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Alumni Profiles

Working in Ghana to Support Children with Disabilities

Mariko Yamazaki ’03

As a doctor of occupational therapy, I love to analyze and adapt the activities that shape a person’s identity, self-worth, and role within a community. I work with families of children with developmental disabilities to maximize participation and success in daily meaningful occupations, such as playing, exploring, and participating in school.

Since 2009, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work in Ghana with incredible children, parents, students, teachers, and colleagues who share one vision: to make the world a better place by empowering people with disabilities. Ghana made history in 2006 by passing their Disability Rights Act. In a social-centric culture, the dream to include people with disabilities, give them the chance to build lives of their own, and offer opportunities to truly contribute to their community is powerful and revolutionary. I’m inspired and humbled by the stories, friendships, and lessons I bring home after each visit.

Each year in Ghana, I help coordinate an international externship for USC occupational therapy students. They apply clinical knowledge to advocate and teach others in support of people with disabilities. My colleagues and I assess children with disabilities and teach families to support developmental needs through activities, exercises, equipment, and environmental modifications. We work with staff at Mephibosheth Training Centre, a boarding school for children with disabilities in Apam. We educate and collaborate with community-based rehabilitation workers, who work to empower people with disabilities by connecting them to local resources and support networks. This year, we also collaborated with head teachers of the country’s first occupational therapy program (established 2013) at the University of Ghana. We hope to continue supporting their program while allowing them to develop their own unique professional identity. We are challenged to utilize our clinical knowledge while moving fluidly within a different cultural context and helping in a way that is relevant and empowering.For the past decade, Ghanaian disability rights workers have been blazing a trail of advocacy, community education, and social change. The movement continues to expand, with stronger connections between locally-driven programs and less reliance on outside support. A growing number of Ghanian scholars and community leaders promote disability rights with a focus on love, humility, and respect.

Mariko Yamazaki, OTD, OTR/L, SWCAt Brentwood I learned to always ask questions and actively pursue adventure. Working as a team member (playing basketball, pullingBilly Budd all-nighters, and even canoeing at retreats) taught me to speak my mind and lead by example, but also to serve the group by being humble and remembering the bigger picture. I learned to apply lessons from a single experience to my everyday actions. I’m reminded daily that I can always learn more about myself, my community, and the world around me. I’m constantly re-evaluating my role in Ghana. I’m learning to simultaneously consider small details and the larger context, to ensure that my work (locally and internationally) is empowering, meaningful, and sustainable for the individuals and communities I serve. I’m thankful for my Brentwood experience… and I look forward to a lifetime of staying curious!

Doctor of Occupational Therapy
Brentwood Class of 2003

Promoting Strong Women & Their Meaningful Messages

Amy Stanton ’91

Brentwood prepared me for work and more generally, for life, in immeasurable ways. I graduated from high school with ambition and drive and a sense that anything was possible in the world. All of the hard work and energy I put into my days at Brentwood has paid off throughout my career—I attribute my diligence, work ethic, writing and organizational skills to my intense high school experience.

I remember feeling a real sense of community at Brentwood. The students, faculty and other parents were an active and engaged extended support system. I still feel a connection with this broader group, regardless of whether we’ve been in touch. My tennis team experience was one of my highlights—I was proud to see our championship flags up in the gym when I visited recently for an event!

While yes, building Stanton & Company over the past eight years has been challenging and we’ve had to be creative and resourceful, there certainly is a business opportunity around promoting powerful, strong women with meaningful messages to share. My business has grown to focus on the broader healthy active living industry, still with a large focus on women, and whether we’re representing athletes/lifestyle experts or doing marketing and PR for health or fitness-related brands, the thing that is consistent across all is that they are philosophy-driven. Each is doing their part to give back to the world and to make an impact.While I was still working in the big corporate world almost 10 years ago, I had an idea to build a business around female athletes and women’s sports. I had worked with amazing athletes while serving as the Director of Marketing and Communications for New York’s Olympic bid, and felt they deserved a bigger platform and could be promoted as great role models. Everyone said I was crazy, telling me “there’s no money in women’s sports.”

I was fortunate to start my career working on big brands at big ad agencies. In the beginning, I worked on big brands like Pizza Hut and Zantac 75. These were amazing learning opportunities but not necessarily brands or lifestyles that reflected my lifestyle or inspired me. Today, I’m extremely grateful to work with people and brands that are setting an example, moving the needle, and truly making a difference in the world, all while building successful business platforms. When an athlete approaches us for representation, it’s important to me that they realize they have a platform and can do good with it…and that they want to. We each have our own platform and our own ability to make an impact on the people around us. My goal is to help people make that a reality.

You May Say I’m A Dreamer, But I’m Not the Only One

Adan Acevedo ’09

The study of history in middle school fosters restlessness amongst our students because it, as Emerson astutely noted in ‘Self-Reliance’[1], allows the mind to travel while the physical body remains in the same location. The condition of restlessness that we create, as history teachers, requires a vehicle for fulfillment that is not always found in urban communities.

