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Leading Others to Opportunities

MADELINE ZUKOWSKI, DSHA '11
This story appeared in the 2020-2021 DSHA Annual Report, which hit mailboxes in December 2021.
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Kayla Vanderhoef, DSHA ’22, has had a multitude of opportunities, including the college-prep academics and leadership roles she has had throughout her four years at DSHA. She is also heavily involved in recruiting future Dashers, drawing on her own experiences. Her goal is simple: to show others it is worth working hard — and seizing opportunities — in hopes of a bright future.
When Kayla Vanderhoef, DSHA ’22, graduated from St. Mary Parish School in Hales Corners four years ago, she was set to attend St. Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, her father’s alma mater. She and her parents toured DSHA just to check it off the list, to solidify that Thomas More was, in fact, the right place.

But after the tour, everything changed. Vanderhoef knew she belonged at DSHA.

“In middle school I excelled, and I wanted to be pushed even more, and I thought this was a good place to do that,” she said. “Hard work is something my family and I value a lot. I knew (at DSHA) if I was challenged, I would work hard to excel.”

PUTTING IN THE EFFORT

What she saw at DSHA during that tour — and her work ethic since her first day freshman year — led her to help other girls discover the all-girls, Catholic school for themselves. Vanderhoef is currently a student recruiter at DSHA, visiting area middle schools to introduce girls to the special experiences she has had, giving tours of the school to interested families at DSHA Open House, and helping with events for
incoming freshman and potential future Dashers.

“DSHA has given me so many opportunities, and I want to tell girls and families more about it and how great of a place it is for me,” she said.

While Vanderhoef chose DSHA because of its academics and was drawn to challenging courses like Accelerated Biology and Advanced Algebra right out of the gate, the leadership experiences she has had helped her formation in other areas. In addition to recruiting for DSHA, she has been a captain on the school’s swim team since her sophomore year and has been involved in Student Council — specifically the Student Ambassador branch of the council — since freshman year.

“My leadership opportunities have helped me improve working with other people,” she said. “They have forced me to have an open mind and work with people who have different ideas and incorporate all of our different ideas into one thing.”

A major event that the Student Ambassador committee organizes is the Middle School Leadership Conference. Seventh and eighth graders from area private and public schools send students who exemplify leadership to a day-long event at DSHA. The middle school students attend breakout sessions led by Dashers; topics range from leadership skills to teamwork.

Vanderhoef had planned to co-lead the conference in the 2020–2021 school year, but due to COVID-19, the conference did not take place as planned. While she is taking steps to run it in the 2021–2022 school year, she has helped with the planning process before. Planning the Middle School Leadership Conference involves reaching out to the area and private schools, recruiting DSHA students to lead breakout sessions, and making schedules for every middle school student who attends the conference, depending on her preferred breakout sessions.

While the staff student council advisor oversees the process, the student leaders are very much in the trenches of their projects.

“A lot of it depends on you and how much effort you put into it,” Vanderhoef said when asked what she has learned by working as though she was a professional planning this event. “If you don’t care, no one else will care, and it’s not going to mean anything. You have to put in your full effort and put yourself in the shoes of
the girls who want to come and do this.”

WHAT MATTERS MOST

While Vanderhoef has worked hard to help shape middle school girls’ futures, she is busy shaping her own. In addition to strengthening her Catholic faith through DSHA Campus Ministry events, she is a member of the SMART (Students Modeling A Research Topic) Team. The SMART team offers girls a chance to enhance and extend the hands-on STEM learning they receive in their academic classes by working all year long — with the help of research scientists — on learning about and building a model of a protein, and then professionally presenting their research at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Through this experience, Vanderhoef learned that she would like to go into scientific research to study Alzheimer’s, a disease from which her grandpa passed away.

THE VALUE OF SCHOLARSHIP

Whether it’s working hard in the classroom, encouraging girls to discover the DSHA difference, or working with proteins, Vanderhoef is well aware that these opportunities would not be possible without the help of her partial, renewable need-based scholarship.

“[Receiving a scholarship] has really taught me to value the opportunities I get and to make the best of this experience,” she said. “My parents work so hard to give me everything and I just want to make them proud and I really care about the sacrifices they have given to send me to DSHA.”

That is the basis of the message that Vanderhoef wants to give to girls: DSHA is possible for many families who may struggle to afford it because of donors who give to student financial aid. And it’s worth working hard to get everything out of the DSHA experience.

“I know girls who want to come to DSHA, but then they can’t because of the cost,” Vanderhoef said. “I’m able to say I have financial aid and it is do-able. I also want girls to know DSHA is such a wonderful school because there are so many experiences awaiting them to get involved, grow in their faith, and make new friends. It is a unique and a special place, with rigorous academics, supportive and considerate teachers, and leadership opportunities for every girl. I’m so grateful for what DSHA has taught and provided me.”

To support students like Kayla, click here. 
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