Francis and Elena Wong are siblings who graduated from GMS one year after another. Francis (Class of 2006) went on to attend the Early College at Guilford and Elena (Class of 2007) later enrolled at Grimsley High School. Though their paths diverged in high school, they reunited when these Montessori alumni were both accepted at UNC Chapel Hill. This Fall Elena will start her senior year at UNC studying Psychology with a minor in Spanish for the Professions, and Francis, who just graduated with a degree in Economics, will begin a PhD program in Economics with a concentration on Public Finance at University of California at Berkeley.
About his time at GMS, Francis remembers being in a “math class of one” when he was in Middle School; a unique example of how he was supported to learn and excel at his own pace and was never restricted to stay within the confines of a specific textbook or prescribed curriculum just because of his age or grade. Francis says “it was such a strong primer for learning math on the college level.” That experience parallels a math course experience that he had at UNC where the professor challenged him to approach math with the perspective that there is never just one right answer!
Francis also fondly recalls the overnight field trips that he took as a student at GMS and remarks that those trips are just one way that Montessori education helps students “look outwards” and move their learning to world beyond the classroom. For Francis, that philosophy of looking outward is the most compelling aspect of his experience at GMS. In fact, as a recipient of the prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship at UNC Chapel Hill, Francis has spent a lot of time looking out into the world. Throughout the last four years, the Morehead-Cain program has sponsored him in educational opportunities including grassroots public service in Argentina, research with Oxfam in Zambia, reconnaissance work in Ethiopia with an “off the grid” solar power company, and an independent project with the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta. The last opportunity solidified his desire to pursue a career in academia and launch straight into PhD level work and research. He looks forward to moving to the San Francisco Bay area in mid-July.
When asked about her fondest memories at GMS, Elena shares that her relationships with her teachers are what stand out the most. Whether it was through the Middle School advisory program or the overarching culture of support and respect shared between the students and faculty, Elena values the depth and closeness of the friendships that she formed. “At GMS there was always a level of comfort and trust between us. Even after GMS, I never felt intimidated to approach my teachers or my professors with questions,” Elena says. Today that translates to her experience at UNC where one of her professors is her running partner. Elena also keeps close ties with her GMS Middle School English teacher, Kathy Pitney, whose family lives in the RDU area. They have dinner together on a regular basis and Kathy invites Elena to come over and do laundry at her home. Elena says, “she always sends me back to school with several home cooked meals.”
This summer Elena will complete the second of two internships she has had with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, where she also participated in a Leadership Essentials program. She looks forward to returning to UNC in the Fall to finish her degree and continue as an RA for the Connor Community. She’ll also be competing on two of the university’s Ultimate Frisbee Teams. Sources say that she’s one of the MVPs on the women’s and co-ed teams.