The restlessness my students experience and their desire to travel is hindered by financial limitations, and that realization can be devastating to the psyche of a young person. The inequality that exists is made very clear to them when they ask for an educational experience that they later find out cannot be funded. My choice to join Teach for America stemmed from a desire to create positive outlets for students to release that restlessness and to create an environment of critical thinking. It also stemmed from my experience growing up in a similar environment and similar community as my students. I am, just as they are, no stranger to the sound of gunshots, hearing helicopters looking for people at night, witnessing drug transactions, seeing gang violence, and seeing prostitution in the community. To focus on the negative is to look at what is missing. Asset-based thinking is the key way of shaping a future with meaning, enriching the lives of others, empowering others, and encouraging others to confidently pursue their goals and dreams. My students are not “the kids from East LA” to me. They are future congressmen, senators, CEOs, lawyers, doctors, and screenwriters of these United States.

Our eighth grade students have already reached double the projected growth for their reading levels this year, and their critical thinking skills, Socratic seminar skills, and writing skills have grown dramatically over the course of this year. Today, I teach 8th grade American History at PUC Excel Charter Academy where 98% of the population is Hispanic, 1% is Asian, and 1% is White. Of our 354 students, 92% of them are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The restlessness of the curriculum, and the burden of their own experiences may be at odds, but a culture of success is undeniably growing.

My parents migrated from rural El Salvador, and I was born and raised in Lennox, CA—a community that also has many challenges with economic stability and physical safety. My life experience has driven my teaching philosophy to be a combination of tough love and high expectations, a philosophy that stems from a desire to consistently engage students in problem-posing education and critical thinking. In problem-posing education, says Freire, “the teacher-student and the students-teachers reflect simultaneously on themselves and the world without dichotomizing this reflection from action, and thus establish an authentic form of thought and action”[2]. In order to effect positive change in the lives of these students, we must empower them as agents of their own future, while working with them to engage their learning in a critical way.

The conversations, beliefs, and inspiration that this conference initiated among my female students brought with it a mini-unit on gender equality in our history class that has begun to change the dynamics between our female and male students. Many of our female students were overwhelmed by how “fancy” and “rich” Brentwood was compared to their own community and small school, but this exposure to educational resources, and to other inquisitive minds from across the city has cemented in them a desire to continue striving for college success.This also includes trips, like our trip to the Young Women’s Conference “It’s Our Turn” hosted by (our very own) Brentwood School. Thanks to the generous help of Sarah Bishop and Shirley Blake, twenty-eight of my young female students participated in a day full of panels, workshops, and activities designed to spark conversations about gender equality, global awareness, and the role of women. They have become advocates for women’s rights, have taken more leadership roles on campus, and I have already seen significant growth in self-confidence amongst these bright young ladies.

I may hear about gunshots, dying family members, drug-problems, abusive households, and poverty every day from my students, but their resiliency despite it all is astounding. I love them as if they were my own, and I hope if they ever cross your path that you will too.

Adan Acevedo graduated from Brentwood School in 2009 and from Harvard College in 2013. He currently teaches 8th grade American History at PUC Excel Charter Academy as part of Teach for America, an Americorps program.

Living Outside of My Comfort Zone

Taylor Ross '07

Two days before graduating from Brentwood School in 2007, I was under the impression that I was going to attend the University of Michigan in the fall. That all changed the moment I came home one day and saw an overstuffed envelope with a Massachusetts postmark awaiting me on my bed. My acceptance to Boston College off the waiting list sent me into a memorable state of exuberance. BC had always been my number one choice, and my admission to the university was the culmination of my time at Brentwood.

I immediately advised BC that I would accept their offer of admission. Even though I had never visited the campus, I had this intangible feeling that it was the right place for me. I packed my stuff and headed east without a clue of what to expect. Little did I know that this type of mindset would soon become the driving force behind all of my major life decisions.

At BC, I majored in History with a minor in Philosophy. Outside of the classroom, I was a member of the Rugby team during my first two years. After an injury caused me to hang up my cleats for good, I decided to obtain my Massachusetts Real Estate License and begin leasing off-campus houses to students. With my earnings, I was able to fund various memorable endeavors, including going on a cross-country road trip, attending Mardi Gras and Super Bowl XLV, and even embarking on a six-week trip across Europe by myself.

Soon enough, as if a direct message from above, my roommate Eric approached me with a proposition, “Come with me to Paraguay to teach English.” Eric’s brother was currently the director at a small school in a rural town in Paraguay, called Tobati. Eric was going to take over directorial duties after his brother left, and the school needed a new English teacher. Without thinking twice, I replied, “Are you crazy? I don’t even speak Spanish. Thanks but no thanks, bud.”As commencement neared, I couldn’t bring myself to seriously consider permanent employment in the States. I felt mentally fatigued, most likely from having been a student for the past 15 years of my life. I knew that I needed a break from the confines of the classroom, and I had an urge to see the world and to experience and learn from different cultures. I wanted to do something memorable, something unconventional. I just didn’t know what.

