Growing Lifelong Learners Since 1972

Wingra School Alumni Profiles

At Wingra, we know that each person defines success in her or his own way, and we are proud of all our alumni. They know their own voices and have the passion, skills, and confidence to pursue their own dreams.

Meet some of our alumni:

Are you a Wingra alum? Would you like to share your story? Email us at info@wingraschool.org!

David Hoffert

Years at Wingra: 1991–1999
Post-secondary Education: B.S., Mechanical Engineering / Computer Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
M.S., Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
Current Position: Master's degree program in public policy at Stanford University

Wingra provided me with an extremely well-rounded education, to the point that I could have pursued any of several lines of work and, honestly, I had a difficult time choosing my initial direction.

As it turns out, after several years of being a "pure" engineer, my career path is now swinging back towards the interdisciplinary, as I seek to bridge the worlds of hard science and social science by working in technology policy.

I think my ability to see math and science as broader topics than as they are traditionally defined is a result of the progressive education I received at Wingra.

I still remember the day when we read about the dangers of "dihydrogen monoxide" (the more significant component of acid rain, can't be removed from produce by washing, etc.), only to realize that the piece was satirical because dihydrogen monoxide is better known as water.

It was an important lesson about how communication and rhetoric are just as important in the sciences as anywhere else. That's the sort of lesson I don't think I would have received in a public school's science class.

I spent two years as a graduate researcher at Stanford University making cars drive themselves. My specific project was helping to write the computer code for a car that autonomously raced up the treacherous Pikes Peak Highway in Colorado last summer.

After finishing my Master of Science in mechanical engineering through that work, I began a second master's degree in public policy.

Making cars drive themselves could save more than one million lives per year, but developing the technology is just the first step—political and legal institutions in this country also need to evolve in order for this life-saving product to actually hit the market and have an impact on people's lives.

We need people who can bridge both fields and provide an interdisciplinary perspective to work on this problem, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. I would definitely attribute much of my appreciation for and ability in interdisciplinary thought to my training at Wingra.

Lili Sandler

Years at Wingra: 1982–1991
Post-secondary Education: B.A., Geology, Macalester College
Current Position: Proud mama to three children

My perspective on elementary education is different from pretty much everyone I know. Sometimes I wish I could agree with so many well-educated people I know who are of the mind that elementary school doesn't really matter; it's what you do at home that counts until 7th or 8th grade. It would make my life a lot easier if I believed that.

But because I lived what elementary education can be if done with the whole child in mind, I can't accept much less for my own children.

My husband and I recently pulled our son out of the public school he was attending to homeschool him. This was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made in my life, and every day I'm thankful that I had nine years at Wingra to prepare me to be a homeschooling mama.

My son and I use a plan sheet (thank you, Jackie Haas!) every week, and much of what we do is modeled after my memories of life at Wingra.

Leo Sidran

Years at Wingra: 1982–1988
Post-secondary Education: B.A., History, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Current City: Brooklyn, New York

What are you doing now?
I’m living in Brooklyn, New York, with my wife, Amanda, our daughter, Sol, and our dog, Madison.

I’m doing basically the same thing I’ve always done, even when I was at Wingra: writing and performing music. Mostly, I write music for television and film now, but I still write my own songs as well, and I work with other musical artists as a producer and musician.

What are your favorite moments or stories from Wingra?
I remember having a chance to develop my own interests, in my own way.

Performing my song “Take Me Somewhere New” in May 1988 at the end-of-the-year show—flanked by my backing vocalists (Sara “C.C.” Cohen Christopherson, ’88; Katie Newton, ’88; and Becky Levin [Silton], ‘89)—is a standout. I think the entire class also sang “Yellow Submarine” in that show.

I remember learning to barter in Swahili in 1st grade with Ken [Swift], all things poodle-related in JoAnn Schoell’s class, learning video editing with Jackie Hass...

Are there any experiences or lessons that have stayed with you from your time at Wingra?
Overall I think my take-away from Wingra was to be myself, to explore, and to be creative. Also I learned (and I hope I still remember) not to judge my progress against any standard other than my own.

Do you think that attending Wingra has influenced how you live your life?
I left Wingra in 6th grade—I think I would have been in the first middle school class if I had stayed—and went to public school. The initial transition was a bit of a shock, partly because the public school was big and overwhelming, but more because the criteria for success was so different and seemed so arbitrary to me.

However, I soon came to realize that my Wingra background was a huge advantage for me, and by the time I got to high school, I was able to really thrive. I wasn’t afraid to take chances, to start something new, to go for it.

And everywhere I turned in high school—playing music, writing for the newspaper, in theater—I found other Wingra kids who were doing the same thing: going for it. 

I think the way I approach the world today is an extension of that experience. My career is pretty self-invented; it’s not something I could really have studied or intentionally prepared for. I learned early on that I could take the sum of my disparate talents and cobble together something useful.

Rather than focusing on my weaknesses, I think my time at Wingra taught me to go to my strengths, and to get motivated in my own way.

You recently came back to play with your dad for a benefit for Wingra. How was it? How did it feel coming back?
I remember attending a Wingra benefit concert at the old Isthmus Playhouse in the Civic Center when I was a kid. So it was kind of a nice full circle for me to be playing a benefit concert for Wingra with my dad, as an adult.

The benefit we played wasn’t actually held at Wingra; it was at the Epic Systems campus, which is a very impressive place.

So rather than feeling nostalgia for my childhood school, it felt to me as though Wingra had maybe grown up a little since the time I was there.

Are there any words of wisdom you’d like to pass along to current or future Wingra students?
Congratulations—you have a head start.

Rachel Weinberg

Years at Wingra: 1983–1989
Post-secondary Education: UW-Whitewater – School of Business, UW-Madison School of Education
Current Position: Nest (K–1st grade) Teacher at Wingra

I was surprised [when I returned as a student teacher] at how many of the teachers still remember me and my family. It shows the dedication they have to all of the learners they work with, even the ones from many decades ago.

More than influencing my decision to teach, my experience [as a student] at Wingra has influenced the kind of teacher I want to be. When I began my teacher education program, I had a very specific vision of what elementary school is like. As I started working in and observing schools, I realized that what I imagined was different from the reality for many students.

As I reflected on this disconnect, I realized that it was my experience at Wingra that shaped my vision. I believe very strongly in child-centered classrooms that allow for student exploration, freedom, and creativity. The openness and emphasis on student interests are essential for development and learning.

Ben Wikler

Years at Wingra: 1986–1992
Post-secondary Education: B.A., Economics, Harvard University
Current Position: Executive Vice President of Change.org and the host of The Flaming Sword of Justice radio program

The thing that made Wingra so perfect for me was the incredible amount of individual attention I received over the years. Like many Wingra students—and people in general, I suppose—I had a bundle of strengths and weaknesses. I arrived very shy, became a feisty kid, and sometimes had trouble with organization. But I loved math and writing and working in groups. At Wingra, my strengths were maximized, and we found ways to work around and reduce my weaknesses.

The chief example is comedy writing—not an academic subject at most elementary schools, but something I loved to do. I began writing jokes and drawing comics very early—and by the end of fifth grade, with unflagging support from my teachers, I wrote, directed, and acted in a satirical play, performed for an audience of parents at a talent show.

Wingra School had an absolute impact on who I am. It takes a lot of early encouragement to feel confident enough to take creative risks in comedy. It's hard to imagine that I would have found affirmation for such a nonstandard focus anywhere else—and it's hard to imagine an elementary school that values the particular talents and interests of individual children more than Wingra.

Years later, I've written for The Onion, worked with Al Franken on his books and radio program, and have my own radio program.