The Ilyas Family Shipley Story: An Effortless Sense of Belonging
The Ilyases were looking for something more than just an excellent academic education when they explored independent schools for their children. They wanted a school where their kids were going to be free to define themselves and feel a strong sense of community. Learn more about the Ilyases and how Shipley’s environment supports each child’s sense of identity.
The Ilyases were looking for something more than just an excellent academic education when they explored independent schools for their children. “We are fortunate to live in an area rich with educational opportunities,” explains Erum, mom to Dean ’21, Amber ’24, and Sammy ’25.
The Ilyases wanted a school where their kids were going to be free to define themselves and feel a strong sense of community. Like most schools, Shipley promises a caring and diverse community. But Erum will be the first to acknowledge the intricate complexity that comprises a truly diverse community in which every individual is valued for their contribution and ideas.
“Whether through my own schooling or work, it seemed that most attempts at a diverse environment, although well-intentioned, inadvertently fostered a sense of ‘otherness,’ and I didn’t want that for my children,” says Erum, whose parents and grandparents have Pakistani and Indian roots but left those countries almost 50 years ago. She laughs, “I was born in Maryland. So when people ask me where I am from, I don’t know if I should tell them I am from Maryland or where my grandparents were born.”
“Fostering diversity can be tricky,” Erum explains, “Although it’s wonderful to respect and promote what makes us different, not everyone wants to be a ‘representative’ for what might make us different. At Shipley, my kids were welcomed because of, and regardless of, their heritage.”
“Shipley has created an atmosphere that lets our kids share who they are, and also who they want to be. For example, when it was the ‘Heritage Feast’ day, Sammy brought in Maryland crab cakes! I was tickled that my kids feel free to represent either the heritage of their parent from Maryland or their great grandparents from overseas.”
“At Shipley,” explains Erum, “my kids feel an effortless sense of belonging.”
Ben Ynocencio ’15 is excited for his future, which he hopes to dedicate to his passion for food, the environment, and education by running a self-sufficient farm, restaurant, and education center. “Shipley has instilled in me a drive to achieve my goals and an open mind to adapt and evolve as necessary,” he says of the school which also helped transform him from a shy seventh grader into an outgoing and confident senior.
David Wolfson ’15 recognizes the fact that not all schools have an environment where students feel comfortable participating in Mathletes in the morning and playing varsity basketball in the afternoon, like he did at Shipley. “There is a common feeling between students that allows us to take risks, try new things, and feel comfortable leaving our comfort zones,” David says about Shipley’s warm environment.
Hunter Vander Zwaag ’15 knows that Shipley has prepared him well for life. “I have grown to love learning, to speak my mind, and to always be curious,” he says of what he learned here. In addition falling in love with Latin and the Classics, Hunter appreciates the fact that he was able to discover his affinity for the theater late in his Shipley career.
Madison Tucker ’15 affirms that Shipley has shaped her future ambitions and given her the tools to succeed in college and beyond. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of Shipley’s community,” she says.
Campbell Taylor ’15 had never excelled athletically until he tried rowing in ninth grade, when he says his musical and theatrical careers also took off at Shipley. Rowing not only provided Campbell with an athletic outlet, but provided him with the tools to excel academically.
Katie Steiner ’15 may not know exactly what she wants to do when she grows up, however “whatever the future holds,” she says, “Shipley has prepared me for it.” One of the many things that Katie has enjoyed about her Shipley experience is the School’s focus on a balanced education and providing opportunities for students to pursue all of their interests.
As a Shipley Lifer (a student here since at least first grade) Rachel Shapiro ’15 thinks of the Shipley community as her extended family. She says, “Shipley’s environment allows students to have a lot of opportunity to take on significant roles they might not find in many other schools – and the environment is safe – so it's okay to take risks, regardless of the outcome.”
Spencer Strauss ’15 attended Shipley for 13 years and claims, “I can honestly say I liked going to school everyday.” From exceptional teachers who knew her as an individual and encouraged her to just be herself, to the early and frequent opportunities to take risks and develop confidence, Spencer is grateful for her many memorable Shipley experiences.
