Alums Working and Volunteering at Tandem Friends

Did you know that Tandem alum Jake Minturn (TFS ‘03) currently serves as the co-chair of our Board of Trustees? Or that Tandem alum Julia Sapir (TFS ‘93) is in her tenth year of teaching Middle Schoolers at Tandem? It’s true - we have four Tandem alums working here and another four volunteering their time as members of our Board of Trustees. It's a great benefit to the school to have Tandem alums teaching and governing, and they seem to love it as well. We caught up with a few of them to find out what led them back to Tandem, and to reflect on old and new TFS memories. 

Julia Sapir (TFS '93) is in her tenth year of teaching at Tandem and serves as our Middle School Art teacher as well as 6th grade Geography teacher (she spent nine years teaching 5th and 6th grade humanities here before moving into the Art position this year). Julia has happily settled into the basement of the Main Building, which got a much-needed facelift to welcome her and her enthusiastic students into the art space.

Julia shared some Tandem reflections. After TFS, she took a gap semester in France, then attended Brown University. She spent the post-college decade working as a wilderness instructor in Southern Utah, running an art cooperative, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, working for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and running a homeschool cooperative before eventually going back to school to earn an MFA in photography. “Tandem may have encouraged me to try new things or maybe I came to Tandem because I like to try new things,” she shared. She wanted to live in C-ville to be close to family and David Slezak encouraged her to apply for the 6th grade humanities position. Reflecting on how Tandem has changed, she said, “Tandem is a lot bigger and a lot more polished. I also believe that the academics are a lot more rigorous than they were in the early nineties.” Her favorite memories? “I loved our Blue Ridge Days when we all trekked up to the mountains en masse. Most indelible though was my three-week trip to France during my junior year. That trip led me to spend an additional semester in France after high school and completely changed my outlook on the world.” Her favorite memories as a teacher are all wrapped up in her relationships with her students. “My happiest memories are the fun times I've had in the classroom or off on trips with sixth graders,” she shared. “As a student, I'm not sure I fully appreciated how hard my faculty worked to serve me and my community.”

Mary Lyman Bias (TFS '02) joined Tandem two years ago as Admissions Coordinator, Front Office Manager, and Student Health Coordinator. She also manages our international student program and serves as a junior class advisor. It’s great to have an Admissions Coordinator who knows firsthand the value of a Tandem education, and the students really relate to Mary. Last year, Mary even added a new role as Tandem parent when her son Tynan joined the Middle School. 

She shares, "So many of the core values and principles have stayed the same at Tandem. There is still this "like home" feeling on campus, just like when I was a student. I see and cherish the friendships and trusting relationships between teachers and students. Tandem still offers an encouraging and enthusiastic environment for students to grow, explore and create, unlike any other school or program I have been a part of.” Things have changed in some ways, says Mary, “There are a lot more faculty and administrators, more organized community events and class choices than before. Our sports have grown in such a positive and exciting way, and I love how the daily life at Tandem Friends is so well documented and shared." 

Mary shared some favorite then and now memories: “It was my sophomore year and the Upper School had just finished a "Silent Meeting." We got into a large circle and joined hands. It got quiet and just when it was about to be that moment where we squeezed hands and went on our way, a senior sang out the first line to "Joy to the World" followed by everyone singing that song, then laughter and smiles. It was one of those moments, along with art classes with Pru, field hockey with Catherine, John Davis, music on the back porch, English classes on Carter Mountain, theater, dancing with Cricket - those things that always bring a smile to my face when I walk around campus now as an adult. My first year working here, I completely forgot it was Senior Prank Day. I was thinking, "oh no, they are totally going to get me. When I opened the door I found rose petals, a student playing music, and a cheese tray. The students had decided to "unprank" me and serenade me instead.” Mary shared one thing that has surprised her - “As an adult, I fully understand why Tom O'Connor enforced the "always wear your shoes rule!"

