This article originally appeared in the winter 2014 Harker Quarterly.
When Karri Sakai Baker ’84 – an alumna, Harker parent and interim director of alumni relations – queried fellow alumni on why they decided to send their own children to Harker, she didn’t expect to receive such an outpouring of replies. Alumni with children who are students at all four campuses – from preschool to upper school – eagerly responded, with nostalgic photos and reflections.
Baker said many of her fondest childhood memories, along with several lifelong friendships, came from Harker. She even met her husband, Matt Baker ’83, at the celebration of Harker’s 100th year anniversary.
“The best part about looking for schools with a spouse who is also a Harker alum is that your experiences and expectations are aligned. For us, Harker was the only clear choice,” she said, adding that her daughters, Brooke, grade 4, and Maya, grade 2, have been at Harker since kindergarten. “For Matt and me, returning to Harker with our children has really completed the circle,” she added.
Read on as many alumni relive their best memories of Harker and then flash forward to today to discuss what makes the school so special for their children. And, enjoy the fun photos taken during their time at Harker, juxtaposed with those of their children, currently attending.
Rajiv Das ’79, a graduate of Harker’s middle school, provided us with his school picture as well as that of his daughter, Reiya, who is currently in grade 7.
Kristin Scarpace Giammona ’81 is Harker’s elementary division head. She is also a former Harker teacher. But long before that, she was a Harker student and is thrilled that her daughter, Mia, grade 10, is also able to “receive a strong foundation in academics, participate in a wide variety of activities and make lifelong friends” at Harker.
Giammona said that although Harker has many more students now than it did when she attended – and also has added an upper school and a preschool – at its roots, “Harker is the same school I attended in the 1970s and 1980s.”
Jeff Rogers ’84 reported that, prior to making the decision to send his daughter, Vivian, K, to Harker, he went through a somewhat formal process, evaluating approximately a dozen schools on a range of criteria.
After touring a number of schools and spending time in the classrooms, observing and talking to teachers and staff, “The Harker School was the standout,” he said.
For him, the deciding factors included the combination of the school’s faculty, the attention to proper class placement and the wide range of extracurricular activities available on campus. “Clearly the school has grown in size, the facilities have improved and the school has further distinguished itself academically, but what speaks to me are the things that haven’t changed. It’s great to know that many faculty members have made their careers at the school, that the summer reading program remains and to see staff I know on campus. These are the people and programs that made a difference in my life and it’s great to know my daughter will have a similar experience,” he said.
Elise Tremba Schwartz Robichaud ’84 (Jonathan, grade 10; Kurt, grade 11) is a longtime member of the Harker community, both as an alumna and as a grade 3 teacher at the lower school, where she has worked for many years. Currently, she is enjoying hosting a foreign exchange student, Ray Song, who is from Shanghai, China, and attends Harker’s upper school as a sophomore.
“Ray joined our family in August and we have offered to keep him for the rest of high school. Last year was his first year at Harker and in America. Ray is currently the sophomore class treasurer, and he plays club volleyball with my boys,” said Robichaud.
“I could go on and on about my love for the school. It was always my dream to teach here, and it just feels like home for me,” she added.
Lisa Sharon Morel ’80 submitted an old school photo, as well as current shots of her children, Joel, grade 7, and Jessica, grade 3.
Kristin Marlow Quintin ’84 (Emma, grade 3; Cooper, K) shared a photo of herself that was taken in grade 3, the same grade her daughter, Emma, is currently in. Quintin said that she loves the “family feel” of Harker.
“My children love the after-school program the best, the classes they go to and the staff. They love the teachers, and say they are kind and respectful. Emma says that dance and art are ‘so awesome.’ She has really enjoyed the Eagle Buddies program this year. Cooper is enjoying making friends, the playground and the lunches. As most children, they don’t want to come home and I cannot pick them up late enough!” she said.
