After graduating from Delaware Valley Friends, Melissa Schoerke Koomson took a gap year before going to Prescott College in Arizona. During that time, she worked with BorderLinks in Tucson supporting Central American refugees and learning about border issues on the US/Mexico border- something she had started as a student during her summers. Melissa returned to the east coast, took some time off to work and finished at Chestnut Hill College in 2000, where she majored in Spanish.
In 2006, Melissa founded the Schoerke Foundation after she and her husband Kwesi Koomson created the Heritage Academy in Ghana, Africa. Heritage Academy educates students in grades K-12. The school started with 32 students and now has over 1,300 with over 500 graduates - 100% of whom have passed Ghana's national exams (compared to the district average of 42% pass rate). The Schoerke Foundation provides scholarships for Ghanaian students to attend Heritage Academy and for US students to travel to Ghana to assist with school's summer session. Heritage just celebrated its tenth anniversary. This past spring, Melissa and Kwesi were recognized for their work with the first ever Friends Council on Education Leadership Award for Service to Society presented to them on April 2, 2014 by Jill Biden. (More information at www.schoerkefoundation.org)
Melissa and Kwesi recently left their positions at the Westtown School in West Chester, PA, to spend a year in Ghana concentrating on the Heritage Academy.Melissa also recently joined the Board of Directors at DVFS and will serve as co-clerk of the Alumni Engagement Committee along with fellow alum David Miller, '96. She returned to DVFS on January 22, 2016 to present a special assembly to the students and faculty at Delaware Valley Friends on her journey as a student who has a learning difference and the school she and Kwesi started that is based on some of the foundational Quaker principles that they have grown to value from DVFS and other Friends school in which they have studied and worked.
When did you come to DVFS, and from where?
I came in 8 th grade and was one of the school's founding students. I came to DV from another area Friends school that ended in middle school.
Can you tell us a little bit about your learning difference and your struggles in school?
I have a non-specific language-based learning difference and ADHD. My testing showed that I am a very visual learner, so the color-coding I learned at DV really helped me to keep track of tasks and other elements of organizing.
What changed for you at DVFS?
DVFS changed my life. I went from failing every test I ever took to being in an environment where the work was not easier, but people worked with me and taught me how to learn. The individual attention I received from the teachers at DV gave me the tools I needed, or they pointed out what tools I already had in my toolbox that would help.
Do you have any special memories from your time at DVFS?
A few teachers stand out. Susan Miller taught History at DVFS - she's one of the reasons I became a teacher. The Spanish teacher, Esteban, was also very encouraging. My testing showed I should not study foreign language, but I really liked Spanish and had real life experiences working in language immersion settings with native speakers, so I needed Spanish language skills. He had charts on walls showing the various verb conjugations so that his students could visualize the changes. I took that technique with me to college, and I used it in my classroom and when I taught Spanish for my first four years at Westtown.
What do you think the long-term value of DV education has been for you?
Going to DVFS helped me figure out my skill set and I'm a successful adult because of it. I'm not shy about sharing my story with kids, and telling them that you may be struggling now, but you can do this. My dad still gets choked up when we talk about DV — as a parent, you do what you have to for your kids. Also, being a part of the founding of DV and later starting a new school elsewhere is an awesome connection and way to pay it forward for others.