Humans of Harvard-Westlake

There are many people who make this school community special, and we’re excited to have them share their stories here. The "Humans of Harvard-Westlake" project aims to capture and share the spirit and vibrancy on our campuses. Through a series of interviews with adults in various roles and years of experience on our campuses, we invite you to learn more about the diversity of perspectives and experiences at our school. 

Tina McGraw ’01
Head of Peer Support and Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher
At HW since 2018

"Harvard-Westlake is different from when I was a student. The student body is more diverse and the administration is more focused on social and emotional learning. These factors have made HW a much stronger school.

I love teaching, mentoring, and counseling at HW, and it is a dream to come back and contribute to the school that made me who I am. I continue to be amazed by the passion, dedication, work ethic, empathy, and courage displayed by our students.

I oversee Peer Support, one of HW’s most loved student-led programs and a safe outlet for connection, socializing, and emotional support at the upper school. We have over 50 leaders and trainees who run 11 multigrade groups of 15 to 25 students. Through the training program, they have the opportunity for exceptional personal growth and service to the HW community—and always rise to the occasion. The success of the program allows us to reach and support hundreds of students every Monday night.

Peer Support retreat is one of the things I will miss most this fall. I am really afraid of heights, so it took some serious willpower to zip line on last year’s retreat, but we had an amazing time bonding and team building. Hopefully we can take the students on a retreat in the spring!"

Joe Medina
Visual Arts Teacher and Visual Arts Department Head
At HW since 2010

"This is my PhotoGraphics class. These ninth graders collaborate with students from the Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology, a public high school in East LA, in a photo-based initiative called #YOURTURN. For this annual collaboration, which I launched in 2014, students use the medium of photography to cross the external physical borders in the city of Los Angeles and identify the borders created within themselves.

Prior to Harvard-Westlake, I was a visual arts teacher in a title 1 public high school for seven years. During that time, I spent thousands out of my own pocket to cover school supplies I felt were essential for student and teacher success but could not be covered by the school budget. It is rare to have access to resources like those at Harvard-Westlake, and I never take that for granted. It would have been very challenging to initiate collaborations, artist visits, and opportunities for my students and their collaborators without the support provided by Harvard-Westlake."

Janine Jones
Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Associate Director of Admission
At HW since 2015

"We approach diversity, equity, and inclusion work from an educational rather than political standpoint. There are plenty of places where education and politics intersect; however, more often than not, people engage in a reductive political conversation instead of a substantive one about the true meaning of diversity, equity, and inclusion in an educational institution. While there is a racial reckoning occurring in the country and at HW that requires our immediate and sustained attention, we are also deeply committed to and invested in the individual identities of all members of our community. When we say we envision a community where each and every member feels an equal sense of belonging, we mean it. We will not, of course, tolerate hate of any kind within our community, but we will work tirelessly to ensure that all voices are solicited, heard, respected, appreciated, and valued.

Our past has pained us and galvanizes us at the same time. I am proud that we are not the same school that we were just five years ago, but I know that we still have a long way to go. I am proud that we continue to grow as an institution and community."

Ed Hu
Head of External Relations
At HW since 1994

"This photo is from a Harvard-Westlake Party Book fundraiser that I cohosted last year with Phil Mercado and Todd Quinn P’23 ’25 ’25. Every year for almost 15 years, I have cohosted and cooked a ten-course Chinese dinner for 25 people to help build community and support financial aid at Harvard-Westlake.

External relations is a very entrepreneurial part of Harvard-Westlake. One of the great things about HW being a 'young school' is that we are unencumbered by the burden of having done things the same way for generations. I work with a group of talented, committed people who care about kids and the community to create an evolving program to keep alumni and friends engaged beyond their days as students and parents in an ongoing relationship. I’ve been here long enough to see former students become HW parents and parents become HW grandparents. It’s HW for life!"

