Prairie Scholars, Artists, Athletes and Leaders Profiles

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This month we are celebrating the wonderful talents within the Prairie community by sharing stories of students, faculty, and alumni who are living the Prairie mission and excelling as scholars, artists, athletes, and leaders. Check back in the weeks to come as we add on.

The daily transformative experiences that make a Prairie education exceptional are only possible through widespread participation and support. We have a goal of 100 gifts in the month of November. Your gifts provide the resources that allow students to develop into creative problem-solvers who are living lives of purpose.

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Third and Fourth Grade Mixed-Age Science

Blending topics and classes, together third and fourth grade students dive into units on robotics, chemistry, and architecture, as well as the Edible Schoolyard program. Students rotate between each of these, one per quarter. By spending concentrated time on each topic, students are able to have immersive experiences and the teachers are content experts in those areas. Lessons are interspersed with hands-on experiences and experiments – from tending to plants, constructing towers, programming routes for wheeled robots, or measuring endothermic reactions. The underlying lesson in all of these is persistence, trying different options until getting the desired results.

The materials to engage in interactive exploration are provided by gifts to the Prairie Fund.

John French teaching

John French, PhD – Upper School Social Studies

Whether encouraging history students to discern how America’s past will impact its future, or simply pushing himself to go one more mile on a Johnson Athletic Center treadmill – you will typically find him there after a day of classes – the Upper School educator is passionate about his pursuits.

Since coming to Prairie in January of 2012, French’s desire to develop a rapport with his students, to connect with them on an individual level, to be approachable, to truly impact their lives, has made him beloved amongst students.

“While there is always some distance between student and teacher, it is liberating and enriching to be me in interactions with students,” says French, who earned his Doctorate of American History from Marquette University in May 2012.

“Kids too often enter classrooms with walls around them – preconceived notions of a rigid teacher-pupil relationship built upon deference and ritual.  These relationships can only reach their full potential when the adults replace obedience and formality with collaboration and collegiality.”

In addition to teaching a full course load, the reserved and unassuming French is also tireless when it comes to giving his time to TPS outside of the classroom. He recently co-chaired the school’s highly successful re-accreditation visit by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) with colleague Jenny Cobb, and also serves as Junior Year Interim Coordinator.

Ask him about the numerous scholarly hats he wears, however, and he’ll tell you he’s like any other teacher on campus, just someone doing whatever they can to help Prairie’s students learn and grow.

“Education flourishes here,” says French.  “It’s because passionate teachers, each an expert in their respective fields, are afforded opportunities to be their best teaching selves.”

Dedicated teachers are the heart of Prairie, and your support allows us to offer them professional development opportunities that keep them at the forefront of teaching best practices.



William Heide – Ninth Grade

“A simultaneous physical high and expression of art” – that is how William Heide would describe dancing ballet. Studying ballet for eight years, William has grown in and refined his craft through two hour practices after school and long sessions on Saturday mornings, requiring both creative energy and physical stamina. This year he will be the Cavalier in The Studio of Classical Dance Arts’ production of “The Story of the Nutcracker,” a role that gives him the opportunity to explore different forms of movement from previous parts.

William’s Prairie education and dance have gone hand-in-hand, “Doing both has made me be disciplined about my time, making sure that everything gets done and fits in. The tight relationships that we have here have really supported me in balancing all of my interests.” William also participates in the Upper School Jazz Ensemble playing the bass, allowing him to have an artistic outlet both in and out of class.

Prairie takes pride in its commitment to and excellence in the arts – both visual and performing. These programs foster development beyond the classroom and provide space for self-expression. You may direct your gift to the arts to keep them strong able to serve all students.


Suzanne Selmo ’98

While performing at the Pat Badger Alumni Concert in June, Suzanne was transported back to her formative years at Prairie where she “grew into herself.” Capitalizing on every opportunity she could in music and theatre not only helped her develop as an artist, but as a person. “My instructors were role models. They were thoughtful about exhibiting and expecting integrity and kindness.”

It is this meaningful exchange that Suzanne feels called to convey in her work. Currently she is combining her passion for music with her knowledge of positive psychology by recording her first album of all original songs which aim to foster core values like grit and resilience in children. Suzanne’s previous work has earned her accolades. Last November, the Recording Academy put her album, Shine, on the Official Ballot for the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in two categories – Best Children’s Album and Best Pop Solo Performance.

Suzanne’s message to other alumni – it takes everyone. “I hope others in my class consider giving to Prairie because it takes all of us together. We were so lucky to have the experiences we did and now we can help give that best of the best experience to others.”



Madeline Maraccini – 7th grade

Both in the classroom and on the ice with her synchronized skating team, Madeline Maraccini loves to learn. “My favorite part is mastering new skills. It takes a lot of practice, time, and effort – but the payoff is worth it.” She holds the same to be true about of her studies, continuously adding on to her interests. This semester Madeline has begun taking a technical theatre class and learning about the important happenings behind the scenes. In addition to figure skating, Madeline participates on the golf, track, and cross country team.  “I love Prairie because I feel like I belong here and know that I have opportunities that others don’t.” Knowing that she likes to work with others, Madeline enjoys being able to be on a number of teams with her classmates and friends, making her feel comfortable here and an involved part of our community. Both in class and in co-curricular activities, she does not take for granted the value of the experiences she is having.

 At a young age, Prairie students learn the value of a healthy lifestyle. Interscholastic competition begins in the 5th grade and includes 25 Upper School varsity and junior varsity teams. These teams play a vital role in not only developing certain skills, but building positive traits and camaraderie with classmates. Each season requires equipment and funds to be able to travel to games and you can direct your gift to your favorite team.


