Full Circle: Alumni Returning to Teach at Windward

Hear about five alumni who have come full circle and are now teachers themselves at Windward

If you were asked if anyone has made a lasting impact on your life, who would be brought to mind? For many of us, an image of a favorite teacher would materialize in our minds. Maybe your favorite teacher was someone who did epic science experiments in the lab that made your eyes fill with wonder and excitement. Or maybe your favorite teacher was someone who let you sit in their classroom to eat lunch so you would feel more comfortable at a new school. Or maybe your favorite teacher was someone that you saw show up every day with kindness and positivity, inspiring you to do the same. 

There are hundreds of teachers across all three campuses who warmly welcome their students to their classrooms every day so that Windward feels like a second home. Although the Windward program is a proven, research-based multisensory curriculum that is designed to serve the needs of all students with language-based learning disabilities, it is the teachers that truly bring the program to life. The teachers deliver their lesson plans with fine expertise, and each Windward teacher infuses their unique personalities and energy into the classroom to make the academic program unforgettable. Windward teachers’ commitment to their students is the heartbeat that makes The Windward School the special place it is. Every Windward teacher makes an impact, because they not only help their students learn the academic strategies and skills necessary to reach their academic potential, but also guide their students in developing confidence in their abilities. 

Inevitably, Windward students complete the program and embark on their next step as Windward alumni. The School’s alumni go on to pursue careers in wide-ranging industries, but many find their calling within the field of education, often citing their positive experiences with Windward as a leading influence. In this feature story, we hear about five alumni who have come full circle and are now teachers themselves at The Windward School. Our five alumni—Matt Bloom ’13, Bianca Rizzo ’10, Lizza Chapey '13, Lexa Krawchick '14, and Derek Kirk ’01—share reflections on their time as students and what their experience has been like returning to their former school. Each alum possesses an intimate knowledge about their Windward students’ challenges and opportunities, having gone through similar paths and experiencing the transformative effect of Windward’s program as well. Read on as these alumni share how their journey at The Windward School has continued on, first as students and now as teachers. 

Matt Bloom ’13
Professional Mind Blower

  • Manhattan Lower School Science Teacher, 2017 – Present  
  • MEd Concordia University 

  • BA Binghampton University 

  • Attended Windward for Grades 1-8, 2001 – 2009  

When Matt Bloom learned that he would be switching to a new school for first grade, he felt nervous and anxious. He already didn’t like school, because he felt teachers always asked him to do assignments that they did not explicitly teach him how to do. “But I remember my first few weeks at Windward. For the first time, I felt like I was able to learn. I no longer felt like I was dumb or left out because my teachers were nurturing, and the program worked. I felt successful and a growing sense of academic prowess.” 

“I remember my first few weeks at Windward. For the first time, I felt like I was able to learn.” 

Matt was enrolled in both the Westchester Lower and Middle Schools through eighth grade, and he models the style of his former social studies teacher, Jason Steiker. “I remember Mr. Steiker had a very colloquial and casual approach with students, and he spoke to us like we were adults. He had a big impact on me and made school my safe place, so I try and bring some of Mr. Steiker into my classes.” He also credited his basketball coach Chris Eberhard for supporting him emotionally and Diane Kissner for her critical guidance with outplacement.  

Following Windward, Matt was a boarding student at The Pennington School in New Jersey before enrolling at Binghampton University where he studied English literature and education. “In college, I was really invested in journalism and literature, and I really thought about why. I wondered how did Windward take someone like me, who initially struggled with reading and writing, into becoming an English major?” Matt felt, as an individual with dyslexia, like he didn’t often struggle with a learning difference anymore. “Not to say it goes away, but I felt like I had been fully remediated. And that is because Windward’s tactics and strategies made life so much easier.” 

Matt was interested in understanding the Windward program and specifically how it helped students with language-based learning disabilities. He felt it was 100% successful for him, so he wanted to learn how it worked. Matt was driven to start his career with a Windward framework, so, after graduating from Binghampton, Matt started his first year as an assistant teacher at the Manhattan campus.  

“The Windward Teacher Training Program is the best education you can get for any teacher on the market since you are being paid while you are learning,” said Matt, reflecting upon his first two years as a language arts assistant. “Being an assistant is an amazing gift because now I truly understand how to teach reading and writing so I can facilitate that in any class, not just language arts.” 

Matt began to teach science classes in his third year, while concurrently earning his master’s degree in general education and leadership. Today, he is now in his second year as a lead Manhattan Lower School Science Teacher for Grades 1-4. “With a full schedule of my own classes, I feel like I am still learning and growing so much as a teacher, but I know I am getting better and having fun with it,” said Matt. “The fact that I’m a lead teacher means the world to me, and I feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of my students, like my teachers made in mine.” 

