Baseball<br />

Mouhamed Pouye<br />

University of Central Florida<br />

Soccer<br />

James Goodis<br />

Indiana University<br />

Basketball<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 41

Maria “Duda” Silva Mendes<br />

St. Thomas University<br />

Soccer<br />

Riley Novack<br />

University of Florida<br />

Track & Field<br />

Malang Zakaria Mandiang<br />

University of Central Florida<br />

Soccer<br />

Seydou Diop<br />

Xavier University<br />

Soccer<br />

Logan Cozier<br />

Colorado State University<br />

Soccer<br />

Sebastián Ortiz<br />

Regis College<br />

Soccer<br />

Nicholas Kourakis<br />

Carnegie Mellon University<br />

Soccer<br />

Mariella Malabad<br />

Florida Atlantic University<br />

Equestrian<br />

Kady Bills-McCoy<br />

Long Island University<br />

Gymnastics<br />

Mason Shale<br />

Lindenwood University<br />

Soccer<br />

Martin Hurtado<br />

Mount St. Mary's University<br />

Golf<br />

Santiago Bonequi<br />

Mount St. Mary's University<br />

Golf<br />

Yamato Kimura<br />

Lander University<br />

Golf<br />

42 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

By Mr. Michael Damon, Sports Information Manager<br />

<strong>The</strong> Montverde Academy girls basketball team, for the<br />

second year in a row, was the best high school basketball<br />

team in the country as the Eagles once again won the<br />

GEICO High School Nationals championship. And while<br />

last season’s team was impressive as it was, the 2022-23<br />

season proved to be even more impressive.<br />

Playing against arguably the toughest schedule in the<br />

nation, which included six tournaments in four different<br />

states and three games against teams ranked in the<br />

nation’s top-25, the Eagles ran the gauntlet, winning all<br />

but one game the entire season.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Eagles also proved their resiliency on the day they<br />

needed it the most. In the championship game of the<br />

GEICO High School Nationals, MVA fell behind early and<br />

the Eagles were down 34-20 by halftime. However, MVA<br />

outscored its opponent, Long Island Lutheran, 40-20 in the<br />

second half, including by a 19-6 difference in the fourth<br />

quarter, to complete the comeback, securing the second<br />

championship in a row.<br />

Statistically, the Eagles were led by Mjracle Sheppard<br />

with 11.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 4.5 steals. Meanwhile,<br />

Sahnya Jah averaged 10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.7<br />

assists per game, while Lety Vasconcelos had a teamhigh<br />

6.5 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game.<br />

<strong>The</strong> abundance of success led the Eagles to honorable<br />

post-season recognition. A record six members of the<br />

team, including Sheppard, Jah, Vasconcelos, Cori<br />

Allen, Rusne Augustinaite, and Jordy Griggs, were<br />

named McDonald’s All-American nominees. Additionally,<br />

Sheppard was named a MaxPreps Honorable Mention<br />

and Vasconcelos competed in the first ever women’s Nike<br />

Hoop Summit, representing the World team. Head Coach<br />

Special Jennings served as an assistant coach for Team<br />

USA’s inaugural girls roster.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 43


<strong>2023</strong>-24 MUSIC SEASON<br />

MUSIC<br />

of the<br />

NIGHT<br />

Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber<br />

Arts Alliance Exclusive<br />


OCTOBER <strong>2023</strong> DECEMBER <strong>2023</strong><br />

JANUARY 2024<br />



FEBRUARY 2024 APRIL 2024<br />

APRIL 2024


<strong>2023</strong>-24 THEATRE SEASON<br />

THE<br />

LAST<br />

SUPPER<br />

by Larissa Fasthorse<br />

OCTOBER 6-8, <strong>2023</strong><br />

NOVEMBER14-16, <strong>2023</strong> NOVEMBER 29, <strong>2023</strong><br />


Festival<br />

based on Shakespeare’s<br />

<strong>The</strong> Tempest<br />

featuring playwright<br />

Joey Banks<br />

FEBRUARY 9-11, 2024<br />

MARCH 25-27, 2024<br />

MAY 2-4, 2024

Behind the Scenes<br />

By Mr. Dean Bell, Director of Arts<br />

Cast of “<strong>The</strong> Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”<br />

46 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Cast of “Willy Wonka”<br />

Cast of “American Top 40 Pop” Music Cabaret<br />

<strong>The</strong> author Roy T. Bennet in his book <strong>The</strong> Light in the Heart writes, “Change may<br />

not always bring growth, but there is no growth without change.” That phrase has<br />

been living constantly in my thought process over the course of this year as we begin<br />

making some major changes, both from a curricular standpoint as well as a physical<br />

infrastructural standpoint in the Fine Arts department. As Mr. Bennett alludes, these<br />

changes are necessitated by our growth but at the same time are designed to bring<br />

about greater growth to our program.<br />

We are blessed to have two wonderful buildings, both<br />

which proudly bear the name of long-time first lady of<br />

Montverde Academy, Sandra O. Stephens, devoted<br />

to the Arts here at MVA. In the last couple of years,<br />

those buildings have utilized every nook and cranny to<br />

accomplish the mission of the Fine Arts department.<br />

<strong>The</strong> opening of the Innovation Center this fall and the<br />

ability to rearrange some spaces is going to bring not<br />

only more and improved space to these buildings, but<br />

also provide a key step in the change/growth process.<br />

Specifically, graphic arts, film and television, and digital<br />

photography will be finding a new home in the Innovation<br />

Center in a collaborative suite, which will allow those<br />

programs not only the ability and space to collaborate, but<br />

also to grow and explore new areas which were heretofore<br />

limited by their space issues. Look for tremendous growth<br />

in these disciplines over the next few years.<br />

In the Fine Arts building, the space vacated by graphic<br />

arts is allowing us to create a new theatre classroom/<br />

rehearsal suite, which will house both Middle School (MS)<br />

and Upper School (US) theatre classes, but designed with<br />

a common folding wall, which will allow the entire space<br />

to be opened up into a larger rehearsal room to assist<br />

with preparation for our many and varied rehearsals. This<br />

change allows the current theatre classroom/black box to<br />

be dedicated to dance, which we will speak more of later.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 47