Damaris Saenz
English and KITS Teacher
At HW since 2016

"I wear different hats, but much of what I do overlaps. For example, the engineering design process students practice in STEM classes reminds me of the writing process: at its core, it’s all about planning, creating, and improving. The same could be said for diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

I also serve as outreach coordinator for the HW Bridge program, working alongside Rosemary van Vlijmen, the director of the program, to develop extracurricular activities for students from Bright Star charter schools. Extracurriculars are often overlooked when we discuss the achievement gap. But research shows that students involved in extracurriculars earn higher wages, advance further in their careers, vote, and volunteer more. Many of the kids we serve through this program don’t have any other access to extracurriculars. And so it’s meaningful that the HW Bridge program exposes them to various areas of enrichment in areas including music engineering, dance, Chinese, and photography. These extracurriculars help develop soft skills like working with others, leadership, grit, self-discipline, and endurance, and cultivate the habits, connections, and knowledge that prepare students for lifelong success."

Chris Jones
Dean and Dean Department Head
At HW since 2012

It feels good to be seen. The other BLACC [Black Leadership Awareness and Culture Club] advisors and I try our best to create a space where members feel complete freedom of expression, although it’d obviously be ideal for each student to feel that same comfort outside of the organization. We get to see facets of BLACC members’ personalities that would make the entire HW community richer. We honor and center members’ perspectives, encourage students to share themselves more fully with the wider community, and support them in those efforts.

At Harvard-Westlake, we’re invested in our students’ success, and I certainly appreciate the school’s well of resources, both financial and human. Anytime I’m conversing with colleagues who work elsewhere, I’m struck by how often they have to sacrifice in choosing one initiative over another. In eight years at HW, I’ve never had a request turned down, and that freedom allows us to pursue any- and everything we believe will support our students’ growth and ability to thrive. Likewise, there’s such an overwhelming wealth of talent and experience among my colleagues. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by big, bold thinkers, and it feels like we can collectively accomplish anything we set our vision toward to provide the best experience for our students.

Aaron Mieszczanski
Head of Admission and Enrollment
At HW since 2018

"The heart we have at Harvard-Westlake makes our large community feel anything but anonymous. We are a big school with more opportunities than most small colleges, but our students are known and supported. The kids feel that 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and there are countless caring adults on campus who are not only experts in what they teach, but love connecting with adolescents.

The heart we have at Harvard-Westlake makes our large community feel anything but anonymous. We are a big school with more opportunities than most small colleges, but our students are known and supported. The kids feel that 8:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and there are countless caring adults on campus who are not only experts in what they teach, but love connecting with adolescents.

Financial aid at Harvard-Westlake is integral to making us excellent. We’re committed to seeking deserving students from a range of backgrounds, perspectives, and talents, and those funds allow us to recruit, enroll, and support them, regardless of financial means."

Milo Sini
Community Health Officer
At HW since 2005

"If a student gets hurt or sick, I become part of their team, along with their parents, doctors, teachers, dean, and coaches. Say a kid has a concussion. I explain what’s going on to parents who might be pushing the student to get back to studying. Maybe they need rehab. Maybe we need to get a learning specialist involved. For example, a concussion can make reading difficult, so maybe the student needs audiobooks—or a test needs to be oral, or they take it in a couple of weeks instead. If the student’s an athlete, I work with the sports medicine team to figure out how to bring them back to play at the right time. If the student’s a performer—singing at the top of your lungs or blowing a trumpet, for example, don’t feel so good with a concussion—I work with their teachers to coordinate their return to practice and performances.

With COVID, the challenge is how to open the school as safely as possible with everyone’s well-being in mind. My job is to help mitigate risk and communicate to the community.

A lot of people at school approach me for advice—I have this going on, what do you suggest, who should I see? I’m happy that I can be a sounding board. I have alumni who call me all the time. They want to do surgery, is this the right doctor, should I get a second opinion? That makes me feel like everything I’ve done in life has been worth it."

Zanaida Robles
Performing Arts Teacher
At HW since 2017

"This photo is from last year’s senior ceremony in September. It was really hot that day, but I was determined to wear that outfit!

In February, HW choral students sang as a featured ensemble in the “What Is Home?” National Concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Among hundreds of high school and college students from across the country, our students distinguished themselves as beacons of talent, integrity, and musical excellence. Our spotlight performance on that historic stage was a highlight of my experience as a Harvard-Westlake teacher and as a performing artist.