Some favorite science lessons include demonstrating dry ice during Halloween and bringing in live specimens, such as butterflies and tadpoles, for students to observe. “[Coordinator of Science] Mr. Lennihan told me that my job as a lower school science teacher is to be a professional mindblower,” said Matt. “My goal is for my students to realize that science and learning can be so much fun and to be motivated for class.” 

Matt also encourages his students by sharing with them that he was a Windward student himself. He shows them old yearbook photos as well as a photo of him during a hard hat visit to the Westchester Middle School construction site.  

“It is wonderful to see my students realize that their teacher was a student just like them. I hope it shows them that they can accomplish their goals and their futures are bright.” 

Bianca Rizzo ’10
Special Education Advocate

  • Westchester Lower School Assistant Teacher, 2021 – Present  

  • MS Ed Manhattan College 

  • BA Manhattan College 

  • Attended Windward for Grades 7-9, 2004 – 2007  

Three years attending the Westchester Middle School was a life-changing experience for Bianca Rizzo. Before coming to Windward, she fought her parents daily about going to school because she hated her public school experience. But in her first year as a seventh-grade student, Bianca’s perspective drastically changed. “My whole time at Windward really changed the way that I looked at learning, because the class sizes were small, I could keep up with the pace of my classes, and I was able to make friends.” 

Bianca also credits her teachers for taking their time to make sure that she really understood the material and for instilling confidence in her that she could accomplish anything. “The Windward teachers I had taught me how to advocate for myself, which carried me through high school and college,” said Bianca. “They made me want to become a teacher too so I could help kids who were struggling in school. I wanted to be that person who could let students know that they could succeed, once they had the right tools and placement.” 

For her final years of high school, Bianca attended Eastchester High School. She then pursued her interest in education by earning both a bachelor’s degree in general childhood education and a master’s degree in special childhood education from Manhattan College. Bianca returned to a public school setting and served for six years as both an integrated co-teaching classroom aide and special education teacher leave replacement within the Scarsdale school district. In her role, Bianca supported a small integrated class of both special education and general education students, with students on IEPs ranging from autism to various learning disabilities. 

Bianca was seeking to further deepen her specialization within the special education field, and she desired more training. She realized that the Windward Teacher Training Program would offer her exactly what she was looking for, and Bianca returned this past school year to the Windward campuses as a Westchester Lower School assistant teacher.  

She supports her mentor teacher, Marissa Krosche, with language arts, math, and social studies classes. She enjoys how she can observe and absorb how Ms. Krosche teaches and what language she uses in her second-grade class. “I have been taking everything in and learning how to teach the students. One of my favorite lessons that I’ve led is a skills activity in language arts.” 

Speaking about an expository writing course that all assistant teachers are required to take, Bianca said, “I felt like I was back in middle school! The course was explaining why MPOs [multi-paragraph outlines] are used in the classroom, and it was so interesting to understand the pedagogy behind how my Windward teachers were teaching me as a student. Now I was learning how to teach it myself! It was surreal as an adult to see the mechanics behind the success of Windward’s program.” Bianca also commented how Windward’s methodology is unique when compared to the teaching style that special education instructors follow in public schools.  

“It was so interesting to understand the pedagogy behind how my Windward teachers were teaching me as a student. Now I was learning how to teach it myself!” 

Many of Bianca’s former teachers and coaches are still at the Westchester Middle School, and she has enjoyed reconnecting. “It was absolutely amazing to see Mr. Eberhard and Ms. Hunt, who were my softball coaches, as well as Ms. Fedele, Ms. Ralph, and Mr. Steiker, who were my teachers, at the new faculty and staff orientation at the start of the school year. Windward changed my whole life, and they were huge reasons why I am a teacher now.” 

Lizza Chapey ’13
Science of Teaching Enthusiast

  • Westchester Lower School Assistant Teacher, 2021 – Present  

  • BA Villanova University 

  • Attended Windward for Grades 4-6, 2004 – 2007  

Returning to teach at Windward as a Westchester Lower School assistant teacher has been fascinating for Lizza Chapey, allowing her the opportunity to "see behind the curtain." For example, she learned to track her reading with her finger or pen at Windward. In her language arts classes now, with her mentor teacher Nora Byrne, Lizza encourages the students to do the same. “I tell them I still do it, and it is one of the countless tools that I use to this day. Without these strategies, school and jobs later in life would have been a struggle.” 

Before Windward, Lizza actually did not fully comprehend how behind academically she was. She remembers being in her previous school and not being able to keep up, because her teachers were going too fast, but she thought she was managing the work. Her parents, though, could see that Lizza needed support with reading, and they learned through friends that The Windward School was the best place to remediate her learning disabilities. 