Dylan Bova<br />

MVA Eagle Orchestra<br />

In the Performing Arts building, the film and television<br />

studio will be remodeled and transformed into an audio<br />

recording studio. This project, which has been a longterm<br />

project undertaken by our Arts Alliance, will provide<br />

state-of-the-art recording space for our students to utilize<br />

from a performance standpoint as well as learn the<br />

technical aspects of audio recording. This space will also<br />

retain video recording capabilities, allowing our programs<br />

to expand and have access to audition and film acting<br />

training. Also, there will be a transformation of our existing<br />

media arts lab into a music production lab to support our<br />

new and burgeoning music technology class as well as<br />

a home for music composition class. This space will be<br />

outfitted with MIDI workstations and software to allow<br />

students the opportunity and access to professional level<br />

composition and creation. <strong>The</strong> two combined spaces<br />

make possible a studio set-up designed to facilitate music<br />

students and theatre techs desiring to look at futures in<br />

music and audio production.<br />

Many of you have been witness to the upgrades and<br />

changes made to Arts Alliance Alley, and there are more<br />

to come. That multi-use outdoor area between the two<br />

Arts buildings is being shaped into a space not only for<br />

entertaining, but also for small outdoor performances.<br />

Next year we have actually planned that space as a<br />

performance venue for one of the choral concerts. Again,<br />

these changes and upgrades have been facilitated by<br />

the support of our Arts Alliance. <strong>The</strong>re are also plans in<br />

place to expand the current ceramics classroom space<br />

and connect it to the other visual arts classroom, and to<br />

repurpose the old dark room area for use by our artists.<br />

In a “build it and they will come” sense, we feel these<br />

changes will not only enhance our offerings, but also<br />

allow us to continue to expand and grow both in numbers<br />

and in content. None of that, of course, happens without<br />

the additional faculty to facilitate the growth, and we are<br />

excited about these changes as well. Specifically, next<br />

year we will be elevating our adjunct voice teacher, Ms.<br />

Daniela Monzon Villegas to a full time vocal instructor<br />

status. Ms. Villegas will also now be working with both<br />

the music and theatre programs. We will be elevating<br />

our adjunct dance instructor/choreographer to a full-time<br />

position. Ms. Jessica Birt, who is already a classically<br />

trained dancer and an Applause Award winning<br />

choreographer, will be filling that role. Again, she will be<br />

working with both music and theatre as well as Middle<br />

School theatre. She will also be offering elective dance<br />

classes for both the Middle and Upper School students.<br />

One of the natural outgrowths and long range plans of<br />

the Fine Arts department was to offer dance as a major<br />

at MVA. Simultaneously with these other changes, in the<br />

fall of <strong>2023</strong>, Montverde Academy will begin its Dance<br />

Conservatory. Designed as a companion to the existing<br />

Conservatory majors, dance students will do intensive<br />

study in ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance as well as<br />

classes in dance history, kinesiology and Anatomy for<br />

Dance, Choreography and Dance Creation, among others.<br />

Having been recognized with two Applause Awards<br />

for outstanding dancers this year, we know we will see<br />

amazing results from bringing this program into our overall<br />

Arts offerings.<br />

48 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Laven Parker<br />

Cast of “<strong>The</strong> Winter's Tale”<br />

In the spring of 2018, when I was hired as the Director of<br />

Arts, I set five-year goals for the Conservatories. Amongst<br />

those were adding dance as a major and achieving an<br />

enrollment of 50 students. I am happy to say we will<br />

accomplish both of those items right on schedule. Believe<br />

me when I tell you the strategic plan continues well past<br />

these initiatives – there are some exciting things in our<br />

future. In our case, change has definitely brought us<br />

growth, and the growth will continue to bring us change.<br />

As the head of one of the top Arts education programs<br />

in the state and beyond, I assure you we have created a<br />

vibrant and thriving place for our students to explore their<br />

passion in the Arts. Our graduates continue to leave here<br />

to attend the top institutions in the country and excel in<br />

their chosen Art(s). Thank you, as always, for your support<br />

of our programs and students.<br />

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE <strong>2023</strong><br />

Applause Award Winners<br />

Lily Downs Outstanding Leading Performer 9 to 5<br />

Sydney Barker Outstanding Singer 9 to 5<br />

Arianna Parrilla Outstanding Singer December Songs<br />

Eros Sanchez Outstanding Dancer December Songs<br />

Isabella Jones Outstanding Dancer December Songs<br />

Mrs. Jessica Birt Outstanding Choreographer December Songs<br />

Mr. Dean Bell Outstanding Music Director December Songs<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 49

