Through cultural exchange, travel opportunities, arts programs, and classroom experiences, we teach our students to know and value people and customs from around the world. Our Admirals celebrate the many cultures that make up our community and carry our mission of service far and wide. Severn School education doesn’t stop at our doors — we make the world our classroom.
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Auckland, New Zealand
Former 7th-grade history teacher and current Middle School Dean Ms. Kathleen Donovan traveled almost 9000 miles to bring a global perspective home to her classroom. Fascinated by New Zealand’s relationship with the U.S. during WWII and the indigenous Maori culture, Ms. Donovan planned a 24-day trip to explore all regions of New Zealand — rich with history and natural beauty. Her trip was sponsored by the Millard Faculty Travel Grant.
Part of our Unity Day 2019 inclusion and diversity event, Upper School Spanish teacher Ms. Tania Berkowitz shared her story of intersectionality as a Chilean citizen, an immigrant to the U.S., and a culturally Jewish, Latina woman. “I became a Spanish teacher, among many reasons, because I fell in love with the richness of cultures in the Spanish-speaking world. In addition to my experiences growing up in Chile and traveling, I made a point to learn about the beautiful stories and popular culture of the people of the Americas. In the U.S. I’ve had the opportunity to hear some of the most heartwarming stories from perfect strangers because I can speak Spanish.” Click here to watch her story.
Yanayacu is a research, education and creative facility in Cosanga, high in the mountains of the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Former Upper School digital arts teacher Ms. Cassandra Kapsos traveled there to participate in a biological photography research project, examining the relationships between the diversity of caterpillar communities and climate in that area. Her trip was sponsored by the Millard Faculty Travel Grant.
Middle School Spanish teacher Ms. Shaina Longway attended a two-week program for non-native teachers of Spanish at Don Quijote Spanish School, fulfilling a lifelong travel dream to both test and strengthen her Spanish-speaking skills. “For me, the most important things were the connections that I made and how I can share those with my students.” Her trip was sponsored by the Millard Faculty Travel Grant.
4th-grade teacher Karen Bennett serves on the U.S. board for the Ministry of Hope Malawi, which provides community-based care to over 6000 orphans in the southeastern African country. In the summer of 2019, Karen visited Malawi with former Severn teacher Sandy Sanders to deliver textbooks, teach English classes, serve with Mobile Medical clinics, and assist at Crisis Nurseries. Severn alumnae Annie Bennett ‘19 and Haley Foster '19 also traveled to Malawi to deliver period kits containing reusable menstrual supplies (supplied by Days for Girls) to local girls enabling them to stay in school. The money for the kits was raised by the Upper School Z and SWAG clubs. Other Severn affiliates who have traveled in past years include Phyllis Beardmore, Hunter Morris '12, Allie Bennett '08, and Jeff Bennett '03.
Current Students and Families
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Upper School student Aiden Gilroy '23 traveled abroad to Belize during the summer of 2019 on a mission trip with Bay Area Community Church. While there, he helped build bunk beds for families without beds, distributed food to those in need, helped set up a concert for the community, and taught young children in daily Bible School. Aiden recalls, "The entire experience changed my views on the world and I will never forget all the connections I made with those kids. They had next to nothing but yet they were so happy."
For the past four years, the Wright family (students Madie ‘23 and Timmy ‘25) has supported a community just outside of Kisii, Kenya through The GRACE Project whose mission is to inspire financial independence for Kenyan families through education, healthcare, and vocational agricultural training. Through educational support, they help children from 1st through 8th-grade prepare for acceptance to and success in secondary school. Mrs. Wright travels to Kisii once or twice a year and has brought both Madie and Timmy on a trip. During that visit, the program hosted a science fair — Madie and Timmy each brought experiments to share with the kids!
With dual citizenship in Venezuela and Italy, Gabriel Sardi and Iliana Quercia, parents of Gabriel '28 and Sebastian '29, keep strong ties to their families abroad. Their last visit with the kids to Venezuela was in 2013. Safety concerns with the current political climate have limited more recent travel although Gabriel and Sebastian visited their paternal grandparents again in 2019, meeting at a frontier town in Colombia. The Sardis typically travel to see extended family in Italy every two years. During the holidays, they celebrate with culinary specialties from both cultures like Venezuelan tamales and Italian panettone. And they shared a fun Venezuelan tradition with us to welcome the New Year: eat twelve grapes just before midnight on New Year's Eve and with each grape make a wish for the next twelve months!
Chrisopher Frost '26 and his mother, Christine, are Swiss. Christine moved to the U.S. to attend Georgetown University after growing up in France, Portugal, Brazil, and Switzerland. Chris's family typically travels to Verbier every year to visit his grandparents and spend time with extended family.