Bailey Pollack ’15 enjoyed the academic challenges that his teachers presented in the classroom. They inspired him to seek learning opportunities outside of the classroom—something that was new to him after joining Shipley. This love of learning, he says, “was essential in making me enjoy coming to school every day.”
Brandon Peltz ’15 was one of the new kids in eighth grade, but he felt accepted immediately by his peers. He made his mark as Shipley’s in-house on-campus DJ, and enjoyed his success in Shipley’s growing STEAM curriculum offerings. And even though he did not play soccer outside of school, he says that coach Thom Schauerman “gave me unexpected chances to prove myself on the soccer field and I did.”
“If Shipley is anything like a microcosm for the rest of my life,” says Emma Scornavacchi ’15, “I’m thrilled to look forward to what’s to come.” This aspiring writer appreciates the many opportunities for getting involved and taking intellectual risks provided to her by Shipley, where she felt challenged and supported by her teachers.
Pinky Rowe ’15 never considered herself a “math student,” but was encouraged by her college counselor to take an honors calculus class during her senior year. Though she doubted her ability at first, she succeeded with the support of her teacher. “Risk taking at Shipley is always encouraged,” she says, “because every teacher is dedicated to supporting you and watching you grow.”
Sophie Pilkington ’15 played lacrosse until her sophomore year, when she decided that she wanted to try crew. “The team was extremely welcoming and helped me transition into a completely different sport with ease,” she says. By joining the time-intensive crew program, Sophie not only learned how to row, but also how to manage her time more efficiently. Shipley’s art program also had a profound impact on Sophie’s life and the direction of her future.
Elijah Peake ’15 is grateful for Shipley’s focus on the individual, which made it possible for him to pursue his ski racing career by learning remotely for five months each school year. Learning alongside students from other schools, he said, showed him how rigorous Shipley’s curriculum is, without being overwhelming. When he returned to Shipley each year, he says, “I was always surrounded by teachers and peers who shared a passion for learning.”
Eddie McCann ’15 thrived in Shipley’s atmosphere of learning, exploration, and risk-taking. He was able to pursue and discover his many interests while succeeding academically. “Shipley has prepared me well for my life beyond high school, because I learned how to both succeed and recover from failure in a variety of settings, whether on the stage, court, or in the classroom.”
Elizabeth Menkowitz ’15 recognizes the impact that Shipley teachers have had on her life and is thankful to her parents for enrolling her at the School in Pre-Kindergarten. “I have had so many opportunities through Shipley,” she says.
Even though Florence Murabito ’15 had never participated in Student Government, her classmates encouraged her to run for Senior Class President at the end of junior year. She was surprised by the request, but ran anyway (and won). “Shipley encourages us to stretch ourselves to explore new interests and passions,” says Florence, “no matter how late in our Shipley career they appear.”
William McKenna ’15 appreciates the fact that Shipley creates an atmosphere where students from all walks of life can not only learn and work together, but also appreciate and celebrate one another’s diverse ways of thinking and being. He also appreciates the many skills he learned in his seven years here, “from writing a paper or finding the derivative of a function, to creating realistic goals for myself and learning how to push my intellectual and personal boundaries.”
What stands out the most to Anisa Iqbal ’15 about her Shipley experience is the array of choices she had in pursuing activities and interests outside of academics. As a member of the Sprouts horticultural club, Shipley Singers, Glee Club, Yearbook, and Publications Photography staff, she certainly took advantage of the opportunities to participate in what interested her.
Deondre Jordan ’15 leapt into the hearts of his fellow classmates well before he did a backflip in front of the whole school during his first speech as All School President, a title he earned after only one year at Shipley. This future neuroscientist says Shipley cemented his love of learning, which he feels will guide him to success throughout his life.
Austin Wagner grew up in a music family, so it was not a huge surprise when he asked for his first drumset at age three. Mr. Wagner believes that music should be fun, and even if students don't plan on pursuing music professionally, they can gain important life skills by honing their musical talents.
Shipley's Director of Athletic Performance and Physical Education Teacher, Sergio Jackson, says "We all have an opportunity to focus on positive things like being empathetic to one another’s circumstances or open to one another’s ideas, thoughts, and beliefs." Learn more as he talks about having a positive attitude, his life experiences, and what he loves about his culture.