<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son's Revenge<br />

Willy Wonka<br />

By Mrs. Nichole Smith, Communications Coordinator<br />

<strong>The</strong> first Montverde Academy theatre production I ever<br />

saw was the musical “9 to 5,” which set an incredibly high<br />

standard for other productions the rest of the year. I soon<br />

learned that excellence is the norm for MVA Fine Arts. If<br />

you had the privilege to see the Middle School theatre’s<br />

productions in particular, “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge”<br />

and “Willy Wonka,” you may be wondering what gives<br />

Middle School theatre its unique magic."<br />

“<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge,” a melodrama written and<br />

directed by the Middle School <strong>The</strong>atre Director, Mr. Adrian<br />

Wright-Ahern, paid attention to the tiniest details and<br />

demonstrated that Middle School theatre is no exception<br />

to MVA’s rule of excellence. <strong>The</strong> clever, witty program that<br />

I held in my hand was more than simply a cast list – it<br />

was a character itself. And, in the spirit of the melodrama,<br />

audience members were encouraged to purchase popcorn<br />

to throw at the play’s villains. Students flawlessly delivered<br />

their linguistically complex lines, revealing to me that they<br />

were trusted and that they had been afforded the time<br />

and resources to make the play the tour de force that it<br />

was, further showcasing the brilliance that I would grow to<br />

expect from future Middle School productions.<br />

But where did the magic come from? I wouldn’t find out<br />

that answer until I was a backstage volunteer for “Willy<br />

Wonka,” <strong>The</strong> Middle School’s spring musical production.<br />

Success with a musical that has a wildly popular book/<br />

movie counterpart is never a guarantee and can come<br />

with a high risk. If you don’t make it unique in some<br />

way, you run the risk of boring your audience. But if you<br />

change it too much, you run the risk of disappointing<br />

audience members who are there to relive the wonder<br />

and magic of the original. “Where can we put our own little<br />

creative touches to it?” Mr. Ahern asked himself. “During<br />

rehearsals, the students came up with great ideas. Even<br />

though the script was ‘Willy Wonka,’ which we know and<br />

love, we definitely had those little bits and moments that<br />

shined through and that were unique to our students,<br />

their talent, and their creative process.” Students were<br />

challenged and trusted with their creative ideas. Keye<br />

Magnuson, a rising seventh grader who hilariously took all<br />

the spit takes in “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge” and played<br />

Mike TV in “Willy Wonka,” said, “I like that our teacher and<br />

choreographers listen to our ideas and include them. If<br />

they’re good, Mr. Ahern gives us a lot of time to work on<br />

our [ideas] during class.”<br />

Being backstage, I wasn’t able to see the production<br />

in its entirety, but gauging from the uproarious laughter<br />

and applause I could hear, I could tell it was quite a hit.<br />

What impressed me most was everything that went on<br />

behind the scenes. I expected that the students would<br />

need prompts and cues from an adult to know when it<br />

was their turn to enter the stage. Instead, they ran like a<br />

programmed clock, benefiting from the muscle memory<br />

achieved by good guidance and repetition. What also<br />

impressed me was the camaraderie among the students.<br />

<strong>The</strong>se students weren’t just acting in a play together –<br />

50 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

they had each other’s backs and supported each other<br />

with their lines, choreography, and staging. <strong>The</strong>y were a<br />

team. Braelin Berry, a rising ninth grader who played the<br />

part of Gertrude in “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge” and the<br />