What stands out most to Lizza about her time at Windward were her teachers, who not only taught her important academic skills, like how to make sure her introductions and conclusions for her essays matched, but also made school enjoyable. “When I was walking in the hallway on the first day of new faculty and staff orientation at Windward, I saw someone that I thought I knew. She walked up to me, and she said, ‘It’s you!’ and I had the biggest hug from Ms. Mahoney. She was my fifth-grade homeroom teacher, and her endless energy and quirky personality made coming to school a happy experience.” 

Lizza completed the Windward program and outplaced after sixth grade. She spent the next six years at School of the Holy Child before graduating in 2013. During her senior year of high school, her parents had a conversation with her about taking a gap year before going to college. Lizza was surprised, because she thought she was ready, but her parents were strong proponents of her gaining more life experience first. She lived in Latin America for a year, without knowing how to speak Spanish. She took Spanish language classes, taught English, and lived with a family who only spoke Spanish. After a year, Lizza returned to the States and attended Villanova University, where she earned a bachelor’s in economics.  

Lizza moved to New York City and began a job in data analytics at a media agency, but it was not for her. “I had a quantitative major, so I found a quantitative job because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do,” said Lizza. “But I always knew that one day I wanted to be a teacher, so I thought why wait? I’m going to pursue what I like to do.” 

After leaving her data analytics position, Lizza began working as an after-school assistant at Rye Country Day School. On her way to work every day, she started listening to a new podcast she had found called READ, hosted by Danielle Scorrano of The Windward Institute. “I listened to every episode of READ, and it made me want to learn more about how to support children who are having learning problems. It brought me back to Windward and showed me the direction of the type of learning I was interested in.” 

A few months later, Lizza began her first full year in the classroom at Windward, and the Windward Teacher Training Program has been instrumental in filling in her understanding of teaching students with language-based learning disabilities.  

"To me, teaching is like trying to figure out the puzzle piece of how to get a concept to click for a student."

“I have always loved trying to solve jigsaw puzzles, and, to me, teaching is like trying to figure out the puzzle piece of how to get a concept to click for a student,” said Lizza. “We always have to listen to the student in front of us, adjust to their needs, and guide them there. I love doing that, and I’m grateful that I’m learning how to do all of these things at Windward.” 

Lexa Krawchick ’14
Inclusive Learning Champion

  • Westchester Lower School Assistant Teacher, 2021 – Present  
  • BS Syracuse University 

  • Attended Windward for Grades 8-9, 2009 – 2011  

When Lexa Krawchick came to Windward’s Westchester Middle School, she had been severely struggling with school. “For a long time, I had felt like I was drowning in the public school system,” said Lexa. “I felt like I was stupid and that it was my fault that I wasn’t doing well. Overall, I was falling behind, I was afraid to ask for help, and I didn’t think anyone could help me." 

Arriving at Windward revealed to Lexa that school did not have to feel so impossible anymore. She realized that in fact she was not being taught in the way where she could learn best. Lexa learned organizational strategies and note taking skills that helped her absorb material more effectively. The classroom moved at a pace that was manageable, and her teachers were her pillars of support. 

“My Windward teachers were what made my experience a positive one,” said Lexa. “My teachers would meet one-on-one to explain concepts to me in ways that I understood, so I finally felt like I was in a comfortable environment that enabled me to learn. Everyone made me feel like I was capable of doing anything, and they were going to get me through.” 

Lexa was grateful for Ms. Ralph’s gentle kindness and her open invitation to join her for  lunch in her science room every day. She also appreciated Ms. Gay’s tough love that pushed her to be more independent. Mr. Steiker’s attentive warmth made her feel seen, and Ms. Patalano née Carpentieri was a great source of comfort as Lexa navigated transitioning to a new school in eighth grade.  

“The Windward staff made such a difference in my life, and they made me want to become a Windward teacher too,” said Lexa. “Because I had such a negative experience in school for so many years, I was motivated to make sure no other student had to go through what I did. When someone came to my future classroom, I wanted to be the person who could offer a comfortable learning space where every student could trust me to see their full potential.” In particular, Lexa was drawn to special education to ensure all learners would receive the accommodations they needed to excel. 

Following Windward, Lexa graduated from Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua. She enjoyed participating in the program called The LIFE School during her junior and senior years. The project-based program focused on hands-on learning and provided a small community, and Lexa thrived. She then attended Marist College before transferring to Syracuse University to study general and special inclusive education.  

“The Syracuse program was absolutely incredible,” said Lexa. “My professors made sure we were prepared to be teachers with class management strategies, different ways to present material, and how to teach content in multiple ways.” 

