Community Spotlights

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Alumni Spotlight

Michelle Barahona Escoto ’12, Naoise Kelleher ’11

September 28, 2022

So often, Scholars learn from Alumni while exploring careers and seeking mentors. But this summer, Scholars truly had a chance to call two Alumni their teachers during our summer program at Milton Academy.

Meet Michelle Barahona Escoto ’12, summer math teacher, and Naoise Kelleher ’11, summer writing teacher.

Michelle Barhona Escoto ’12

Michelle, a graduate of Meridian Academy and Lesley University, is now pursuing a master’s degree at Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development. Her goal of becoming a math teacher first crystallized in elementary school. In third grade, she shares, “I really always enjoyed math, and math always came easier to me,” but she had a negative experience with a teacher and thought, “Oh, I can totally be a better teacher.”

“And so I think ever since then, I've always been interested in education. When I was in high school, I was a teaching assistant for Steppingstone. And I think that got my foot in the door for education.”

Based on her own experience as a student, she is intentional about forming connections with Scholars, “especially outside the classroom.” She adds, “I know math can be a very difficult subject for Scholars. And so, making sure that students don't feel like they're not ‘math people’ and that they're capable of doing math is very important for me.”  

Naoise Kelleher ’11

Naoise, a graduate of Boston Trinity Academy and a student at Mary Immaculate College of Education and Liberal Arts in Limerick, Ireland, also found one of his early teaching opportunities with Steppingstone. His plan was to join the team as a teaching intern in the summer of 2021, supporting rather than leading a classroom. However, due to the pandemic, Steppingstone was affected by widespread teacher shortages.

Naoise remembers, “They emailed me and two or three other people before we started, and they asked us, do we want to be called teachers? So another girl and I were co-teachers and actually, most of us have all come back since this year and we're all working together.” New co-teachers were supported with additional faculty observations and feedback.

In addition to jumping in as a teacher that summer, Naoise adapted to teaching virtually when an overwhelming number of COVID cases required the program to go remote. “But thankfully,” he adds, “we were all in-person this year.”

Naoise was originally inspired to teach by his family. “I was always kind of surrounded by teachers,” he says. “My mother ran a daycare. My cousins, they’re all in elementary school teaching.”

But there’s something deeper that motivates Naoise’s career choice as well. “You probably hear it from a lot of teachers,” he confides, “but it’s the moment when a student realizes when they get something. The ‘aha’ moment when they finally understand the concept: they don't need the teacher to help them with it anymore, and they can do it themselves. It really shows that what you've done has worked and the student finally gets the topic.”

“Aha” moments abounded at Steppingstone’s summer session. One day in Ms. Barahona’s math class, for example, students were learning about exponents. Michelle had just written on the board that 10 to the fifth power equals 100,000. One student raised her hand: “I don’t get it. Why is there a five?” Michelle wrote out 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10: five 10s. And if you count the zeros in 100,000… “OH!”

The excitement for learning in this student—and across the classroom—was palpable.

From Scholars to Teachers: Full Circle

Having been a part of Steppingstone as Scholars, Alumni, and educators, Naoise and Michelle have known the program intimately—and through more lenses than most.

“Life-changing, I’d say,” is how Naoise describes Steppingstone. “Before I came to Steppingstone, I wasn’t focused. Suddenly I started getting extra help from teachers and tutoring. And I started understanding the concepts and that really gave me a push forward in life. And I don't think I would be where I am today if it wasn't for Steppingstone.”

Michelle reflects on her choice to return and teach Scholars. “I definitely think Steppingstone has helped me a lot throughout the years, with the Support Services…the conferences…the Advisors. And when I was applying to college, they answered any questions that I had regarding the FAFSA.” This is an environment she knows well, she says. “And so, why would I want to go somewhere else?”

In so many ways, Steppingstone’s Alumni community empowers the next generation of Scholars. If you would like to discuss opportunities to get involved as an Alum, please contact Makeda Daniel ’09, Manager of Alumni Relations, at

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