reporter in “Willy Wonka,” said, “I love being in the<br />

Middle school theatre program, but what I love most is<br />

the community. Everyone is so accepting, and I feel like I<br />

can always be myself around everyone in Middle School<br />

theatre. It feels like a family to me, and I have made so<br />

many friends throughout the three years I’ve been in<br />

this program.”<br />

How were they able to achieve that high level of<br />

independence or foster those friendships that seemed to<br />

be built on trust, mutual respect, and a natural desire to<br />

help each other?<br />

Before the time that MVA had a Conservatory, Mr. Ahern<br />

was the director of the Middle and Upper School theatre<br />

programs. <strong>The</strong> Middle School theatre program in particular<br />

started out as an enrichment that met during the school<br />

day a couple of times a week. That time allotment, though,<br />

fell short of what was needed to be able to put on a<br />

good production, so Mr. Ahern invited the students from<br />

the theatre enrichment to audition for the Upper School<br />

plays to give them something more. “[In that process],<br />

I stumbled upon a wonderful, wonderful thing,” said Mr.<br />

Ahern. “<strong>The</strong> Upper Schoolers suddenly stepped up to<br />

the plate and led by example, and the Middle Schoolers<br />

wanted to impress their older peers.” What Mr. Ahern<br />

discovered was the huge benefit of allowing students<br />

across the divisions to intermingle. <strong>The</strong> Upper School<br />

students even had to step up their game because of the<br />

added competition from the middle schoolers for parts in<br />

various plays.<br />

“Once the <strong>The</strong>atre Conservatory was created, which is<br />

a wonderful thing, it changed the dynamics for Upper<br />

School shows, which became Conservatory shows,” said<br />

Mr. Ahern. Middle School theatre went from being an<br />

enrichment that meets a couple of times a week to an<br />

elective that meets every day. What was once considered<br />

school-wide productions are now classified as Middle<br />

School productions; however, Upper School students,<br />

whether they are in the Conservatory or not, and Lower<br />

School students are still able to participate in<br />

those productions.<br />

Mr. Ahern sees many benefits to the Middle School having<br />

this dynamic. Not only is there an intermingling among the<br />

divisions, but there is also an eclectic group of students<br />

who might not have the opportunity to interact with each<br />

other otherwise because of the wide variety of interests<br />

represented. <strong>The</strong>y have been able to bring in students<br />

from SIMA, the basketball team, etc. to participate in<br />

various scenes, creating a special camaraderie between<br />

the theatre students and school athletes. Students once<br />

asked to have a shorter rehearsal so they could go watch<br />

the athletes play at a game, the same athletes they had<br />

worked together with in a particular play. “Another time<br />

we had basketball and soccer athletes clamoring to get<br />

in to see the shows because they worked together, they<br />

became friends, and they wanted to support each other,”<br />

said Mr. Ahern.<br />

<strong>The</strong> Middle School theatre also has faculty cameos,<br />

which give students and teachers the opportunity to<br />

work together. “<strong>The</strong> parents in the audience like it, but<br />

the students absolutely love being able to work with<br />

their teachers in a different way,” said Mr. Ahern. “Even<br />

though the teachers are still an authority figure, it’s like the<br />

teachers are in their house. I absolutely love that, and it’s<br />

something that’s unique to this program.”<br />

Beckett Lee, a rising eighth grader who played Truman<br />

in “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge” and Charlie Bucket<br />

in “Willy Wonka,” said, “When I came to MVA, I was<br />

hesitant to start the year off with a class that requires a<br />

lot of expression and emotion. Being myself comes fairly<br />

naturally to me, but having to do such a thing in front of<br />

dozens of people -- and with no sense of how they'd react<br />

-- was terrifying. But after this year, and after being part<br />

of two plays, I've come to love theatre class and all of<br />

the friends I've made in it. I've grown so much and I'm so<br />

grateful that I've had so many people willing to<br />

support me.”<br />

AJ Jackson, a rising eighth grader who played Ernest<br />

in “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge,” said, “<strong>The</strong> thing I like<br />

about the drama program is that you are able to express<br />

yourself, and it helps you ease your mind from school.”<br />

Lukas Walker, a rising eighth grader who played Adam<br />

Lackey in “<strong>The</strong> Nephew/Son’s Revenge” and Augustus<br />

Gloop in “Willy Wonka,” said, “<strong>The</strong> Middle School theatre<br />

program is great because it can give you a chance to<br />

show your true theatrical personality, and if you don’t have<br />

a personality like that, you can learn from others. Plus, it’s<br />

really easy to make friends with others.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> Middle School theatre creates an environment where<br />

someone is always there to give the cues and lend a<br />

hand, a hand that doesn’t simply act as a guide but also<br />

trusts the individual enough to allow them to think and<br />

contribute creatively. For an outside observer like me,<br />

that complex sense of community and trust looks like an<br />

effortless, well-oiled machine that’s simply doing its job.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 51

By Ms. Nyoshie Higgins, Alumni Relations Coordinator<br />

What an exciting year we had in the Alumni Office<br />

at Montverde Academy. We are so happy we were<br />

able to accomplish so much in 2022-<strong>2023</strong> and we<br />

wanted to share some photos of all the alumni that<br />

passed through campus. We want to encourage all<br />

of our alumni to visit MVA. This year we welcomed<br />

several alumni speakers who taught classes, spoke<br />

at assembly, and even addressed our graduation<br />

seniors at commencement. Students were so happy to<br />

hear from former students who had been in the same<br />

position as themselves. Hearing alumni success stories<br />

and tips on overcoming life’s challenges had some of<br />

the greatest impact on our students.<br />

We have started our mentorship program and have<br />

had great success thus far, and we want to encourage<br />

our alumni to become a mentor to current students or<br />

alumni. Scan the QR code to sign up!<br />

Alumni on Campus<br />

<strong>The</strong> Class of <strong>2023</strong> welcomed Hans Hanley ʼ14<br />

as their speaker at Montverde Academy’s 110th<br />

Commencement. Hans is a graduate of Princeton and<br />

Oxford respectively, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford<br />

University, and was recently awarded a Meta Ph.D.<br />

Fellowship in Computational Social Science. His<br />

commencement speech reflected his successes,<br />

but he placed his challenges in making his career<br />

choice at the forefront of his message.<br />

One of the most passionate moments in his address<br />

stressed the importance of being open to change and<br />

overcoming the fear of failure. “Don’t get stuck being<br />

Hans Hanley ʼ14<br />

afraid to fail… sometimes it may seem like a bad thing<br />

to change your mind, but you should change your mind,<br />

you should adjust and make different decisions as you<br />

grow.” He also told the grads not to allow the burden<br />

of perceived external expectations make them fearful<br />

of taking a risk. In most cases parents and family just<br />

want you to succeed no matter what career decision<br />

they made. Ultimately, he encouraged the Class of<br />

<strong>2023</strong> to choose their passion, as it will be the main<br />

driver for their life's work. We are so grateful to have<br />

such an inspiring young man with a very bright future<br />

ahead share with our graduates. He is a proud Eagle,<br />

and we cannot wait to see everything he accomplishes<br />

going forward.<br />

Matt Parks ʼ19 graduated with a bachelorʼs degree<br />

in communications with a concentration in film from<br />

Berry College. Matt is an incredible young man who<br />

started MVA in Middle School and whose mother taught<br />

English. Earlier this year, Matt reached out to the<br />

alumni office because he felt it was important for alumni<br />

to come back to campus and share their experiences<br />

with current students. We welcomed Matt in May and<br />

had him teach a few classes and inspire our young<br />

thespians about life in the theatre and in film. He also<br />

spoke at the Middle School assembly. He shared about<br />

individuality and the importance of finding your passion<br />

52 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Matt Parks ʼ19 and Mr. Jon Hopman Dr. Akshay Naraine ʼ13 and Mrs. Sarah Sclussel Christian Gazzia '05<br />