Harvard-Westlake as an institution achieves a balance between challenging me rigorously and uplifting me to persevere in my effort to facilitate educational excellence. I can see the school’s mission in action. It’s what makes this job so satisfying."

Roberto Hernandez
Upper School Maintenance Staff Member
At HW since 1998

"This summer, the maintenance staff painted the hallways, all the doors—there were no people around, so it was a good time to do it. School never stopped for us. We refinished the bleachers, hung new banners, and painted in Taper. We also painted the inside of the old gym—it looks new! Usually there are practices or competitions going on, so there’s no time to get things done. The time we’ve had without people around has been good to get work done, but now we miss all the people. It’s not easy. I hope everyone can come back soon.

The school always appreciates us. People notice right away what we do: 'Oh, you fixed this! Thank you' That makes us feel good. They have an event in the gym, and when they leave, it’s a mess—but after a couple of hours, they come back: “You’re done already?” We don’t have that many people in maintenance, but everyone works hard. We’re happy to be working because a lot of people don’t have jobs right now. I love this job and feel blessed to have it."

Tara Eitner
Science Teacher
At HW since 1993

"When I first started at our school, we didn’t have phones or email! We had to swing by our faculty room mailboxes several times a day to see if we had messages. Attendance was taken by marking it on paper and clipping it to the outside of the classroom door. Now we can send information from anywhere to anywhere in real time—even teach from other cities! Our IT department has been nothing short of amazing. Our school’s diversity has changed too. What hasn’t changed is our ability to embrace change. Our school is always thoughtfully trying to anticipate and prepare for growth.

In 27 years, I have never been bored. I can always count on being excited by new discoveries and new ways of teaching and engaging our students. I don’t know what others would say about me, but I am most proud of the efforts I put into helping middle schoolers feel welcome and safe and cared for. If anyone didn’t feel that from me, I missed the mark and deeply apologize."

Teaching with the Summer Enrichment Program has given so many of my summers meaning and expanded my understanding of others. Over the years I have also coached soccer, volleyball, and swimming and helped students host clubs ranging from Change in Nepal to Astronomy to Archery to Stranger Things. I have been a play counter for football and scorekeeper for wrestling. I have helped with Big Sibs and Advisory to help students become comfortable and build relationships and develop as good humans. I have led beach clean-ups and reviewed Humanitas award applications. You can get to know people and help kids grow in so many meaningful ways outside the classroom. My life has been enriched by participating in HW extracurricular opportunities in ways I didn’t imagine. I am a more considerate and compassionate person as result."

Terrence Barnum
Head of Athletics and Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher
At HW since 2004

"The goal of my job is to not be noticed. That seems a little contradictory for a senior administrator, but if I’m doing my job well, the athletes and coaches have what they need to succeed and I am quietly in the background watching them fulfill their potential.

In many ways, my job is to be the “face” of athletics, but things are only going well when the athletes and coaches are front and center.

A huge part of my professional life has been missing since March 12. There is a hole in my heart that won’t be filled until we are able to return to athletics in person. While much of the school has been able to transition their disciplines online, that has proven difficult for athletics. Our coaches have done an amazing job staying engaged with athletes via Zoom and other virtual platforms, but there is nothing like playing and coaching sports. I look forward to the day that we can compete again."

Beth Slattery
Head of Upper School
At HW since 2004

"I love graduation day, even in a heavy black gown in the boiling June sun. This year, instead of an in-person ceremony, we had to do a drive-through graduation (and it lasted five hours!), but I still loved it. As an educator, there is no better feeling than knowing you had some small role in the success of a student.

My father was a high school principal for 40 years. When I took this job, he told me, 'It’s an incredible joy and an incredible responsibility to take care of a whole campus and all the people who inhabit it.' I haven’t been surprised by the responsibility, but I have been surprised by the joy. I love solving problems and making the Harvard-Westlake experience the best it can be for faculty, staff, parents, and students.