Alexander Stojanovic ’82, and his daughter Mina, grade 7, submitted both classroom and team photos taken from their time at Harker. Alexander’s brother, Nikola Stojanovic ’85 (Sofia Sahar, grade 2), also attended Harker, and their daughters are delighted to attend Harker together.
Loren Due ’85 stressed that he wanted his son, Kai, grade 5, to have the same education and school experience he received growing up. “I have always felt Harker was a second home for me and wanted my son to feel the same,” he said.
“I am very excited [for Kai to be at Harker] and feel a sense of déjà vu. Some of my teachers are still present. It feels like I never left. Some of my classmates have children at Harker and now we get to experience together what our parents felt. I feel like we are completing the circle and it feels good,” he said.
Tiffany Kitamura ’86 submitted a photo that was taken of her in grade 1. She said she and her husband selected Harker as their first choice for their children (Alexis Nishimura, grade 4; Kai Nishimura, K) due to the great experiences she had at the school.
“It provided me with a sound academic background, many choices of fine arts and sports, and lifelong friendships. I remembered fondly that the teachers really cared for the students. Harker provided a nurturing and supportive learning environment, and that’s what I wanted for my [children]. It’s amazing to see many familiar faces still at Harker and know that they love their jobs,” she said.
“Alexis loves her teachers and all the staff members. Her favorite part of Harker is language arts, library, field trips and after-school playtime. Kai loves his kindergarten year so far. He enjoys the after-school ‘no place like space,’ mastering the monkey bars, and playing outside. He’s thrilled to be at the same school as his big sister,” she enthused, adding, “I’m very proud to have my children attend my alma mater!”
Kevin Sakai ’86 said he selected Harker for his son (Ryan, K) because he wanted to give him the opportunity to grow and be challenged in safe and comfortable environment. “When I walked on the Harker campus and talked to the staff, it just felt right,” he recalled.
As for Ryan, he said the best thing about kindergarten is “my friends and the teachers.” Plus, he added, “I like getting to check a book out of the library.”
Michelle Nguyen ’87 (Julia Ernsting, grade 2) sent in a photo that was taken of her when she was in grade 4 at Harker. “When I look back at my time at Harker, I remember a time filled with wonderful teachers who would push me to try harder [and] think critically, and who taught me the discipline to carry things through. I remember leaving Harker confidence in myself. That is what I wanted for my daughter – not only an excellent education and ability to think critically, but also the development of confidence in herself to think creatively,” she said.
“I remember going to Mr. Nichols’ office to get chocolate chip cookies, which he would leave out for hungry students. Now, when Harker celebrates Mr. Nichols’ birthday with chocolate chip cookies, it makes me smile. When Julia puts on her uniform with the navy skirt and socks, I remember doing the same,” added Nguyen.
Julia said, “I love everything about Harker. My favorite things are science – because we get to do fun experiments like learning about water condensation, vapor and water wheels – and math is fun because our teacher makes us think. I love swimming in P.E. The best thing about Harker are my friends.”
Matt Ortiz ’88 submitted photos of himself when he was in grade 3 and his son, Dominic, currently in grade 3.
Marissa Lucketti ’90, Harker’s human resources manager, enjoys working at Harker and sending her son, Enzo, grade 3, to Harker as well. She sent in photos of herself and her son, both taken in grade 3.
“I love that Harker has grown in size. I can’t believe there are four campuses! I also love knowing that there are faculty and staff who were working here when I was a student. Enzo has had my second grade teacher (Mrs. Hickey) as a substitute from time to time, and he loves knowing that she taught me!” she said.
Jennifer Cady Logan ’90 (Jackson, grade 1) was having a fun time rummaging through her old Harker photos when she came upon a class picture of herself in current lower school head Sarah Leonard’s kindergarten classroom.