and a supportive community of friends that can help you<br />

grow into the person you want to become.<br />

Matt was a delight and is off to California to work at a<br />

reality television studio. We know one day we will see his<br />

name in lights!<br />

Dr. Akshay Naraine ʼ13 started Montverde Academy in<br />

Middle School after his family moved from Canada. He<br />

fondly remembers his days in the Conrad Lehman building<br />

before Lindor Hall was build. He has great memories of<br />

his days on campus and attributes a lot of the success<br />

he has achieved today to the great foundation at MVA.<br />

Akshay was voted Most Likely to Become Head of School,<br />

but his educational path led him to a Ph.D. in integrative<br />

neuroscience from Florida Atlantic University. He is<br />

headed to Sweden to complete a postdoc in Parkinson's<br />

disease, but he thought it was important before he left to<br />

come back on campus to share about his journey to Ph.D.<br />

In April, he returned to campus and served as a guest<br />

speaker in Mrs. Sclussel's anatomy classes for the day. To<br />

say he was inspiring is an understatement. He delighted<br />

our students with an array of topics in neuroscience and<br />

spoke about his nontraditional road to his current career.<br />

He went on to speak to the Middle School and left them<br />

thinking about the little things they are required to do<br />

every day that leads to success in the workplace. <strong>The</strong><br />

day was a great success for teachers and students alike<br />

and as Akshay lectured we could all truly see why he was<br />

voted to be Head of School!<br />

Christian Gazzia ʼ05 kicked off our year as our first<br />

speaker for the Educational Technology Innovation Center<br />

Speaker Series. She spoke about her job in IT, working<br />

for a company that creates innovative websites and has<br />

major Fortune 500 companies as clients. She spoke about<br />

the role technology plays in her career and shared about<br />

her job and her life at MVA.<br />

Alumni Events<br />

We had a great turnout at MAIT homecoming weekend<br />

and added a few events to our calendar, including Alumni<br />

Lake Day and our Christmas Happy Hour, which we are<br />

sure will happen again. <strong>The</strong> alumni office, along with the<br />

board, want to extend an invitation for all alumni to return.<br />

We welcome you to schedule a tour, volunteer at the<br />

many events that we have on campus, or even become<br />

a mentor/speaker to our current students. <strong>The</strong> doors are<br />

wide open to welcome you back<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 53<br />

Musical <strong>The</strong>atre alumni at the Legacy Concert


By Ms. Nyoshie Higgins, Alumni Relations Coordinator<br />

Molly Smith ‘20<br />

2020 MVA Alumna and Yale<br />

rising sophomore Molly Smith<br />

was diagnosed with a rare form<br />

of ovarian cancer in the early part<br />

of <strong>2023</strong>. Molly is well known in<br />

the MVA community as a talented<br />

filmmaker. She has used her social<br />

media platform to document her<br />

cancer journey with others. Her<br />

followers find her vulnerability<br />

and transparency refreshing<br />

and inspiring.<br />

Molly published a beautifully written article for Yaleʼs Newsletter where she wrote a raw and heartfelt piece<br />

on her initial feelings after receiving her diagnosis. This year, Molly was invited to be the keynote speaker at<br />

MVA's annual Night for the Cure fundraiser. Below is the emotional and touching speech she gave to<br />

