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Kent Pioneers: Women Transforming Education

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Since the opening of the Hill campus in 1960, Kent women have left an undeniable mark on the world. To celebrate that legacy, Kent School is holding a series of virtual events to celebrate 60 Years of Women at Kent. 
 
Our next event, “Kent Pioneers: Women Transforming Education,” features a panel of three women who have had a profound impact on primary and secondary education: Laurada Beacham Byers '66, Margaret Ayres Smith '65, and former faculty member Gwenith Heuss-Severance. They will share their experiences as pioneers at Kent and beyond. The panel discussion will be moderated by educator and newly elected Alumni Council member, Kristine Palmero Sydney  '97.

Moderator

Kristine Palermo

Kristine Palmero Sydney '97 

Kristine Palmero Sydney '97 (she/her) has been an upper school English teacher for twenty years. An English teacher and dorm head at Milton Academy (MA), though she received the yearbook superlative “Most Likely to Return to Kent as a Teacher,” Kristine said she initially went into teaching for the vacations, which gave her time with her parents and sisters, who were living in Saudi Arabia. 

She started her career at Cushing Academy (MA) where she was short-listed for the Reitman Teacher of the Year award. After, she worked at the Wheeler School (RI) where, involved in diversity and inclusion work, she advised the first race-based affinity group, a space for their Asian and Asian American students. At Brown University’s  “E(race)d But Not Forgotten” conference, she presented on the lingering effects of the US’s exclusionary immigration policies on online dating, and at their “Asian Abroad” consortium, she was a panelist who shared her own immigration experiences as a Filipino educator. A bone marrow donor, she tells all her students to join the registry when they turn eighteen.

Kristine earned both her B.A. in English and Film and her M.A. in English from Middlebury College. A member of Kent’s Alumni Council and the Alumni of Color Committee, Kristine lives in Milton with her partner, Jacob, and their two daughters.
 

 

 

Panelists

Laurada beachman

Laurada Beacham Byers '66

Laurada Byers is the founder and former Chair of the Russell Byers Charter School (RBCS) Board of Trustees. She is the current Chair of the Byerschool Foundation Board. Laurada is also a Founder of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence, an alliance of public charter schools in the city.

Laurada opened RBCS in 2001 as a tribute to her late husband, a well-known Philadelphia Daily News columnist, who was a persuasive advocate for improving the quality of public education in Philadelphia. Today RBCS is a high-performing school serving 725 pre K – 8th grade students who are chosen by lottery and represent 37 different neighborhoods.

Laurada’s involvement in the Philadelphia community has been both active and varied. For 50 years, she was a board member of International House Philadelphia, a cultural, educational and social program center that encourages cross-cultural understanding while assisting nearly 500 students from over 65 countries in their adjustment to American society. In the early 1990’s, as the Board Chair at International House, Laurada was a pivotal influence in founding the Festival of World Cinema, which later became the Philadelphia Film Society, of which she is now a board member.

In 1992, Laurada founded Warthog Productions, which creates products that use humor and compassion to educate and enrich people’s lives. Her first products were Repiglican and Demoquack, two stuffed animals for teaching children about government and politics. She next published Book of Blessings52 Graces from Around the World, which has sold 55,000 copies. In 2019, Laurada published Wild Wisdom – A Warthog’s Tale. In this graphic memoir, she explains how she has faced challenges with a focus on grief, grit, and gratitude. 

Laurada has received numerous awards for community service, including Philadelphia Magazine’s Volunteer of the Year, Kent School’s Reverend Frederick H. Sill O.H.C. Society Award, the Woman One award from Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership, and a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. In 2017, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf named her a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.

Laurada lives in Center City, Philadelphia, and has two children and three grandchildren.
 

Gwenith H

Gwenith Heuss-Severance (Hon. '65)

Gwen Heuss-Severance (Hon. '65) joined the Kent School Girls faculty to teach General Studies to Third Formers following her graduation from Northwestern University in 1960. Among the pioneers that first year were Assistant Headmaster and Principal of the Girls Division of Kent School Sid Towle '31, Chaplain Fr. Newton, Esther Gassett (math), Lynn Olmsted (English), Basil Hanford (Latin), Marguerite Gauzarges (French), Elinor Dunn (Phys. Ed.), Pat Morse (nurse), and the wives of several Boys’ school administrators who did their husbands’ jobs for the Girls: Sarah Uhle (Admissions) and Jean Howard (Director of Studies).

Gwen’s memories of the first three years are vivid and happy. She loved the work, the challenges, the friendships, the rhythms of keeping school. In 1963, about a week after the graduation of the first girls Sixth Form, she married Jake Severance, a South Kent teacher. For the next three years, Gwen commuted from South Kent to teach both on the hill and at the Boys school. Their daughter Rebecca was born in 1968 and Abigail followed in 1969 shortly after they had moved to the Choate School. By then, she had completed a master’s degree at Wesleyan.

In 1971, when Rosemary Hall moved from Greenwich to Wallingford to join Choate in another iteration of coordinate/coeducation, Gwen joined the Choate-Rosemary Hall faculty and spent the next 36 years teaching and deaning, and as chair of the department of history, psychology, philosophy, religions and social studies.

Jake Severance and Gwen divorced in 1984. In 1986, she settled off campus in Hamden, CT with her partner and spouse, Judy Lhamon. Both Gwen and Judy retired in 2007 and continue to live engaged and committed lives traveling and volunteering. For the last 12 years, Gwen has been an active member of their local Unitarian Universalist congregation, enjoyed being outdoors with a camera in hand, reading good books, and feeling comfortable with social media.

Gwen is especially looking forward to the end of COVID quarantines, being able to travel to spend time with her children, grandchildren, and to welcome and hold her new great-grandson who was born on New Year’s Eve.

Margo ayres

Margaret Ayres Smith '65 

Margo Smith '65 retired from The Park School located in Brookline, MA  in 2016 after serving in a variety of roles since 1972, including Assistant Head and the Department Head for Growth Education. During her tenure, she developed a life skills course entitled “Growth Education” for grades six through nine, focusing on topics such as friendships, bullying, identity, sexuality, wellness, digital citizenship, consent, and allyship. She also served as a SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) facilitator for two decades, leading monthly workshops for faculty. Margo is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice and has served as a consultant, running workshops exploring white privilege, bias, and racism. 

Margo received her BA in History and Education from Northwestern University in 1969 and her MAT in Education and Counseling from Boston University in 1972.