Lexa is continuing to enjoy the learning process of becoming a teacher as a Westchester Lower School assistant teacher and participating in the Windward Teacher Training Program.  

“From my student experience, I knew that Windward would never be the type of school to throw you into anything without preparing you for it, so I could only imagine the type of training the teachers received,” said Lexa.  

And Lexa’s instincts were spot on. She has found the Windward Teacher Training Program to be purposeful and incredibly supportive. “From my mentor teacher Jillian Peden to the assistant staff developers, everyone is willing to guide me to be the best teacher. All the feedback is constructive because we all want me to become better, and I know I’m in the right place.” 

“All the feedback is constructive because we all want me to become better, and I know I’m in the right place.” 

As a Windward alumna, Lexa has experienced some déjà vu moments, as she learns why Windward teachers lead their classes in such a particular way. She has also realized during certain lessons that the skills she is now teaching are the same skills that she used regularly in her own academic career after Windward.  

“Being able to relate to my students is  unique, and I know their struggles of getting used to new ways of learning. But moving forward I hope to emphasize that what I learned at Windward saved me in the long run. Windward gave me the ability to see past my learning disability and feel capable of being a successful adult.” 

Derek Kirk ’01
Third Career Teacher

  • Manhattan Middle School Lead Teacher, 2020 – Present 
  • MST, MPA Pace University  

  • BA Quinnipiac University 

  • Attended Windward for Grades 7-8, 1995 – 1997  

Teaching is the third career path for Derek Kirk, and the third time’s the charm. For him, what greater purpose in life is there than to do very meaningful work in changing young people’s lives? When he saw the opening for an assistant teacher position at Windward during the summer of 2020, he felt that “it was an amazing opportunity to return to a school that was so impactful with me academically to now guide me as an instructor. I knew that Windward would be the perfect place to hone my craft as a teacher.” 

“It was an amazing opportunity to return to a school that was so impactful with me academically to now guide me as an instructor. I knew that Windward would be the perfect place to hone my craft as a teacher.” 

Derek attended Windward as a student for two years. He spoke fondly of two of his former teachers, Sheila Okin and Adele Barracca, for teaching him multiple organizational strategies to improve his writing composition, including planning, notetaking, and quick outlines.  

“When I learned about how to outline a paper, that was a gamechanger for me as a student,” said Derek. “There are still sentence starter charts on the walls in Windward classrooms, so it’s nice to see certain things haven’t changed. I continued to organize my work in the same way when I was in graduate school and drafting research papers and theses.” 

After Windward, Derek attended Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, and he excelled academically by retaining the writing skills he learned. Plus, he advocated for himself,  he used the accommodations he was entitled to, and he had extra support from his high school resource room. Derek moved on to receive his bachelor’s degree in communications from Quinnipiac University. He grew increasingly confident in his academic ability, so Derek was proud to have completed his second higher ed degree, a master’s in public administration with a focus on healthcare, from Pace University without using any accommodations. 

Derek then began his career in the healthcare and finance arenas as a financial analyst at White Plains Hospital. He continued to work in small medical practices as an accountant, medical billing operator, and payroll coordinator. A decade passed before Derek had a lightbulb moment. A close friend of his that he met at Windward was describing their experience as a teacher, and he realized that he wanted to leave behind healthcare and finance and explore a new career possibility of teaching. 

Derek completed Pace University’s master’s program in childhood education in 2019. As part of his coursework, Derek acted as a student teacher in Chinatown and observed public schools in the Upper East Side. “Once I was in front of the classroom, I truly felt that this was the perfect move for me. I love working with students and giving them the tools that I learned over the years.” 

The following year, Derek returned to Windward as an assistant teacher at the Manhattan Middle School. In his first year, he had a fantastic time working with Olivia Gennusa as his mentor teacher in language arts classes. This year, he is working with Shirley Hwang, Ruby Silverstein, and Ellen Colton across all academic disciplines. Additionally, Derek is leading a pilot program of new computer classes three times a week.  

Although the Manhattan campus did not exist yet when he was a Windward student, the program and overall student experience still ring true for Derek. “When the students were doing writing samples at the beginning of the year, I could sense their frustration about the painstaking amount of time it took them to brainstorm ideas and put them into an outline,” said Derek. “I totally remember what that was like. Until I came to Windward, I didn’t have any idea how to begin and come up with a plan to write. Seeing the progress of the students and watching them gradually build their toolkit from the fall to the summer really spoke to me, because I noticed much of that change in myself as a Windward student.” 

Derek has been impressed with the growth of Windward, expanding from one building in Westchester to three campuses and four divisions. “It’s fantastic the School has thrived in the years since I have been a student. It’s an important school and helps so many people. It is so important that a school like Windward exists.”