those who attended.<br />

One. In the media, cancer is a useful plot device<br />

for killing off a character or starting the hero’s journey.<br />

Female cancer patient characters are sympathy tearjerkers<br />

or the catalyst for the journey of a man. I did<br />

not know the logistics of cancer or the reality because I<br />

learned from media that cancer is life ending but Cancer<br />

is also a growth, a representation of an evolutionary<br />

mishap, or perhaps, the birth of something we don’t yet<br />

understand. When I received a call from my doctor on<br />

January 16 telling me my benign cyst is actually<br />

a rare ovarian germ cell tumor, cancer taught me<br />

I was unprepared.<br />

Two. Allow myself to take my time. Allow myself the<br />

time to cry all day if I want. Allow myself a day of not<br />

leaving my room. Accept the knocks on the door. Accept<br />

the bags of snacks left outside. Accept the notes, accept<br />

the gifts, and accept the flowers. Accept the pain. But<br />

then, let it go. Cancer taught me it’s okay to feel.<br />

Three. My life before was work, film, school, repeat.<br />

My greatest longing was pure, unadulterated success<br />

- indefinite and insatiable. <strong>The</strong>n suddenly, none of that<br />

mattered. What matters is what brings me joy. I traded<br />

cramming in more work with saying yes to lunch with<br />

old friends. And somehow, even with cancer, my life got<br />

better. Cancer taught me that my greatest longing is to<br />

love and be loved.<br />

54 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

Four. Cancer is a full-time job. <strong>The</strong>re is a team.<br />

I signed up for oncological massages, group and<br />

individual therapy, and a nutritionist. I got my first wig<br />

from the cancer hospital for free the day after I lost<br />

my hair. I joined reiki and meditation calls, used every<br />

resource at my university, and started writing letters<br />

back and forth with other cancer fighters. My mailbox is<br />

a constant source of joy. When going into battle, why not<br />

arm yourself with everything you can? Cancer taught me<br />

that with the right resources, you can overcome anything.<br />

Five. Sometimes you take autonomy over your own<br />

body, and sometimes it takes autonomy over you. Cancer<br />

is a constant negotiation with your biology. Cancer took<br />

flesh but gave me peace. <strong>The</strong>re is nothing you can take<br />

from me that I cannot reason with. Cancer bartered with<br />

poisons of strange names — etoposide or carboplatin<br />

— but I traded for the warmth of the Florida sun, the<br />

endorphin release of great music and dance, and every<br />

late-night therapy session. Those are the moments I live<br />

for and somehow cancer gave me even more of them to<br />

appreciate. Cancer taught me that every day is<br />

a blessing.<br />

Nine. When someone experiences trauma our first<br />

thought is that if it were us, we would not be as strong.<br />

But this is not true. We are adaptable. Cancer taught me<br />

that everyone is stronger than they think.<br />

Ten. This was supposed to happen to me. My whole<br />

life I loved storytelling because it creates empathy and<br />

connection. I’ve practiced telling personal stories in<br />

documentary films for years, and now it’s time for me to<br />

tell my own. Cancer is not the end. It’s the beginning of<br />

another story in my life.<br />

̶ Molly Smith<br />

We in the alumni community stand with you in your<br />

recovery, and we are inspired by your strength and<br />

resilience as you recover.<br />

Six. My roommate cut off my last bits of hair in my<br />

dorm room. We died my hair pink for its last days, but<br />

it clumped into a jumbled mess of falling hair as we<br />

washed it out. I was afraid to look in the mirror. I am still<br />

a 21-year-old girl, and I loved my hair. But the memory<br />

of dying my hair with pink box dye with my best friends,<br />

dancing in our dorm bathroom, was the best murder of<br />

my favorite physical trait. Its death was pink and lovely<br />

and joyous and mine. Cancer taught me not to be<br />

a victim.<br />

Seven. <strong>The</strong> first time I looked in the mirror and saw<br />

myself — round, bare, alien, but beautiful — it was a<br />

fascination, like looking into another timeline of you. I<br />

tried pink hair, red hair and bangs; and suddenly my<br />

bald head was not the absence of something but a blank<br />

canvas. Cancer taught me I am beautiful in any form.<br />

Eight. In the time since my diagnosis, I’ve had two<br />

surgeries, three rounds of chemo, and a lot of therapy.<br />

But I’ve also made films, written stories, continued<br />

learning, traveled, spent valuable time with friends and<br />

family, and continued my passions. My life is just as full<br />

now as it was before and will continue to be. I will not let<br />

cancer take from me my youth, and this time it listened.<br />

Cancer taught me that no matter what I’m facing, I can<br />

still live my life.<br />

Molly Receiving Chemotherapy<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 55


MIKEY NEFF (1)<br />

Senior Superlative “Most artistic”<br />

After graduating from MVA, Mikey<br />

stayed true to her class superlative<br />

and used her creativity to launch a<br />

successful career in photography. She<br />

moved to New York City where she has<br />

lived for the past nine years with her<br />

wife, Amanda, and her Pitbull, “Pig.”<br />

She has spent the last seven years as<br />

a freelance photographer working with<br />

companies like Spotify, Buzzfeed, and<br />

Disney+. She has also been featured in<br />

Vogue, Nylon, and Domino magazines.<br />

She has since started her own family<br />

photography business that focuses on<br />

intimate, honest, documentary-style<br />

work. She credits so much of her love<br />

of photography to having access to<br />

Montverde Academy’s darkroom, plus<br />

the best photography teacher she’s<br />

ever had, Mrs. O’Donnell.<br />


Senior Superlative “Class clown"<br />

Upon graduating from Montverde<br />

Academy, he enlisted in the Army<br />

where he served as a SOCOM Tactical<br />

Communications Specialist until March<br />

of <strong>2023</strong>. Myron feels being a boarder<br />

really helped him to prepare for life in<br />

the military. “I think MVA gave me a very<br />

diverse perspective having interacted<br />

with so many international students<br />

compared to where I was from in<br />

Ocala, Florida,” Myron said. “<strong>The</strong> Army<br />

introduces you to soldiers from various<br />

places, as well as stations, and deploys<br />

you to environments where engagement<br />

with the locals requires a certain cultural<br />

understanding. Working and training<br />

partners with other militaries was<br />

easier because of MVA broadening my<br />

multicultural experience and worldview.”<br />

<strong>The</strong> military took him all over the world,<br />

and while working at the United States<br />

Embassy in Honduras, he met and<br />

married his wife Ylaska in 2017. He<br />

left the Army and accepted a job as<br />

a Department of Defense contractor<br />

in North Carolina. Myron said that<br />

although he was in the military, which<br />

carries a level of seriousness and strict<br />

behavior, he was still the same Myron<br />

that people know from MVA. “<strong>The</strong> Army<br />

can be a depressing environment, but<br />

it’s always been easy for me to stay<br />

entertained and be entertained. When<br />

I was stationed in Korea, my group put<br />

an ‘8 a.m. rule’ on me, meaning I wasn’t<br />

allowed to talk before 7 a.m. so people<br />

could be ‘morning grumpy’ in peace.”<br />


Quintonio was featured in “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Tower</strong>”<br />