“It feels very special to have Jackson at the same school that I attended! Not only did I attend but Jackson’s uncle and two aunts also attended, so it is now a family affair. We can’t wait for Jackson’s little brother, Declan, to be old enough to come. Jackson feels special, too, because some of the same teachers and staff are still there from when I attended; he feels protected and looked after,” said Logan.
“We are so happy we took the time to look at Harker as a possibility for Jackson and Declan. Every child has different needs, and the resources and dedication to the child’s growth in terms of academics, social experiences, breadth of exposure to new things and caring staff has made Jackson say on the first day of both kindergarten and first grade that he had ‘the best day ever, Mom!’”
Ti Pence ’91 sent in photos of himself, his brother, Tim Pence ’93, and his son, Kuga, grade 3.
Shannon Self ’91 sent in photographs of herself and her daughter, Sabrina, grade 2.“I was in the second grade from 1984-85 and Sabrina is in grade 2 now … exactly 30 years later!” she exclaimed.
Class agent Amanda Mathias Bonomi ’92 (Eliana, K; Daniela, preschool) loves hearing about her young daughters’ happenings at Harker. Eliana’s favorite thing about kindergarten Daniela Bonomi is “the playground and monkey bars,” while her sister, 3-year-old Daniela, is into “the playground and Miss Mara’s music and movement class.”
Bonomi said she was really excited to find a photo that was taken of herself back in grade 1.
“I chose Harker for my daughters because it’s the right fit for my girls and our family. Harker clearly excels in academics, but is also able to give the girls so many opportunities they would not be able to get elsewhere. The STEM lab and farm at the preschool are incredible. The staff is exceptional. The kindergartners are able to experience everything from learning Hindi and yoga to cheerleading and soccer to cooking and storytelling. Nowhere else offers these opportunities all in one place,” said Bonomi, noting that she also loves that so many people from her Harker days are still at the school. “Going back to Harker truly feels like being a part of a family to me.”
Bonomi said her girls are thrilled with school. “Not only do they love what they do, but the things they are learning are amazing. They soak it all in. They both ask me to pick them up later so they can spend more time playing at Harker with their friends and doing activities. This makes me know my husband and I made the right choice in choosing Harker for the girls.”
The Crook family has the distinction of having a presence on all four of Harker’s campuses. Josh Crook ’93 explained that his wife, Amanda, works at the preschool, their eldest son (Anthony DeVincenzi, grade 10) is at the upper school, and their other two children (Griffin, grade 7; Emma, grade 5) attend the middle and lower schools (making for a busy morning drop off schedule!). Previously, Amanda worked at Harker’s lower school as a BEST staffer.
Crook shared photos of himself when he was in the fifth and seventh grades – the very same years Emma and Griffin currently attend. Both he and his wife said they loved being a part of the Harker community and the nurturing education they received at the school.
“I really get a kick out of seeing my children having the privilege of learning from some of the great teachers I had, and even some of my former classmates,” said Crook.
Stephanie Hayhurst Mehra ’94 will never forget what her 3-year-old daughter, Aria, told her on her first day at Harker Preschool.
“Aria asked me if we are going to the pretty school today. … I told her it’s called preschool. And she said, ‘Well, OK, we can call it preschool, but it is also very pretty.’”
And since day one Aria’s enthusiasm for preschool has not waned.
“It’s a surreal experience to watch Aria thrive in a place that once taught me so much. It’s also a bit frightening to watch your precious child navigate the world without you. She is becoming an independent being. Ultimately, I want her first steps outside of the safety of our family cocoon to be a nurturing, positive experience,” said Mehra.
Peter Noonan ’03 managed to dig up an old photograph of himself taken in kindergarten – the same grade as his son, Kaiden. “I loved attending Harker. The education is unbeatable, the friendships I made last forever, and the teachers truly embrace their time here. That’s a hard combination to beat these days and why we chose Harker for Kaiden. When, decades later, you can walk on campus and see teachers you had, coaches you worked with, and administrators still at Harker, you know it’s more than a great school, it’s a community of friends and family,” he said.