School Programs and Events
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Every year, Severn fourth graders participate in a naturalization ceremony at the District Courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland as a culminating activity for their study of immigration and personal heritage. Our students not only learn about the path to citizenship but also develop empathy and a broader understanding of what makes America such a diverse and thriving country. From one of our 4th graders to the new citizens, “We know that you have come from different backgrounds and you will never forget your homelands. My family comes from Ireland. Still, we share many of the same dreams. And now you are a part of our family, our American family.” The Honorable Judge Gesner, also a Severn alumni parent and trustee, presides over the ceremony.
True mastery of a language involves so much more than what a student can learn in the classroom. Severn students travel to Madrid and Barcelona each year to practice Spanish as it’s spoken in everyday life and dive into the rich and vibrant culture of Spain. Part of our exchange program with SEK International School, these trips give our students the chance to make genuine connections with students around the world.
Michael Hesford ‘21 won the 2019 Global Citizen Scholarship for outstanding achievement on the National Spanish Examination and for excellence in speaking and writing Spanish. He traveled to Minnesota over the summer of 2019 to participate in a Concordia two-week immersion program. Severn students have participated in the National Spanish Examination for the last 20 years, making them eligible for several global scholarships offered by the organization.
Language is more than a means of communication; it defines who we are, how we think, and how we express ourselves. When we build relationships with people from other cultures, we broaden our view of the world and deepen our thirst for learning more. Severn students travel to Brest and host French students at home as part of our exchange with La Croix Rouge.
Emma Miller ‘20 won the 2019 Junior Study Abroad Scholarship for achievement on the National Spanish Examination and excellence in speaking and writing Spanish. She traveled to Spain over the summer of 2019 to study at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Severn students have participated in the National Spanish Examination for the last 20 years, making them eligible for several global scholarships offered by the organization.
In 2014, Severn proudly joined the Malone Schools Online Network (MSON), a consortium of 23 schools that provide upper-level students with a variety of superior online courses that enhance our existing curriculum. In our online classroom, our students take classes with expert educators from across the country, while our teachers, in turn, share their expertise with students from all over the U.S. and around the world. Last year Mr. Meyer’s financial algebra class included students from Morocco and Vancouver along with their American peers.
In partnership with Young Audiences Arts for Learning, Anna Menendez visited our Lower School to perform and lead a workshop on the history and style of Flamenco dancing rooted in the traditions of the Andalusian community of southern Spain. Ms. Menendez studied dance and choreography extensively abroad and was the recipient of the Artists' Fellowship award from the DC Council for the Arts and Humanities for excellence in flamenco dance. Music and dance are essential aspects of human history and life — through this type of hands-on presentation, our students make memorable connections to the cultures they learn about in class.
In partnership with World Artists Experiences, Severn hosted the highly acclaimed, award-winning Art Troupe of the High School Affiliated with Beijing's Renmin University (RDFZ) for a day of art and learning. The troupe shared a beautifully choreographed performance to celebrate the Chinese Spring Festival followed by a day in classes with Upper School students, dinner (pizza, of course!) and a Severn basketball game. This type of cultural exchange bridges the gap between our everyday lives and the lives of friends across the globe.
Students in Ms. Berkowitz's Spanish 4 class volunteer at the El Centro de Ayuda (Center of Help) to fulfill their “Spanish in the Community” requirement for the class. Ms. Berkowitz has volunteered at the center for years and saw this as a way for her students to learn more about the large Spanish-speaking community in our area and gain a new perspective on the immigrant experience in America. Most of the children our students work with are from El Salvador and Mexico. Our students help the kids with schoolwork assigned by their teacher or just spend time together reading, eating and playing games. Another center volunteer said, “Your students are just great. They are so helpful and the kids love it when they visit!”
In partnership with World Artists Experiences, Severn welcomed Trio Dante to perform for our Upper School students. They performed rearranged melodies of The Beatles in symphonic style along with music of the great Italian opera composers. More than simply a performance, the trio talked about the history and structure of these songs and encouraged our students to sing along during the well-known aria, "Turandot," from Giacomo Puccini's opera "Nessun Dorma."
Each year, our entire 6th grade spends several weeks learning about the history and culture of Afghanistan through a research-based unit that spans English, geography, math, art and science. The unit is based on Deborah Ellis’s award-winning novel, "The Breadwinner," which tells the story of an Afghani girl growing up during the early days of the Taliban regime. Our teachers use characters, themes and settings from the book to build experiential lessons that our students work on concurrently, creating a rich web of understanding from one discipline to another. Students learn that culture and identity are a combination of many elements — from history, climate, and economics to personal perspectives and relationships. Click here to learn more.