almost 10 years ago when he was<br />

interviewed by the “<strong>The</strong> Royal Gazette<br />

Online,” a newspaper based out of<br />

Bermuda. <strong>The</strong> article featured his<br />

experience at Montverde Academy<br />

and how soccer opened the door to his<br />

life abroad. This young man exhibited<br />

signs of a bright future, and 10 years<br />

later, he has achieved much of what<br />

he set out to do after graduating from<br />

MVA. “Looking back, MVA is a major<br />

part of my story that has helped me to<br />

be where I am today. My teammates<br />

and the connection we made and still<br />

have is something I will never forget.”<br />

Quin received a Bachelor of Science<br />

Degree in business from the University<br />

of North Carolina at Greensboro. He<br />

has worked in the reinsurance industry<br />

as a Property Treaty Underwriter for<br />

Brit Global Services in Bermuda since<br />

2021. He reflected that MVA was his first<br />

experience living abroad. “<strong>The</strong>re were<br />

many challenges that I am happy I faced<br />

while I was at MVA because once I got<br />

to university, I was already comfortable<br />

being away from home (Bermuda). Also,<br />

MVA provided me the opportunity to<br />

develop as a soccer player and earn a<br />

56 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

1 2 3<br />

4 5<br />

scholarship to university.”<br />

He confidently stated that playing for<br />

MVA was when he enjoyed soccer<br />

the most throughout his career.<br />

“Our motto, ‘La Familia,’ really meant<br />

something to us, and we enjoyed<br />

working hard and going to battle for<br />

each other every day,” he said.<br />

“I have made great progress<br />

throughout my six years in the<br />

reinsurance industry here in<br />

Bermuda. In parting, enjoy your time<br />

at the Academy, take advantage of<br />

being in such a diverse environment,<br />

and try to connect with as many<br />

people as you can. MVA is a special<br />

place, and it has been proven that the<br />

students go on to do special things.”<br />


Gabriela graduated from Montverde<br />

Academy and went to Princeton<br />

University to study psychology and<br />

neuroscience. She continued her<br />

studies at the University of Maryland<br />

where she received her master’s<br />

degree in Couple and Family <strong>The</strong>rapy<br />

in 2019. She recently completed her<br />

Ph.D. in Maternal and Child Health.<br />

Throughout the last four years, she<br />

has worked as a therapist in a private<br />

practice in Bethesda, Maryland. In<br />

2013, we also featured Dr. Barber<br />

in “<strong>The</strong> <strong>Tower</strong>” spotlight on seniors<br />

series. Back then, she was heavily<br />

involved in the theatre, and Mr. Adrian<br />

Ahern-Wright wrote of her strong work<br />

ethic and her extensive involvement<br />

in the theatre. She attended MVA<br />

for 10 years (grades 3-12). “My time<br />

at Montverde Academy was filled<br />

with many wonderful memories,”<br />

Gabriela said. “I remember going to<br />

MAIT every year and hanging out<br />

in the Student Center during study<br />

hall and eating warm chocolate chip<br />

cookies with friends. I learned a lot<br />

from my time at MVA, which really<br />

helped set me up for success when I<br />

went off to Princeton and beyond. the<br />

Academy taught me that balance was<br />

important. Academics and education<br />

are important, but it is also important<br />

to have other interests and to devote<br />

time and energy to those.”<br />


Also known as “Miss Missi,”<br />

Corinne is a graduate of Spring<br />

Hill College with a degree in<br />

actuarial mathematics and business<br />

administration. In 2017, she won<br />

the crown of Miss Africa USA<br />

2017-18 with the social project of<br />

empowering young girls in STEM<br />

(Science, Technology, Engineering<br />

and Mathematics) education. For<br />

three years, she has been the<br />

founder and promoter of SACAY, a<br />

group of two companies: a textile<br />

garment manufacturing and a wood<br />

carpentry/joinery whose mission is to<br />

contribute to the industrialization of<br />

the African continent for sustainable<br />

development, financial independence,<br />

and a considerable increase in<br />

employment. “In my practice, I work<br />

with individuals experiencing anxiety<br />

and major life transitions, and I work<br />

with a lot of couples as they embark<br />

on the transition to parenthood,”<br />

said Corinne. “Throughout my Ph.D.,<br />

my research has focused on the<br />

intersection between mental health<br />

and reproductive health and decision<br />

making, and I have published several<br />

articles on this topic. Now that I’m<br />

done with my Ph.D., I look forward<br />

to continuing to work with clients and<br />

to collaborating on research projects<br />

that will help to inform my<br />

clinical practice.<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 57

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2 3 4 5<br />

11<br />

6 7 8<br />

9 10<br />


<strong>2023</strong> GRADS<br />

2017<br />

SAM VICTOR (1)<br />

graduated with his Master<br />

of Science in cybersecurity<br />

management and policy<br />

with Summa Cum Laude<br />

distinction (4.0).<br />


graduated with Honors from<br />

Penn State with a master’s<br />

in homeland security<br />

with a concentration in<br />

counterterrorism.<br />

2019<br />

KAYLAH SCOTT (3)<br />

graduated with her B.A. in the<br />