Jennifer Sinnen ’04

“I love a challenge.” In her career in pediatric dentistry and as a runner, Jennifer Sinnen maintains a level of focus and determination that started at Prairie. “I was well prepared for college and dental school because of the strong programs and courses, as well as the support. I remember talking to Mr. Powell (college counselor) about schools and really appreciating his attention and guidance.” Knowing from a young age that she had an interest in working with children and dentistry, Jennifer shadowed multiple dentists during her Interim experience. At Prairie she participated in soccer, basketball, and cross country, and after playing collegiate soccer, Jennifer has focused her efforts on running, conquering a marathon and recently beginning to train for a triathlon. Prairie schooling put her in an environment of excellence that challenged her to rise to the occasion, whether in training for a race or completing her pediatric dental residency.

That environment of excellence is strongly showcased in Prairie athletics and upheld by each coach. These coaches are the key to Prairie’s athletic success and ensuring that the highest standards are expected of their players on the field and in the classroom. Gifts to the Prairie Fund help the school retain our veteran coaching staff and in-house athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach. Your support is a show of thanks for the vital role they play.

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Dr. Jean Weaver – Upper School Science

The Prairie experience challenges each and every community member to work toward scholarship, artistry, athleticism and leadership in life.  Well-rounded and healthy students who benefit from well-rounded, healthy faculty are poised to be successful; this is the gift of a Prairie education.

Take Dr. Jean Weaver, for instance.  The head of our Science department, she doesn’t just talk about the importance of a healthy lifestyle – she lives it.  An avid cyclist, her idea of a “good ride” is 40 miles on the saddle, but depending on what she is training for, a ride can extend to 100 miles or more at a stretch.  Winding through the backroads of rural Wisconsin, she plans her rides based on the wind (so she has a tail wind on the return), and loves riding around Burlington and scenic Lake Geneva.  Long, solo rides provide the opportunity to relax and think.

Dr. Weaver’s longest race was nearly 300K and included 19,000 feet of climbing. Starting at 6:00 a.m., she rolled in around 8:00 p.m., exhilarated at having accomplished her goal.  In fact, Dr. Weaver begins every cycling season with a goal – a particular ride complete with a new challenge – and that motivates her to train and ride on the days when it’s cold or windy, or there are just easier things to do.

Her longest ride ever was the RAW – Ride Across America.  Starting in Dubuque, Iowa, she and fellow cyclists pedaled 175 miles in one day to Kenosha.  And if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, her ultimate dream is to ride across America.

Dr. Weaver brings the same passion into the classroom and challenges her students to set goals, push themselves to work harder, and accomplish more than they could imagine.  She knows firsthand that discipline pays off and success is the byproduct of hard work.

Prairie students are fortunate to have role models like Dr. Weaver, an athlete and a scholar who not only talks about the power of a healthy lifestyle, she lives it.

The Prairie experience is not just a sprint – it’s the long ride, complete with challenges and triumphs along the way.  Your gift this month will provide continued opportunities for our students to reach their goals and see their dreams come true.



Aaditya Kumar – Eleventh Grade

Prairie has a number of traditions, and last year a new one was added – the Diwali celebration. Helping to lead that event is just one of the ways Aaditya Kumar has stepped up to be an active member of the Prairie community, his organization memberships are numerous. As captain of the track team and member of student government, the honor committee, and the Science Olympiad team, Aaditya finds many ways to explore his interests and chances to be a leader among his classmates. His motivation for being so involved – “ I genuinely want to help others.” Through student government he is able to help his classmates by making improvements to the school that benefit them and the group engages in service projects as a means of helping those outside of TPS. Aaditya wants to connect his desire to help others with his academic interests for college, studying either economics, business, or finance, furthering his impact on the world.

Gifts to the Prairie Fund support co-curricular activities such as student government and other groups that offer chances for students to step up and practice being vocal leaders.



Mrs. Kirsten Cousin and Mrs. Kathryn LaLonde – Third Grade

Thoughtful; quiet but mighty.  Clear thinking; direct.  These words used to describe the Grade 3 teaching team of Kirsten Cousin and Kathryn LaLonde show how two very different women bring their strengths to the table in collaborative and purposeful ways.  Between them they’ve taught every grade in the Primary School.  They are value-driven and are committed to the power of community. Open to all people and experiences, they are confident out of the box thinkers, and are both life long learners nearing the end of their master’s degree programs.

Kirsten provides international experience and multi-cultural perspective.  When she first came to Prairie she sensed immediately it was a special place.  But over time, she realized a single word could be used to describe what she experienced daily: “Every day I witness a commitment to deep and meaningful learning, preparing students to become future leaders, and celebrating the unique qualities of every student.”

Kathryn can harness high energy into purposeful learning like nobody’s business. She is energized every day herself in the Prairie learning environment: “We can challenge and support simultaneously – challenging students at every step to go further, do more, try the next level, all while supporting and facilitating their efforts in an atmosphere of mutual learning and respect.”

Developing leadership skills requires shared vision and teamwork.  Kirsten and Kathryn feel fortunate to have the support of colleagues, administration and families that support the united goal of cultivating student leaders. Students are encouraged to exercise leadership through participation in student council, Books Alive! assemblies, Genius Hour and Passion Projects, Multi Age Science, Museum Week, and more.  It is here — in an atmosphere of mutual learning where both teachers and students are empowered to advance themselves — that leaders are born.

We salute these two amazing women and are grateful for all they contribute to The Prairie School.  Would you consider a gift in support of Prairie leaders of all ages?

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