It’s an extraordinary gift to have the resources so faculty can be innovative and students can be supported. This was never more clear than in the spring, when Harvard-Westlake was able to quickly and successfully pivot to remote learning, mostly because we had the resources to give students and teachers what they needed. Our resources also allow us to be a more equitable institution because we can ensure every student has access to the materials they need to learn and to programs that enrich their experience. I couldn’t be more grateful to those who give to Harvard-Westlake so that every student can thrive."

Robert Ruiz
Physical Education Teacher and Department Head
At HW since 1991

"Teaching PE at Harvard-Westlake gives me great joy. I feel it’s important to give the same kind of effort I expect from the students. Many of the games and activities allow me to participate with the students, and I hope to be able to continue this practice for years to come. Modeling good sportsmanship, being a good teammate, and always giving your best effort are the lessons I hope to pass on. Lately the description “try hard” is being used in a negative fashion by students, but I want people to know that trying hard is a character trait that will take you a long way to being happy and successful.

HW is a great place to work, but I think of it more as a home and the people I work with and the students I teach as family. I was lucky enough to gain employment straight out of college and can’t think of working anyplace else. Every person you encounter at HW would gladly help someone in need without batting an eye. HW inspires excellence and that is what keeps me coming back year after year."

Narae Park
Science Teacher
At HW since 2011

"When I tell people that I am a teacher, they often comment that it must be difficult to deal with all the “troublemakers.” They’re always surprised when I tell them that I rarely have disciplinary issues. Even when I do, they almost always get resolved with the help of the deans and the parents. HW has amazing students, faculty, and staff. Everyone loves and cares about what they do.

We are currently in the process of transitioning to a new schedule. I’m a little sad about switching from the only HW schedule that I’ve ever known to a new one, but I’m also excited about the possibilities. I’m hoping that the longer periods will help students to engage more meaningfully in their classes.

At the end of each year, I am always amazed at how much my students have grown both personally and intellectually. It makes me very proud that I’ve had a part in their education."

Phairot Janthep
Cafeteria Staff, US
At HW since 2003

"My uncle owns a beauty salon in Thailand, and he is very talented. He inspired me—if he can do it, I can do it too. That’s how I got started as a makeup artist.

Now I am not only a cashier in the Harvard-Westlake cafeteria, but I cook as well. I am so proud to be a part of HW. Harvard-Westlake is my second home— great teachers, great students, great staff. I would like to thank every single one for being so kind to me."

Sharon Cuseo
Dean
At HW since 1994

"When people think about my job, they typically focus on the mystery of college admissions. But the truth is that the best part of my job and the best way to counsel prospective college applicants is not to focus on college admissions. Helping students develop self-awareness, curiosity, and the ability to take pleasure in how they spend their time is actually what makes them appealing to colleges. It sounds cheesy, but it’s also what makes the job so much fun. Getting to know students and their families is what keeps things interesting!

Aside from taking pride in watching my former students live out the dreams we talked about when they were in high school, I am most proud of the work I have gotten to do to help improve the quality of their lives while at HW. Working on the creation of the new schedule being rolled out this fall and helping establish an AP maximum and the use of unweighted GPAs have been particularly satisfying, as I believe all three will make for happier and healthier students."

Larry Klein
Upper School History/Social Studies Teacher and Chair of the Interdisciplinary Studies and History/Social Studies Departments
At HW since 1996

"Ten years ago, as founding director of the Kutler Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research, it was a daunting yet inspiring task to facilitate the envisioning and implementation of a place and program that would give manifestation to the spirit of Brendan Kutler [’10], an amazing HW student who died suddenly during his senior year. In that decade, now as chair of the Kutler Center’s curricular department, I hope to have in some measure shepherded the creation and sustenance of a place and program that radiates the vitality and dynamism of our students’ quest for knowledge and that allows students to pursue their intellectual curiosity beyond traditional bounds.