In partnership with World Artists Experiences, Severn welcomed a group of storytellers, musicians and dancers from the traditional Maasai community in Southeast Kenya. As part of a tour of mid-Atlantic high schools and universities, the Maasai troupe staged crowd-pleasing performances on Teel Campus, spoke with Upper School classes and held a beading demonstration. Through these types of programs, we encourage our students to look outside of themselves and their immediate surroundings to see our human connection to people a world away, regardless of the clothes we wear or the language we speak.
Creative Connections is an international organization based in England and the U.S. that provides unique opportunities to creatively explore and express stories, ideas and emotions through music. Upper and Lower school music teacher Mr. Frank Donn worked with their London-based program, Drum Works, as part of our Millard Faculty Travel Grant program. The Creative Connections crew visited Severn to work with our students and create a two-day interactive event including instrumental music, singing, spoken word poetry and visual art. Click here to read more.
For the past three years, members of our Upper School chapter of Amnesty International have attended the regional conference, last year held in Richmond, Virginia, to make networking connections while learning how to inspire action as advocates for global human rights. The club also holds a letter-writing session each December as part of Amnesty International’s “Write for Rights” campaign, joining supporters across the globe in writing letters, sending solidarity cards, and signing petitions to call for justice for those whose basic human rights are being attacked in countries Iran, Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Morocco, Ukraine, India, Kyrgyzstan, Kenya, Egypt and Vietnam
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Sara Root ‘91 is Chief of the Trial Counsel Assistance Program and Chief Prosecutor for the United States Army. She graduated from Norwich University, after being awarded an ROTC scholarship, with a cum laude bachelor’s degree in political science. Sara has been stationed all over the world during her twenty-two years of service. From 2015-2017 she served on the Eurasia Regional Defense Counsel helping the Iraqis further develop their own legal system and assisted with improving investigations, collection of evidence, and trials. Sara visited Severn in the fall of 2019 to share her story of service at our Lower School Veterans Day assembly.
Lauren Manning ’14 won the 2018-19 Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant to Kaohsiung, Taiwan during her senior year at Pittsburgh University where she majored in Chinese with a minor in legal studies and a certificate in global studies. Lauren taught English in Taiwan and engaged in other community events like storytelling at the Kaohsiung American Corner library. She also participated in the university’s study abroad program China Educational Tours, Shanghai in the summer of 2014.
Severn alumnae Kate Reed ‘15 was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship in her last year at Princeton and will be studying at Oxford University starting in the summer of 2019. Her research at Princeton focused on the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America, and how shared histories shape the present. After earning her degree at Oxford, Kate plans to pursue a Ph.D. in history and hopes to work as a professor and educator, thinking about the ways history can help create a more empathetic present and future.
Praia, Cape Verde
David W. McDermott, Jr., M.D. '97 is a member of Project Health CV, a medical mission based in Boston which delivers much needed medical and surgical care to the African island nation of Cape Verde. David is currently planning his fourth trip, but the organization has made over 15 trips to perform surgery, teach local surgeons and medical staff, and donate medical equipment to the nation. They have treated hundreds of patients and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations over the last 10 years.
Alex Jones ‘09 is a Brown University graduate, former United States Senate staffer, and served for two years as a Maternal Health and Childcare Volunteer at Peace Corps Rwanda. During his time in the Peace Corps, Alex wrote reflections about the experience of immersing himself in the culture of this East African country where, in addition to his duties, he also coached a youth soccer team. Listen to and read about his stories here: Umuganda and Alex(i)tegration. Alex is now working on his MBA at UVA’s Darden School of Business, class of 2021.
Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia
Severn alumnus Ryan Gorman ’01 owns and operates Gitana del Mar Resort in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia. The resort includes a non-profit artist residency, La Sierra. The residency program seeks to improve and transform lives through environmental education, community empowerment, and recuperation of ancestral arts.
Victoria Cronin '18 began her study of international relations in Mr. Sitzmann's class and continued this passion at Swansea University in Wales, U.K. Part of the Swansea international community, she served as a resource for students interested in studying in the U.S. "My experience abroad has been amazing. I have met so many people from around the world, been introduced to an incredible range of perspectives, and it has introduced me to so many different cultures both obvious and subtle. Attending Severn allowed me to be independently curious and to ask questions. I learned to be assertive and go after any, and all, opportunities available to me. I look forward to continuing my exploration abroad and hopefully attending graduate school in the U.K. as well."
Maggie Morton Jackson '06 lives live in Yokohama, Japan, with her husband, Nicholas, who is a Naval Aviator. She is on a Fulbright grant to study renewable energy and low-carbon energy transition. “Severn taught me to put myself out there — to try out for a new team, run for Student Council, take a painting class, or participate in a play. I didn’t always succeed but it taught me the important lesson to keep trying which has deeply influenced where I am today.”