In retrospect, I see my initial dismissal of Eric’s offer as the voice inside all of us that tries to limit us from doing something great or outside of our comfort zone—the one that whispers to you that you aren’t strong enough to take on the obvious challenges that would come with accepting such an imposing opportunity.

In the ensuing days after my brief conversation with Eric, the thought of moving to Paraguay kept eating at me. The more I considered the offer, the more I realized just how invaluable of an opportunity this was. I had lived a life full of comfort and privilege, and this seemed like the best chance to throw myself into a completely foreign environment, away from my family and friends, and to find out if I had the strength to persevere and thrive on my own.

I arrived in Tobati in September 2011, and immediately began teaching English at El Instituto Cultural Reinaldo Macchi (ICRM). The school’s mission is to educate the smartest and most economically disadvantaged children in the area. Each student receives a full academic scholarship to study, is provided with three meals a day, and receives full health care. The ICRM is funded completely by private donations and by an annual community service trip run through Kingswood Oxford, a college prep-school much like Brentwood, in Hartford, CT.

Adjusting to life in Tobati was very difficult at first. I was unable to communicate with anyone given my nonexistent background in Spanish (I had studied eight years of Latin between Brentwood and BC). The bucolic setting of Tobati was a stark contrast from the fast-paced, comfortable university life I was used to in Boston. I was 6,000 miles away from everything that had been familiar to me, and I didn’t have many friends or family to help me through this transition. But this is what I had signed up for.

I soon became inspired by my work with the students at school. Their determination had a profound impact on me. Whereas my biggest concern was not understanding Spanish, the students didn’t even know if they would have food on the table at dinner time. The kids’ ability to persevere in the academically rigorous atmosphere at the ICRM, while living in dire poverty, inspired me to improve in every facet of my life. I began studying Spanish for hours on end, refusing to be embarrassed if I made a mistake.

One day, a student of mine by the name of Joel Unzain approached me and expressed his dream of one day studying at a university in the United States. I began working with Joel two hours every day after school for about eight months in order to help him prepare for the application process. We covered TOEFL/SAT I & II prep, and I even assisted him with the completion of his college applications. Joel’s drive and passion humbled me. Here was a kid who came from a modest home, with a family income north of just $500/month, yet his perseverance exceeded that of anyone whom I had ever met in my life.

This past year, Joel received a full financial aid grant to study at six universities in the U.S., including Trinity College (CT), Amherst College, and the University of Pennsylvania. Joel chose to study at Penn, and is currently in the midst of his first semester there.

Joel’s admission to these schools represents one of the happiest periods of my life. It symbolized to me that no matter what you desire in this world, it is completely attainable with the proper mindset. The slogan for the ICRM is “Todo es Posible,” which translates to “Everything is Possible.”

I’m planning a cross-country bicycle trip, with the current Director of the ICRM (Darren Lafrenier), that will help raise money for the school. In January, we will embark from St. Augustine, Florida, and finish in San Diego, California. Our goal is to complete the trip in less than 50 days (in time to be home for my mother’s birthday), and to raise at least $20,000.As my time in Tobati comes to an end this December, I am looking ahead to what my next step will be. I have been humbled to the core by the experiences of these past two years of my life in South America, and I look to carry with me what I have learned to whatever venture may grasp my attention in the future.

Only God knows what the next step after the bike trip will be. I have an interest in applying to the U.S. Department of State, working in Real Estate, or pursuing any work where I can utilize my passion for Spanish or writing. I have learned to adapt to whatever life throws at me, and to make sure that I am ready to pounce on an opportunity when it presents itself. All I can do is to make sure that I live life passionately, the way my students in Tobati taught me to do.

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Alumni News

amaranth 35

by Judith Beerman O'Hanlon, Upper School English Teacher

In 1983, a small group of students and I inaugurated a new Upper School magazine of literature and the arts. Our goal, as it had been with an earlier school publication, Mayic, which came out in the late 70s, was to provide a forum for the creative spirit and talent of Brentwood students. Thirty-five years later, amaranth, named for a mythical plant that never fades or dies, still reflects that original inspiration...

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Alumni Events

by Emily Ellis '94, Director of Alumni Relations

The first two weeks of the new year are always busy in the Alumni Office with both new and old traditions. We hosted the 28th Annual Young Alumni Luncheon with In-N-Out Burger for the classes of 2014 - 2018, the LSA Alumni/Student Luncheon, and the Alumni vs. Crossroads Alumni Soccer Game will be on Saturday morning, January 13, as part of Extravaganza week...

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