I’ve dabbled in lots of things over a quarter of a century at HW—teaching ten different courses, helping to create and overseeing a summer global cultural exploration and immersion program for faculty, coaching basketball for 17 years, serving as founding advisor for the honor board and helping shape that and student government for a decade, having HW act as launch point for me to provide service by working intensively with a charter school group for 15 years.... It has all been tremendously rewarding and fulfilling—yet engaging with HW students, as smart and with it as they are, has always been the most gratifying part of my association with HW. There is still nothing better than that simple moment in the classroom when some offhand comment or blazingly unique idea creates a collective laugh or gasp or nod or sob or wow."

Christa Choe '94
Equestrian Program Head
At HW since 1998

Humans of Harvard-Westlake: Christa Choe '94 (Equestrian Program Head)

"It might surprise people to know that Harvard-Westlake has an equestrian team, but we are working hard to publicize our accomplishments through our HW social media accounts. Although we’re a small team, some of our riders have successfully ridden nationally as students, and several have gone on to great professional equestrian careers. Lucy Davis [’11] competed in show jumping in the 2016 olympics and Mavis Spencer [’09] has been competing internationally for several years.

I’m proud of all of our riders no matter what their equestrian accomplishments. I’m proud that they participate on the team representing HW, have dedicated themselves to good horsemanship and care of their animals, and are successful student athletes. Oftentimes at the shows, which are weekend-long affairs, our riders have their books spread out on the team table but are still taking the time to support each other. The camaraderie and team spirit are wonderful to experience."

Jordan Church
Dean of Students, AP Coordinator and Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher
At HW since 2004

Humans of Harvard-Westlake: Jordan Church (Dean of Students, AP Coordinator and Interdisciplinary Studies and Independent Research Teacher)

For many, Dean of Students is shorthand for a person who stays up late into the night coming up with creative ways to punish teenagers. I find the best Deans of Students are the keepers of the community values, not merely disciplinarians who sit in judgment.

"At Harvard-Westlake, I’m fortunate to have a much broader purview, one that allows me to oversee all of student life, including mentoring students on new initiatives, campus events, community service programs, guest speakers, and other enrichment experiences. I love helping students develop skills and practices that serve them well during these formative years."

There is infinitely more laughter than tears in my office. The tears are still there, but I think a good Dean of Students has nine positive interactions with students to every one potentially challenging interaction. And going through the Honor Board process can be a meaningful experience. There is of course always a consequence for the violation, but the focus for the students, deans, and teachers on the board is always to help the student identify the decisions that led to the act itself. The scales are always tipped towards honest reflection and growth, which is not always comfortable, but liberating for those who can lean in.

Jenn Gabrail
Learning Resource Specialist and KITS Teacher
At HW since 2018

Humans of Harvard-Westlake: Jenn Gabrail (Learning Resource Specialist and KITS Teacher)

"I think there is a perception that only students with learning differences benefit from working with me; however, in my two years at hw, I’ve met with so many different types of learners to improve their habits, study skills, and organization skills and find ways for them to reach their goals.

My job is all about collaborating with many different people. Not only am I working with students and their families, but I’m also working with other allied professionals that work with our students outside of school, the deans, our school psychologist, and our teachers.

I’m very excited that we are establishing the middle school learning center this year. The group study space has been very popular, and students were seeking it out even more this past year. I want students to have a dedicated space on campus, as it signals that they are valued in our community and help is there for them. Oftentimes students feel like they are the only one seeking help, but when they see many different students in the learning center, it normalizes that struggle is a part of learning."

Max Tash
Communications Teacher and HWTV Livestream
At HW since 2013

Humans of Harvard-Westlake: Max Tash (Communications Teacher and HWTV Livestream)

"I came to Harvard-Westlake to start both HWTV and the broadcast journalism program. In its third year, HWTV won the Student Television Network’s award for Best High School Live Broadcast. The broadcast journalism program has already grown to three grade levels and started to produce fair and responsible investigative news stories, including last year’s look at academic integrity at HW. I’ve also brought podcasting to both the upper and middle school campuses with a wide range of subject matter and student participation reflected in the Chronicle Podcast Network lineup.

Last summer, Harvard-Westlake updated the Weiler classrooms that have housed Chronicle (Newspaper) and Vox Populi (Yearbook) journalism classes for many years. To accommodate broadcast classes, a green screen wall, studio lighting, three 60” flat-screen TVs, three edit bays, and a podcast studio were added.

