Where Are They Now?

Visit this page to discover news on what's happening with our Westfield Friends School alumni.

Where Are They Now?

 

Will Coleman

 

Margaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with Will Coleman about his journey from his days as a student at Westfield Friends School to his life today.

 

 

MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends to today.
WC:   Westfield Friends, which I attended from Kindergarten through 7th grade as a member of the class of ‘99, shaped my life in unexpected ways and instilled empathy. I’m now a curator and art historian specializing in 19th-century American landscape art. As Director of Collections & Exhibitions for The Olana Partnership, I oversee the curatorial and research enterprises for the 90,000 object permanent collection and iconic buildings of the artist Frederic Edwin Church’s 250-acre estate in Hudson, New York, working closely with the New York State Parks system.  

This has been a dream job after a winding path through teaching and museums: sharing the stories of a global collection of art and artifacts, formed and used by one of the most interesting creative minds of the 19th century, with diverse 21st-century audiences. There are unique opportunities here to understand the values of the past and the possibilities of the future.

After 7th grade, my family moved to Cambridge, Mass., where I attended a mainstream independent school that was quite a bit less nurturing than WFS.  Upon graduation, I promptly returned to the Philadelphia area and Quaker education to attend Haverford College. I studied art history there and in a master’s at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, followed by a master’s in musicology at Oxford and completed my formal studies with a Ph.D. in art history at Berkeley in 2015. While there was a fair bit of pure research and teaching along the way, the social role and potential wider impact of museums long beckoned so I’m delighted to have landed at a particularly unique American museum. 

MH: What are the two or three events, people, experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?
WC: Principal Bill Probsting’s regular art lectures to the full school community are still fresh in mind and had a lasting impact. I can see his laser pointer tracing out the diagonals of a painting’s composition from a good old fashioned slide tray in the auditorium. Other memories include Mrs. Chesson’s 6th-grade class visit to a mosque during Ramadan, where the kind and welcoming members of the community prepared a lunch for us they could not enjoy themselves at that time of day. Long before it was fashionable, that class had a powerful inoculation against the racism and xenophobia of the early 2000s. 

I have warm memories of the physical campus and appreciate the incredible socio-cultural diversity of my class of 24 students. There are clear and fond memories of the meetinghouse, where I spent Sundays too as a member of the First Day School class. I have continued to be involved in Quaker organizations as a member of Moorestown Monthly Meeting and of the Advisory Committee of the Corporation of Haverford College. Intriguingly, there’s lots of Quaker history close at hand in this neck of the woods. Hudson, NY was founded by Quakers and still has a vibrant community. 

MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?
WC: The values that Westfield instilled are so deep-seated and so central to my character that it’s a challenge to spell them out. I learned compassionate awareness of my own privilege in a remarkably diverse community, even then, patience in decision making, working to make sure every voice is heard because there is that of God in all, and the overarching mission of practicing peace and tolerance. 

MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?
WC:  I hope that they can return to in-person learning in a difficult time because there is no substitute for the physical environment I remember so fondly. Until then, I hope that the technological tools will help students to enjoy a powerful sense of community like I experienced, even if remotely. 

MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?
WC: I am still in touch with some friends from Westfield, and would like to be in touch with more. There have been unexpected encounters in years since, like bumping into Andrea Horbinski ‘99 in the stacks of the central library at Berkeley, where it turned out she was pursuing a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies. I am proud to see peers going on to fulfilling careers of purpose. Westfield is precious for the rare intimacy that makes it potentially fragile, even in the best of times, and deserves our special care in 2020.  It is really the perfect school environment imaginable for a certain kind of learner and I’m so grateful that my sister Anne ‘01 and I had the ability to grow in that special community.

To read featured interviews with more of our Westfield Friends School Alumni, click on their names below.

David Beal and childrenMargaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with alumni David Beal ‘89 about his journey from his days as a student at Westfield Friends School to his life today.

MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends to today
DB: I came to WFS in second grade with my sister, Christy ‘86. There were 19 in my graduating class at WFS. Most of my class was together for the entire ten years. A few kids came in 7th grade from Haddonfield Friends.  I graduated from Westfield and went to Moorestown High School with six or seven of my WFS classmates. After high school, I was only ever back in the area for short visits. For instance, I was back for two weeks over Christmas to help my parents pack up the house.  