Rafhia Foster, Shipley's new Director of Enrollment, was the only African American girl in her class at a local independent school. As a Black, Muslim-raised Trinidadian, she brings with her to Shipley a rich tapestry of lived experiences. She knows well the feeling of not being heard or seen. Now, she embraces each opportunity to share her voice and story, bringing an effervescent spirit to Shipley's Admissions Office.
Dr. Reginald Davenport is Shipley's new Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. During a visit to a Lower School classroom, one five-year-old student asked him: What do you do at Shipley? Though Dr. Davenport answered the question as best he could, as he reflected back on the moment, he grew increasingly dissatisfied with his response. Read this reflection to learn more about Dr. Davenport and his work at Shipley.
Growing up in a Latino neighborhood exposed Heather to the Spanish language early in life. She later went on to study the language formally at the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
When he was a student, Middle School science teacher Sean Legnini ’07 appreciated the fact that “Shipley let me be the many different things that I wanted to be.” That sense of intellectual curiosity and exploration was a driving force as he pursued multiple degrees and jobs, even launching a tech startup before returning to Shipley to teach.
Meet Dan Dougherty, Shipley’s new Associate Director of Annual Giving. Dan has spent most of his career working in Development for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Even though he began his new role at Shipley during the pandemic lockdown, he says, “I felt very welcome and that I was part of the team immediately. The most challenging part was not being able to experience campus life at Shipley or meet my new colleagues in person.” Learn more about Dan.
In 1995, Dr. Sharron Russell was hired to write and teach Shipley’s social-emotional curriculum. Dr. Russell, who holds a certificate and doctoral degree in school psychology from Immaculata University and Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, respectively, has been directing student support since 2011 and positive education at Shipley since 2016. She is largely responsible for helping to make Shipley the first-ever positive education school in the country.
Get to know Ace Schwarz, Shipley's newest Middle School science teacher. In addition to being a true lifelong learner and avid reader who loves science, Mx. Schwarz (pronounced "mix") is passionate about their LGBTQ+ advocacy work. Learn more about Ace and how they hope make a positive impact at Shipley.
Get to know Shipley's new Associate Director of Positive Education, Dr. Nick Holton, who says, "I firmly believe that human potential is the world's greatest resource and that systems of education can amplify that potential or squander it. I believe Positive Education does the former." Learn more about Nick and why he's dedicated his life to Positive Education.
Michael Turner was installed as Shipley’s 10th Head of School in September, 2019, and is already making a positive impact at the School. His profoundly positive experience as a lifer at Germantown Academy inspired him to pursue teaching after a few years of working in the business world, and he hasn’t looked back since. Learn more about Michael Turner and how he is making a difference at Shipley.
Margie Winters has dedicated much of her career to serving those in need and inspiring others to do the same. In 2018, she became Shipley’s Service Learning Coordinator and has already made an impact on the School’s robust service learning program. “When we reach out to communities, particularly on the margins, we learn a lot about their lives and their priorities. School service,” she says, “helps student do that in a thoughtful and reflective way.” Learn more about Shipley Changemaker Margie Winters and what she’s doing to make a difference at Shipley and in the world.
Middle School Latin teacher Anne Smith has inspired Shipley students with her passion for the Classics for 25 years. But perhaps more impactful than anything she’s done within her classroom are the 20+ trips to Italy on which she has led hundreds of Shipley students and parents over the years. Learn more about Anne and her Classical Adventures.
Upper School English teacher Kristin Jaffe is known for her rigorous classes, where students engage in intense analysis of complex literature. What most people probably don’t know is that this Bryn Mawr College graduate didn’t start out well academically.
Paul Tierney retired from General Electric after 34 years of service, ready for something new. Teaching, he thought, seemed like a nice way to move toward a life of travel and retirement. Little did he know, he'd work harder than he ever had.
Steve Baris, Chair of Shipley’s Art Department, had an extraordinary and unconventional upbringing. The experiences cultivated in him a spirit of independence and adventure that sent him fighting fires in the West, hitchhiking throughout Africa, and studying art in Rome before dropping him at the door of 814 Yarrow Street.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.