This showed the school’s commitment to the nascent broadcast program and brought HW up to speed with what other well-established, nationally recognized high school broadcast journalism programs have for postproduction and podcast facilities."

Sephora Escarpeta-Garcia
World Languages Teacher
At HW since 2017

"I am passionate about teaching. I don’t just teach the Spanish language, I talk about the culture, the people, and our struggles as Latinos and Afro-Latinos. What stands out at Harvard-Westlake is the sense of community and encouragement to grow professionally and personally, and the way I am treated with respect as an educator and a lifelong learner by administration, faculty, staff, and students.

I am thankful for the opportunity to teach in my own individual style. I love being loud and Zumba dancing with my students!

I also love being an advisor to our Boot Squad, the after-school stepping and dance club started by Chandace Apacanis ’21, and our Citizenship/Immigration Club, which Emily Wesel ’19 started three years ago. The students help immigrants fill out paperwork in order to get legal citizenship, and in the process, get to interact with Spanish speakers and use the language."

Colby Plath
Dean and World Languages Teacher
At HW since 2005

"The main role of deans is to support students throughout their experience at HW as their guidance counselors and cheerleaders. The school always encourages the question “How can we do it better?” Recently, I led a faculty committee to take a look at how we set standards for our community, hold students accountable for the things that they say and do, and allow for reflection and growth when addressing behavioral missteps. I’m hopeful that there will be some positive recommendations for revising what we currently do to improve the character of those in our community.

I am also one of the middle school assistant coaches for cross country and enjoy running with the athletes and watching some students who have never before run a mile overcome adversity, give it their all, and finish their first race. This work inspired me to train for and complete the 2020 LA Marathon. I'm now anxiously awaiting the 2021 middle school Dodgeball Tournament!"

Julianna Souisa
Executive Assistant to the Head of Athletics
At HW since 2014

"The thing I most enjoy about my job is creating graphics and content for our social media platforms, flyers, athletic event programs, and newsletters. I take pride in highlighting the accomplishments of our students and teams, as well as many of the individuals behind the scenes who don’t get thanked enough.

We work in a fast-paced environment, like every day is game day, and we all take pride in the excellence of our programs and departments. We’re often faced with challenging conversations about the best practices, teaching styles, equipment, etc., but we all have the same goal—and these conversations improve our departments and make us better teachers, coaches, administrators, and people. That is something I appreciate every day."

Maria Arias
Receptionist and Admission Assistant
At HW since 1989

"Working at the front desk and greeting members of the community on a daily basis has made me the center of all the action and puts a smile on my face. I answer calls for the school, greet families and visitors, process applications and payments for new applicants to the school, welcome prospective families and set them up for their interviews and tours, and print out name tags for interviews and admission events. I greet and manage 15 to 20 prospective families a day for a total of almost 1,000 families over an admission season.

Throughout my 31 years at Harvard-Westlake, I have worked in many different departments and have met many people who have become lifelong friends. I’m very thankful to Harvard-Westlake for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this amazing inclusive institution."

Keith Jordan
Middle School Director of Student Affairs and Communications Teacher
At HW since 2006

"My primary focus is on programs promoting student leadership and community service initiatives, but I’m also the resource for students who want to create new programs or bring new ideas to the school. Essentially, if you’re a student at the middle school with an idea that you think will improve the student experience, then I’m the guy who’s going to support you and help you design, pitch, and implement that idea. To do my job effectively, I have to be someone the students genuinely like and think of as approachable and open. Every day that a student walks into my office or shoots me an email to pitch an idea or make a suggestion is a day that I’ve succeeded. And I am both proud and honored to be able to say that is pretty much an everyday occurrence for me.

Hands down, I have the best job at Harvard-Westlake. I am one of very few people who gets to work with every student. My actual job is to help students make the school better, make themselves better, and make their world a better place for everyone. It’s gratifying work. and I’m a better person because of it."