My parents still live in Moorestown in our old family home. They were very involved with Mt. Laurel Monthly Meeting helping with the landscaping and redoing the furnace and regularly attending Meeting for Worship. 

For college, I chose Miami of Ohio. I wanted a bit more rural of a setting and my mother was a graduate of the school. After a few years I bought a boat I named “SkarkBait”. Me and two friends traveled from Cincinnati on the Ohio River through the Ten Tom River and Canal system all the way to Mobile, Alabama. This was a two summer adventure. We would pull into a marina find odd jobs to cover our fuel and slip fee. I met my wife along the way. I sold the boat in Alabama. We decided to head west and bought two train tickets to Astoria, Oregon. I finished my BA degree at Portland State.  In those years our daughters Cassiopeia and son Orion were born. From Portland State, I went on to Willamette University College of Law. After law school, I practiced legal aid immigration law. After that, I did ten years as a public defender. Now I practice private criminal defense law in a small tourist town along the coast in Oregon.

MH: How did you decide what to study in college. 
DB: When I was in college I went to Alaska and worked in a cannery. College was one thing but the world was the real thing. I started in physics but ended with Poli Sci and History.  I discovered I was more interested in people and their problems. I liked to debate both sides of an issue. These are good attributes for a lawyer

MH What do you like about living and working in a small town?
DB: At the moment, the stay at home order has slowed down the need for a defense lawyer. Today at noon, I had my coffee in my car looking at the ocean. A  person knocked on my window. It was this homeless lady who has been my client. I didn’t give her money but I did load her and all of her belongings into my car. I drove across town to the grocery store and helped her with groceries, ripping my pants in the process. Small towns give me the chance to know those in my community. 

David Beal and alumsMH: What are the two or three events, people, experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?
DB: I remember going on a field trip to Independence Hall. We were assigned roles for and against the revolution. I was a pro-England farmer. I loved it. While in middle school the US celebrated the 200th year of the Constitution. This celebration was so important to me and the choices I made about my work. Who knows, maybe I got stuck in the 1780s.

Mr. Probsting was our principal. He had this marble machine in his office. I always wanted to play with it, but the only times I was in his office, I was in trouble so I never got to play with the machine. 

I remember loving second grade. Mrs. Callahan was great and would do art history lessons with us. Then in third grade, we started having art history slides on Mondays. Mr. Probsting would bring in a tray of slides and teach us to see. I remember one spring day he had a whole wheel of wildflower slides.

Mrs.Califf was our fifth-grade teacher; she moved with us up to seventh and then eighth grades. She knew us so well and we knew what she expected of us. She was tolerant of our 8th-grade swagger. By the end of the year, we were calling her Betty Ann and we were calling Mr. Probsting, Bill. He did not appreciate this. 

For my Eagle Scout project, I painted the windows outside of 3rd and 4th grades.

David Beral '89MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?
DB: I discovered from my teachers that I like having to argue. To make a good case, I have to listen carefully to the other sides; I learned how to do this at Westfield.  Equality is also important to me. I have to deal with all kinds of people in my work. I try to treat everyone with the same respect. 

I learned that it is a gift to be simple; to live a simple life. For instance, I drive an old car with more than 280,000 miles on it. In this car, I am comfortable picking up hitchhikers and homeless people. And they are comfortable getting into my car. The Pacific Northwest is damp and rainy but not bitter cold. This is one reason for the high number of homeless people. One-third of my caseload in the public defender's office were homeless or mental health cases. I didn’t study mental health in college or law school.  I didn’t anticipate the mental health aspect of being a public defender but it became a specialty for me. Other public defenders would trade cases with me to give me their mental health clients.

MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?
DB: I think of WFS as a safe little place to start the world from. I hope they experience it as I did, comfortable and homey.  I hope they take this sense of friendship and comfort with them when they venture out beyond WFS. I hope they come to love the history of the school and the palpable sense of connection to the past, present, and future.

 
.
 

Margaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with alumna Angela Garcia ‘80 about her days as a student at Westfield Friends School and the ways her education has carried her through her life.

 

MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends School to today.

AG: My parents enrolled my older sister in Woodbury Friends because they thought a Quaker school would be a good partner in the education of their children. Eventually, she went to Haddonfield Friends and I joined her there when I was in first grade. In third grade, my parents moved me to Westfield Friends School. Margaret Lord was my teacher. French was my favorite subject and I have fond memories of singing in French with our French teacher who played the guitar. It was in third grade my love for French began. At WFS, I learned to love sports, especially field hockey which I played throughout middle school and high school.

 

I graduated from Brown University, where I pursued political science but developed a love for teaching. Between my sophomore and junior years in college, I had this summer job tutoring newly accepted students to Trenton State. I was horrified that these young people who were just a few years younger than me had not received the education I had. That experience inspired me to become an elementary teacher and determined to give all of my future students an educational experience similar to what I had at Westfield Friends School. As I advanced in my career and school leadership roles, I knew that if I was ever given the opportunity, I would lead a Friends School. After a career in education, I now lead Friends Community School in College Park, Maryland.

 

MH: What are the two or three events, people, or experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?

AG: I have so many vivid memories. I remember WFS being diverse and that there were at least six students of color in my class from third grade to sixth grade. It was nice to see my reflection in the faces of some of my classmates. 

 

Mrs. Stanley was my fourth-grade teacher. In her class, we created books about our goals and aspirations for the future. My mother kept that book until she died and I have it now. Some of those early plans have come true. In fifth grade, we did research on historical figures. I selected Amelia Earhart, who I researched and I remember we had to assume the role and dress like our research subjects. In sixth grade, I had Bill Probsting. Mr. Probsting fostered my love of current events. We had subscriptions to Newsweek. On Mondays, he would give each of us an individualized list of names and countries. We each had to write our own summaries of what we learned. I think I ended up majoring in Political Science because of that weekly research. 

 

I was very shy as a child. All of the performances and speeches we had to give were so important in developing my self-confidence. 

 

MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?

AG: Meeting for Worship meant so much to me. Every Wednesday, the whole school went to the Meeting House for worship in the manner of Friends. We gathered in silence and waited for the spirit to move different people (including children) to share messages. The other days we gathered in the auditorium with Bible reading and chapter book reading. All of my life I have carried with me this appreciation for quietness and the importance of reflection. 

 

I have been really blessed in my career. When I was looking for where to lead, I was drawn to a Quaker School because the values I learned at Westfield Friends School were so important to me personally and professionally. There is something powerful in being able to talk with children about the Divine and that of God in all of us.  Now I am honored to be head of a Friends school, Friends Community School in College Park, MD.

 

For thee years, I examined ways in which education could change in order to prepare children for a “VUCA”  world, which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The term aptly describes the world we live in (even before the COVID-19 pandemic. I know a Quaker education gives children and adults a moral and intellectual grounding in this world.

 

MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?

AG: I want them to enjoy every moment they are there. My other advice is don’t be comfortable, try something new!  WFS lit a passion in me and a sense of myself that remains at the core of my being. 

 

MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?

AG: I want them to appreciate the education we received and find ways to share their talents and resources with WFS. 

Julie Martin '04

 

Margaret Haviland had the opportunity to speak with alumni Julie Martin about her journey from her days as a student at Westfield Friends School to her life today.

 

MH: Tell me briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends to today
JM: After graduating from WFS in 2004, I went to Moorestown Friends School for high school.  Then I attended Lafayette College, where I studied psychology.  After college, I went to Duke University and completed a PhD in Social Psychology in 2017. After graduating from Duke, I moved back to the area and worked as a researcher in the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment at Temple University. Now I work as a learning researcher for a leadership organization for chief executives called YPO. 

MH: What interested you in Social Psychology? 
JM: I took a class in the subject in college and was drawn to it. I was especially struck by the fundamental role that belonging plays in people’s well-being. As a student at WFS, I don’t think I realized how special it is to grow up in such a caring and supportive school environment. But as an adult, I have a deeper appreciation for WFS and for everyone who has made it the community that it is for students.   