Monica Johnson (TFS '04) joined us last year as a part-time counselor. As a licensed clinical social worker with an MSW in Social Work, she’s a great source of mental health information, support and positivity for our families; she’s also wowed our students talking about her strongman training. Monica works two days a week as one of our counselors.

Sampson Dale (TFS MS), who attended Middle School at Tandem, joined this year to coach varsity boys basketball and Middle School volleyball (which had 29 team members!). Sam owns the Sam Dale Academy, which promotes high quality health practice and elite basketball training in the Central Virginia area. Sam was a college basketball player, played on the professional USA Select Travel Team in 2016, and is a USA Basketball Certified Coach with over eleven years experience. 

Our current Board of Trustees is co-chaired by Tandem alum Jake Minturn (TFS ‘03) who has served on the board since 2016. Jake is an Account Manager for the design agency, Journey Group, where he works with humanitarian and higher education institutions. Prior to his work with Journey Group, Jake worked in advancement communications at the University of Virginia, first as the Director of Digital Media at the UVA Alumni Association and then as the Director of Communications for the Curry School of Education Foundation. 

Margaret McNett Burruss (TFS ‘83) joined the board of trustees in 2017. Margaret has a professional background as a business and systems analyst in addition to more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management. She most recently served as the first Executive Director of Charlottesville’s Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry from 2013–16, during a period of dramatic growth for the organization. Prior to joining Loaves & Fishes, Margaret worked for 11 years as an associate director with China Harvest, a non-profit providing humanitarian and other assistance to the poor and underserved in China.

Margaret shared some insights into her post-Tandem life. "I've had a long eclectic career, and throughout it blended technical knowledge with an ability to write and communicate. I found a niche bringing together skills that many consider mutually exclusive, such as computer programming and English prose," she shared. “From a young age, I hated being pigeonholed. What drew me to Tandem was the ability to fully explore my many interests. I was very interested in the arts - and explored drawing, ceramics, printmaking, drama and creative writing. But I also enjoyed math and took my first computer class (BASIC programming), and in college switched majors to what was then called Management Information Systems. It was my exposure to computer technology at Tandem back in the early 80's that opened my mind to the possibilities that computer technology offered.” 

What drew her back to Tandem? "The longer I live the more I realize how important a Tandem education is," she explains. “It's not that Tandem molded me; rather, it helped me uncover propensities and potentialities that were already there. It fostered my natural curiosity and wonder at the world around me. Teachers encouraged questioning and inquiry, which has made me the person I am today - still learning and still growing after all these years. Our world needs to have this kind of education available, and so I decided to serve on the board to do my part to help the school continue to thrive.” 

What remains the same at Tandem? For Margaret, “The one that stands out is the value of inquiry and questioning in the learning process. Education may require a foundation of facts and figures, but transformational learning happens when we are willing to question what we know and ask "Why?", "How?", and even "Really?" Tandem still does that which is why I'm serving on the board so that a Tandem education will continue to be available to future generations of learners." And finally, Margaret shared her best Tandem memories, “Being in the art room - it was a safe space for us. The art program, and ceramics in particular, became a lifeline.” Now she loves hearing the words of graduating students during graduation. “It's clear that Tandem has helped them find their voice,” she says.

Seth Pates (TFS ‘06) joined the Board of Trustees in 2018. A certified public accountant, Seth currently works in tax consulting and compliance at McCallum & Kudravetz in Charlottesville, and previously worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP in Northern Virginia for financial services sector clients. Prior to joining the board, Seth served as a non-trustee member of the board’s finance committee. 

Katherine Smith Meyer (TFS ‘83) joined the board in 2019. Kit has a professional background in facilities and landscape architecture and is currently employed as Senior Project Manager for UVA’s Facilities Planning and Construction. Kit has been involved with multiple large-scale projects at the University, including the recently announced Alderman Library $160 million renewal.

We are so lucky to have the wisdom, experience, and passion for Tandem Friends that our alumni teachers, coaches and board members bring to the table.