Jeannette Rodriguez
World Languages Teacher and KITS Teacher
At HW since 1998

"Without a doubt, I have become the teacher I am because of all of the resources that Harvard-Westlake has provided me over the 21 years I have worked for the school. I feel honored, privileged, and thankful to work in an environment where the administration is so supportive of their faculty, whether through class materials or the economic means to attend classes that help us grow professionally and better develop our teaching.

For example, I love chaperoning and helping to lead our middle school summer trip to Spain. These trips allow seventh and eighth graders to experience life from a completely different perspective and put into practice what they learn in the classroom. Students live with their Spanish host families for two weeks; they eat, play, and have fun with their Spanish “parents, brothers, and sisters,” which affords them the opportunity to expand their language and cultural horizons.

Teaching requires many hours of preparation as well as thinking on the spot to reach each student. When current and former students tell me of their adventures communicating in the Spanish-speaking world and I see how proud they are of themselves, I feel that all of my hard work has paid off."

Gerson Roche
Maintenance
At HW since 1971

"This was my 49th graduation. It was the first time—and I hope the last time—we do graduation like that. But everyone will remember it forever because of the circumstances.

This was my first and only job. It’s my 50th year working at the school. One of my friends found out the school was hiring extra people for the summer to work on the grounds. Out of eight people that summer, they hired just me for a permanent job. I was lucky. There is no other place like this school. The way people treat you. We are tied together like a big family. I know everybody. And I’ll keep working until I can no longer do it, as long as I have my health. I give myself at least another eight years—not too much to hope for, is it?

I know I work for good people and do good work for a purpose—to prepare new generations to come. I’m part of it. I sweep, but it all counts. My sweeping is very special because I know it’s for the future."

Flavia Zuñiga-West ’02
Visual Arts Teacher
At HW since 2018

"My job is about empowering young people to explore and trust their voice. My role as an art educator is so much more than just teaching a technical skill. The visual arts are interdisciplinary and connect to the world. In my classroom, art leads us to discuss identity, race, institutionalized racism, and sexism.

As a bicultural cisgendered Black and Mexican womxn faculty member, I realize the opportunity I have to teach my students to embrace their cultures, and I use art as a vehicle to uplift them and steep them in a history and lived experience that celebrates them. Coming back to teach at my old school is part of a familial legacy. My father [John West III] was the first Black faculty member at Harvard School for Boys, and I teach many of his former students’ children. I am grateful for his labor, grace, and legacy. I have been the only Black faculty member at an institution before, and I am so thankful for my colleagues and the HW Black Caucus. As an alumna of color, I am proud to use my voice to advocate for curricular change and tell teachers and administrators who knew me as a student what it is like to not experience books and art that reflect your culture in a positive light. I am proud for not being afraid to say these things out loud and applaud students who are vocal advocates."

Elliott Parivar
Science Teacher
At HW since 1989

"Technology has changed a great deal since I started teaching at Harvard and Harvard-Westlake, and the tools that we have now have been instrumental in making advancements in teaching. Back in 1989 we had no internet! In addition, in the past few years we have been given access to seven advanced science labs, a steam [science, technology, engineering, art, and math] room, and a robotics room, all in Seaver Science Center on the middle school campus.

Some students typed up their lab reports on electric typewriters. We all had first-generation little Apple computers on our desks, which later became Power Macintosh desktops and then PC laptops.

I have a picture of every class that I have taught at HW since 1989, neatly placed chronologically in two photo albums, which includes all the students’ names in the captions. I have given every student a 4x6” print for a keepsake. My job as their teacher is to make them feel safe, secure, important, nurtured, loved, confident, and engaged. In addition, my job is also to make them interested and excited about learning science. They go home and tell their parents how blowing up a hydrogen-filled balloon made their day, or how their science teacher did an awkward ballet dance imitation in front of the class to demonstrate how to convert units within the metric system.

Before Harvard, I had never pictured myself teaching children. My prior teaching experience had been at the college level. However, I was immediately impressed with how interactive, enthusiastic, self-motivated, hard-working, and goal-oriented these middle school students were. Lo and behold, here I am, 31 years later, holding the same position, and loving every minute of it."

