Alumni Stories that Inspire

One of Madison Public Schools' greatest assets is the diversity of our students and their experiences, a strength exemplified by the variety of our alumni stories. We hope you find inspiration in these stories, featured with great pride.

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A Multi-Generational Dedication to Wisconsin Public Education

The Vander Meulen Family’s story starts with August (“Augie”) Vander Meulen. Following his time as a professional basketball player in the pre-NBA days - playing for the Oshkosh All-Stars – Augie became an assistant principal at Madison East High School. When Madison La Follette High School was founded in the fall of 1963, he became the school’s first principal (the school’s auditorium is named for him). Augie was also a member of the Madison school board in the late 70’s.

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Supporting Schools to Become Resilient Trauma-Responsive Ecosystems

Malcolm Shabazz City High School class of 1990 alumna Lara Kain is a self-employed national education consultant specializing in trauma-informed schools, school community partnerships, and holistic school reform models. She designed a resilient schools pilot for Kaiser Permanente which has been implemented in 20 schools across the country. As she reflects on why the principles and practices of creating trauma-informed/trauma-responsive environments in school settings has always connected with her deep down in her bones, she recognizes that it’s tied directly to her own roots in the progressive education movement – both as a student at Shabazz and then as a teacher.

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Advising Harvard on Sustainability Strategy

West High School class of 2018 alumnus Charles Hua is a rising junior at Harvard College studying Statistics and Mathematics. Charles was first introduced to climate change as a second grader at Van Hise Elementary School, when his teacher taught about climate change and emphasized the important role younger generations could play in taking initiative to solve environmental issues. A decade later, while a student at West High School, Charles served as president of the school’s Green Club, where he helped launch “Project Solis,” an initiative through which individuals and organizations could “adopt” and name a solar panel with a $500 donation. Through the generosity of students, parents, staff, alumni, residents, local businesses, foundations, and many others, Charles helped raise $150,000 to install solar panels for the school. 

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Giving Students of Color “a Voice and Advocacy"

When former East High Principal Mike Hernandez hired East High class of 2011 alumnus Ebrahim Amara as Multicultural Services Coordinator in 2017, it was on an educated hunch. He had known Mr. Amara since he was in high school and saw in him skills that eclipsed his experience. “His strength was in relationships,” said Hernandez. That hunch paid off. Mr. Amara is now a dedicated educator with enough positive energy to fill an arena. He knows the playing field, he was there as a teen, long before his MSC position existed, and he sees what he is able to offer kids now. In his role, Mr. Amara gives students of color “a voice and advocacy.

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Advancing Innovations in Teaching and Learning

West High class of 1987 alumna Suzanne Dove credits much of her personal and professional success to the education she received from Madison’s public schools (Thoreau Elementary, Cherokee Heights Middle, and West High). So much so that she and her husband made the decision 13 years ago to return to Madison so their children could receive the same first-rate public school education that Suzanne had.

Currently the Founding Executive Director of the Badavas Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Bentley University, Suzanne’s post-high school journey started with a cross country move to attend college on the East Coast. She received a Bachelor of Arts in European Cultural Studies from Brandeis University and a Master of Public Administration from New York University. Thereafter, the first phase of her career was in international development, living and working in NYC, Spain, Latin America, and Washington, DC.

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Ensuring Everyone Gets to Go

After memorable years at Falk, Toki and Memorial, JMM class of 2000 alumna Melanie Isaacs went to the UW-Madison to follow her passion and study animals. Following a degree in Zoology, and a year volunteering in the Cook Islands for the Ministry of Marine Resources, she went to Western Illinois University to get her masters in Biology and Certificate in Zoo and Aquarium Studies. While checking the boxes to become a biologist and working at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago she had an experience that would change everything... 

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Finding the Path to the Pulitzer

West High School class of 2003 alumnus Evan Hill is a journalist on the New York Times’ Visual Investigations team, which combines traditional reporting with advanced digital forensics. Hill and his team were recently awarded a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for a body of work exposing Russia’s “shadow wars” — bombings, murders, bribery, disinformation — across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The Visual Investigations team proved that Vladimir Putin’s military was deliberately bombing hospitals and civilians in Syria.

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Bringing a Youthful Perspective to Madison School Board

La Follette High School (LHS) class of 2013 alumnus Savion Castro recently won the Madison School Board race for Seat 2. The election of Castro, in addition to last year's election of Board member Ali Muldrow, marks the first time in the history of MMSD that there will be two sitting African Americans at one time on the board, and that the majority of the board will be made up of people of color.

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