MH: What are the two or three events, people, experiences you most remember from your Westfield years?
JM: I remember each of my teachers and appreciate the work they did every day to help us grow as students and as people. Teaching is a labor of love, and WFS teachers are the best! I remember the school plays every year and getting to help create them in the later grades. I remember going to cut the Christmas Tree one year, and I remember the specialness of the second grade Christmas Play. I remember being an angel in the nativity scene in second grade, a queen in a sixth grade interactive medieval fair, and Wendy from Peter Pan in an eighth-grade play we wrote called “Mixing it Up” (a mashup of Disney movies). I think part of what made events and experiences at WFS so special was that the whole school was involved, which created shared experiences for the community.

MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way you make choices for yourself?
JM: The values I learned at WFS were embedded in the way we operated as a school, and now how I try to live my life as an adult. I think leading with kindness and acceptance is an important foundation I gained at WFS and also at home. Also, seeing the Light in everyone, especially in the moments when it’s difficult.  And I try to allow space in my life for quiet and reflection.

MH: What do you hope for Westfield students today?
JM: I hope they are equipped with tools and resilience to lead happy, productive lives. Exploration is an important part of childhood, but children need a safe base from which to explore. So I hope WFS students today feel safe to grow and explore and that they know they belong no matter what.

MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?
JM: I hope they remember WFS was a nice place to grow up and learn. My re-engagement with the school came about through moving back to the area and through my family’s engagement. My mother is on the development committee and my sister teaches at WFS now. I hope alums will re-engage with this place that was such a big part of our lives for so long and at such a formative time. Coming to alumni events like the recent one at Double Nickel is a great way to begin. Two of my classmates came and we had a great time. Once you go to one event, you see it’s a lot of fun, and it feels easier to go to the next one. Maybe we need to have a class connector/representative for each class who reaches out and invites alums to events or to volunteer.

Rylee Fennell '12

Rylee Fennell, class of 2012 and daughter of Phys Ed teacher Mrs. Fennell, accepted an offer to the University of Virginia to get her Masters in Speech and Language Pathology with a partial academic scholarship.

 

MH: Tell us briefly about your journey from Westfield Friends to today
RF: I attended Westfield from kindergarten through eighth grade (2003-2012). After graduating from WFS, I went to high school at Moorestown Friends School for the next four years. I then transitioned to Haverford College in 2016 for my undergraduate degree, which will be completed this May. Next fall, I will begin my master’s degree in speech-language pathology at the University of Virginia.

MH: What are the two or three events, people, experiences you most remember from you Westfield years?
RF: Two of my favorite memories of my time at WFS are from second and third grade. In second grade, Mrs. Martino periodically read us a book called No Flying in the House by Betty Brock. After we finished it as a class, she gave (and personally signed) a copy of the book to each student. My copy has had a permanent place in my bookshelf for the past 14 years. In third grade, Ms. Lyons played a pivotal role in developing my love of reading through her ingenious creation of the reading loft. For every book we read, we earned points that we could trade in for time to read in an elevated loft that looked over the classroom, complete with pillows and blankets. I owe my love of reading and language to Ms. Lyons and the loft.

MH: How do the values you learned in school continue to shape your life and the way make choices for yourself? 
RF: Westfield’s emphasis on Quaker values and the strength of community have impacted all aspects of my life. Westfield’s commitment to intentional reflection via Quaker traditions has enabled me to make decisions with clarity and confidence, a skill that neither comes easily nor is often taught. The school’s prioritization of community building and collaboration have shaped how I view education and ultimately played a large role in choosing where I furthered my education. I have repeatedly chosen to replicate the sense of mutual trust and respect I felt at WFS in all relationships I form, professionally and otherwise.

MH: What do you hope for Westfield alums as they think about Westfield today?
RF: I hope alums, no matter how long ago their time at WFS was, take the time to recognize how dedicated our small school is to continuously evolving to be better than it was the year before. So many advancements have been made since my time as a student, and more will undoubtedly occur. One constant that I hope they see regardless of these improvements is that their mission remains the same: to guide students into becoming their best version of themselves, inside and out of the classroom, through kindness, commitment, and reflection.