LaShonda Naté Long
English Teacher
At HW since 2018

"Anything that allows teenagers to see outside their own world is important. It’s important to be able to read something and not just say, that was a great story, but also to see the humanity in it. Literature gives us a way to not only connect and empathize, but also to better understand ourselves. Looking at Frankenstein, for example, we might ask, who is the true monster? How does the story relate to how we see ourselves and other people in the world?

Tenth grade is a new experience for students of literature. They’re mastering the skill of close reading— moving from what’s happening in the text to how it’s happening. What is the author doing from a stylistic standpoint to create meaning? how is the writer using literary elements, diction, tone? I’m excited to teach my students to consider the critical connections between literature and culture. My hope is to encourage students to challenge their worldview and broaden and deepen their understanding of gender, race, and history."

Joe Schenck
Performing Arts Teacher
At HW since 2013

We try to move students away from the competitive approach to dance, where fear about scores and winning and losing dominates the experience. Yes, we are still disciplined and committed to excellence, but we focus much more on the art form. We have thoughtful analytical discussions, learn tools of choreography, improvise to find our personal styles, create together, and teach and learn from each other. We want our dancers to feel connected, regardless of skill level, knowing that they are all part of the same dance community. When students tell me they feel supported, challenged, encouraged, unafraid, and free to express themselves—that feels like the greatest accomplishment of all.

Since I was hired eight years ago, I’ve seen increased efforts to make our school a
more diverse, inclusive, and equitable community. We aim to look at dance through an antiracist, antibias lens. We honor the diversity of cultures represented in the world of dance and celebrate and amplify BIPOC dance styles, choreographers, and companies.

I also want to encourage everyone to un-gender the way they think about dance. Most people say, “so how are your girls doing?” when they ask about our dancers. We have participants of every gender in our classes every year. Dance is for everyone!

Karen Fukushima
Middle School Dean and History/Social Studies Teacher
At HW since 1999

"Every day is a bit of a surprise as a dean - you never know what to expect. I refer to the role as 'school parent,' since we handle anything from schedule changes to counseling, working with students, parents, and faculty. I don't always have the answers, but I've definitely learned who to ask.

Being the faculty advisor for the Asian American Culture Club is one of the things I enjoy most. I’m not sure when AACC started; it was already a club when I started 20 years ago. We take advantage of the rich Asian American culture in our city, including outings to eat Korean BBQ and Japanese udon. Food is an easy entry point to culture and identity and is at the heart of many of our celebrations. We also host an annual Lunar New Year movie and potluck. AACC provides leadership opportunities and a safe space for students to explore and take pride in their Asian American identities."

Greg Gonzalez
Director of Financial Aid and History/Social Studies Teacher
At HW since 1994

"I think people would be surprised by the holistic way we evaluate financial aid applications. It’s based on a complex algorithm involving tax records and lots of numbers, but we account for every family’s personal circumstances before we arrive at a fair grant. Each grant beats with a human heart.

Without financial aid, we would select our students from a much smaller pool of applicants. Our $13.7 million financial aid budget allows us to enroll fantastic students—the best in Los Angeles—who make our school better."

Brenda Simon
Middle School Attendance & Health Coordinator and Director of the Summer Enrichment Program
At HW since 1990

Humans of Harvard-Westlake: Brenda Simon (Middle School Attendance & Health Coordinator and Director of the Summer Enrichment Program)

"I love giving girls a safe place to voice their opinions with HW’s Girls Club. The club has evolved over 20 years from just a place to hang out to a place to talk about important issues girls often face and make a difference in our community through fundraising and special events. Our mission is to spread awareness and focus on girls who are less fortunate than the ones who attend schools like HW. In doing so, the girls learn a lot about other girls and themselves.

As an educator, nothing is more fulfilling than watching a student grow. I started teaching self-awareness in the summer enrichment program in the summer of 2002 and became the director after two summers. SEP is my baby!

I made a lot of changes, including only accepting students from public schools. Although the students are only with me for the month of July for two summers, the change in the students’ attitude toward learning when they return after the first summer melts my heart. I’m very proud of what my students have accomplished, and I keep in touch with a lot of the families."