An Ode to Miquon: Bijan ’05 and Dariush Sosnowski ’11
These brothers relish the memories of their Miquon education, as their lives reflect its teachings.
As is common for many 6-year-olds, Bijan Sosnowski loved his snack time. So it’s not surprising that his earliest memory of The Miquon School is going for a pre-enrollment visit and joining his future classmates as they devoured peanut butter crackers.
In fact, many of his earliest memories of the school revolve around food, including hoagie and pizza lunch sales, and the renovation of the former kitchen. But as time went on, Bijan’s interests expanded and included a love of sports and outdoor activities as well as the individual interests of some of his teachers, shared with the students in impromptu lessons that stay with him to this day.
“Leigh Ashbrook, the teacher in my 1st and 2nd grade class, was an avid bird watcher and taught us all about birds,” Bijan says. “She did activities with us at the bird house near the bamboo forest.” For Bijan, who had attended nursery school and kindergarten in Alexandria, Virginia, where the family lived prior to moving back to Philadelphia, those activities marked a “pretty dynamic start” to his Miquon experience, one the 25-year-old will never forget.
He has been through many transitions in his life, beginning with that move, although it wasn’t traumatic—his Virginia school was also diverse and progressive, and when they settled in Chestnut Hill, he quickly befriended neighborhood youngsters who attended Miquon.
The brothers’ parents had researched several private schools before the move, and quickly chose Miquon for its emphasis on multiculturalism and individuality. Their mother was raised in Tehran, Iran, and came to the United States to attend the University of the Arts. Their father grew up in Philadelphia and is of Polish ancestry, so the boys grew up in a family that embraced those qualities through their two dynamic cultures.
Dariush Sosnowski began his education at Miquon with two years in the Nursery and graduated after completing sixth grade 2011. Having an older sibling to pave the way helped in some ways, although the school was experiencing its own transition at the time, moving to new buildings and hiring a new principal.
His recollections center on the specialist subjects—physical education, science, art, music—the unique challenges those classes posed and the qualities they brought out in him.
Trust + Responsibility = Passion
“Ann Brady, the art teacher, set up containers with hot wax and each student dipped their string in the wax, then went to the back of the line while it cooled, then did it again when they got to the front,” he says. “We created candles with different colors and added scents. It was fun.
“But we were learning! The biggest thing was how to figure out challenges by yourself and do things on your own. Most schools wouldn’t let kids in first grade be around hot wax, but we were taught it wasn’t a game. It taught us responsibility.”
The siblings agree that these types of activities enabled them to understand that everyone has their own way of doing something and all have value; everyone is unique and there are different outcomes, but the playing field was even because of the lack of grades and competition. “We learned to appreciate different approaches,” Bijan adds.
“And we were encouraged and enabled to follow our own passions that way,” he says. “Of the five or six close friends I still have from Miquon, one is a doctor, one is in healthcare, one works at Google, one in finance, one in film and I am in the fashion industry. Miquon enabled us all to follow those passions.”
Bijan attended Abington Friends School (AFS) and St. John’s University in Queens, NY, after graduating from Miquon, and majored in Sports Management. After studying abroad, in Paris, Sevilla and Rome, during his junior year at St. John’s, which he says was a turning point, he found an internship at Gant, where his innate interest in clothing and fashion was bolstered. He returned to Philadelphia, where he was quickly hired at UBIQ as an apparel buyer, and he already has spent a couple of “fashion weeks” in Europe.
Understanding People of All Types
“I recognized a tie-in with my Miquon experience while I was there,” he says. “It is the understanding of people of all types. It took courage to maneuver in Europe, and although I didn’t go to school for fashion, learning to be comfortable in different places and situations is a Miquon thing too. Our teachers guided us, through a free flow and overlap of information, to understand that there is no such thing as perfect. Rather, it was recognizing how you feel and how you connect to that.
“From snow tubing with Bill Northcut to pottery work with Ann, Goosebumps stories with Diane Webber, electric car and taffy creations with Tony Hughes, and Beatles history lessons with John Krumm, the teachers at Miquon provided a unique education, which was invaluable to my future,” he says.
Bijan is happy in his current career, but open to see what is next. Photography? Film? “The sky is the limit.”
“All three schools triggered my creativity, allowing me the blank canvas I needed,” he adds. “Although the faculty facilitated and guided me, there was no right or wrong. And in an ode to Miquon, judgement doesn’t exist; acceptance is the key.”
The feeling of freedom, of exploration of the outdoors and bringing discoveries back into the classroom, feeling energized by the self-expression that is openly encouraged at Miquon—all are memories that stick with Dariush, who recently visited the campus and spent time with some of his favorite teachers.
“I talked with Jeri Whatley the last time I was there, and asked her how she is able to spend so much time on certain topics,” he says. “She reminded me that learning builds over time. No, it doesn’t feel traditional when you visit, but this unconventional way is the method that gets students to the same point.”
He recalls building bridges with toothpicks in 6th grade, and not just willy-nilly. The students established companies, formulated budgets to buy glue and materials, designed the bridges on the computer, then replicated their designs with those tiny pieces of wood. “We spent weeks on this,” he says, sounding amazed. “That took up a lot of time, but there were so many lessons learned along the way about business, design, finance and so much more.”
“Academically, you are in an environment where you are so much more focused because of the freedom you’re allowed in there as well as outside, where you get a release that allows for that focus when you come back in,” Dariush says.
Dariush’s transition to AFS was made easier by the fact that three of his Miquon friends went with him. The structure was different socially and, academically, he needed to adjust to testing and grading, which was stressful. But he did adapt, and thinks middle school is probably hard on every student, regardless of background.
Now a sophomore at Boston University in the College of Communications, Dariush plans to work in the music industry after graduation. His intentions were honed after talking to his brother who used a Miquon tactic of asking Dariush how he liked to spend his time? What was his passion? Now, he knows he can take that passion for music in various directions—including marketing, advertising and public relations—within the industry. He just entered a program that will allow him to study in Los Angeles in the spring of 2020. He expects to graduate in 2021.
The siblings agree that Miquon taught them both how to accept others and work with the differences they might find rather than pushing away those who are different—recognizing the added value those differences bring to one’s life.
“Leading with empathy, thinking responsibly, being mindful . . . the big take-away is a worldview in which you know how to treat others,” says Dariush. “We learned how to show up ready for whatever challenges are put in front of us. I visit Miquon now to breathe that same air. It touches me and I feel connected. And if every single person went to Miquon, the world would have no problems. The foundation they build is a testament to its wonderful, supportive community.”
“I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to travel to four continents so far,” adds Bijan. “I could go to a butcher shop in India and one in Philly and the only thing different is the language. When I think of Miquon, I hear the school song in my head—not the lyrics, but the people in the community there, as a group. Everyone could benefit from learning in such a fashion.”
Sharing Miquon memories and agreeing on the value of their earliest education, even though their four-year age difference means some things had changed at the school from one to the other, keeps the siblings close emotionally, and most likely always will. Even when food once again becomes the focus of their recollections:
“The best thing was the blueberry crumble,” Bijan asserts with a laugh. “I loved the apple crisp,” adds Dariush. “I can still taste them both.”