psychology honors program<br />

and earned a certification<br />

in undergraduate research<br />

and applied mental health.<br />

She will continue to Florida<br />

Atlantic University for her<br />

master's in experimental<br />

psychology.<br />

MATT PARKS (4)<br />

graduated from Barry<br />

University with a Bachelor of<br />

Arts in communications with<br />

a concentration in film. He will<br />

be heading to Beverly Hills<br />

this summer to complete an<br />

internship at Elysium<br />

Media Group.<br />


graduated from Middle<br />

Tennessee State University<br />

with a bachelor's in social<br />

work with a minor in<br />

psychology. She will pursue<br />

a Master of Science in sports<br />

management at West Virginia<br />

University. Later this summer,<br />

she will be representing<br />

Haiti in the Central American<br />

Caribbean Games.<br />


graduated from Florida State<br />

University with dual degrees<br />

in music therapy (B.M.) and<br />

communication science and<br />

disorders.<br />

A’JAH DAVIS (7)<br />

had a record-breaking career<br />

at NIU that included being<br />

named NIU Female Athlete<br />

of the Year, while earning<br />

her bachelors degree in<br />

kinesiology. She will be<br />

continuing on to Seton Hall<br />

where she will pursue a<br />

master’s in higher education.<br />


graduated with a Bachelor<br />

of Fine Arts from Carnegie<br />

Mellon University. She plans<br />

to return to Florida to work<br />

at the William Daniel Mills<br />

<strong>The</strong>atre.<br />


graduated from the University<br />

of Florida with a Bachelor of<br />

Science in psychology with<br />

an emphasis in behavioral<br />

cognitive neuroscience and a<br />

minor in health disparities in<br />

society. Following graduation,<br />

her plan is to apply to<br />

medical school.<br />

YANNI ZHANG (10)<br />

graduated with a bachelor's<br />

degree in English and human<br />

organizational development<br />

with a minor in business.<br />

Later this year, she will be<br />

moving to L.A. to begin her<br />

career at Pricewaterhouse.<br />

WHITNEY ELLIS (11)<br />

graduated with a Bachelor<br />

of Science in electrical<br />

engineering, with Magna<br />

Cum Laude distinction,<br />

from Florida Institute of<br />

Technology.<br />


graduated from Sacred Heart<br />

University with a master's in<br />

social work.<br />


is pursuing a degree in<br />

computer science and<br />

business and a minor in<br />

environmental science.<br />

He will attend Columbia<br />

University to complete a<br />

master's in business.<br />

58 THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong>

1<br />

2 3 3<br />

4 5 6<br />

SEND US YOUR CLASS NOTES! Send Class Notes submissions and high-resolution (at least 300 dpi) photos to<br />

alumni@montverde.org or mail to Class Notes at MVA, 17235 Seventh Street, Montverde, FL 34756.<br />

2012<br />

Congratulations to<br />


who married Jenny Sanchez<br />

on December 3, 2022. <strong>The</strong>y<br />

currently reside in Boston,<br />

Massachusetts.<br />

2013<br />

Congratulations to<br />

KALIN GRAVES (2)<br />

and husband Ethan who<br />

welcomed Gray Emiline<br />

Graves on April 27.<br />

2014<br />

Congratulations to<br />

CASEY LALLA (3) who<br />

was recently engaged to<br />

Denesh Avinash Persaud<br />

and will be married at the<br />

end of this year.<br />

2018<br />

Congratulations to<br />


(4) who married Tim Bailey<br />

on May 21 of this year.<br />

2020<br />

Congratulations to up-andcoming<br />

entrepreneur<br />

PEDRO WEBER (5) who<br />

founded a startup called<br />

<strong>The</strong> Block Point in Brazil.<br />

<strong>The</strong> company was created<br />

to help businesses discover<br />

and implement new<br />

technology. He attended<br />

Auburn where he majored<br />

in business administration,<br />

but due to the success of his<br />

company, he relocated back<br />

to Brazil.<br />

2021-23<br />

Congratulations to<br />

SYDNEY BARKER (TC '23),<br />

ASHTON APPADU (TC '22),<br />

and LOGAN LOPEZ<br />

(TC '21), who each helped<br />

bring to life “<strong>The</strong> Hunchback<br />

of Notre Dame” as members<br />

of the Choir on May 20-21<br />

in Steinmetz Hall with the<br />

William Daniel Mills<br />

<strong>The</strong>atre Company!<br />

We invite all MVA alumni to join us for an exciting weekend<br />

to honor the legacy of those who have been a part of the<br />

success of the Academy. We will be hosting a full day of<br />

complimentary alumni events on Friday, followed by the<br />

Legacy Ball on Saturday evening.<br />


Friday, September 22, <strong>2023</strong><br />

9 - 11 a.m. – Alumni tours of campus<br />

11 a.m. - 1 p.m. – Alumni luncheon<br />

1 - 3 p.m. – Alumni tours of campus<br />

7 - 9 p.m. – Alumni Social at Rosen Shingle Creek Saturday,<br />

September 23, <strong>2023</strong><br />

6 - 11 p.m. – Legacy Ball (purchase your tickets today!)<br />

THE TOWER | SUMMER <strong>2023</strong> 59

Montverde Academy<br />

17235 Seventh Street<br />

Montverde, FL 34756<br />


Join us for a spectacular evening of dinner, dancing,<br />

entertainment, and incredible silent and live auctions<br />

at the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.<br />

SEPTEMBER 23, <strong>2023</strong><br />

at six o’clock in the evening<br />

Rosen Shingle Creek<br />

9939 Universal Boulevard<br />

Orlando, Florida 32819<br />

Attire is Black Tie optional.

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