Alumni Spotlight with Emily Yanes

Is there anything more gratifying than to know that someone chose a career path because of the effect you had on them?

Emely Yanes (2013), is proud to admit that she emphatically decided to be a school psychologist from the time she attended Eagle Hill, because of one person in particular—Mr. Dave Sylvestro, former Head of Psychological Services! 

“He was so present in the students’ day-to-day activities. He seemed to always be around talking to people and I wondered what his job was. I knew he wasn’t a teacher, so why did he know everyone so well?” 

For Emely, that was her inspiration, the drive that pushed her to study Psychology as a minor at St. John’s University. Still, it didn’t seem to be the path she wanted. 

“They kept talking about social services, but I knew that wasn’t quite right,” she explains. It was only when she applied to Fairfield University that it all came together. 

Since the time Emely was young, her mother told her that she had a natural empathy for others. The disabled child alone on the playground, the child in the corner who no-one noticed—Emely gravitated towards them. 

Her mother explained to her, “You could have played with anyone, but you always went to the child with needs.”

For Emely, it seems clear. “I think it’s because I understand, having struggled through my own life.” 

When she got older, she was part of an Autism group, helping produce activities and trips, and taking care of children with autism and schizophrenia.

Even in college, she found that she wanted to help the people who were left out. 

“People are mean in college, too.” As she explains, while she’s in the right program now, the road there wasn’t smooth. Emely has dyslexia, and was quite shy when she was younger. 

When she first left Eagle Hill for Trinity Catholic High School, she protested that she wasn’t ready. The classes were bigger, she had to seek out help, and it was only after her mother insisted she had the tools she needed, that she realized she needed to self-advocate. 

“It was the tools I learned at EHS that finally helped me,” she says. “Breaking down the rubrics of how to write an essay is something I still use to this day.” 

She remembers Miss Nisch suggesting she write a title for each paragraph in an essay, with a short intro, and then begin writing. She also had kept her old computer from EHS, with all the programs she was comfortable using. 

“I’d open my school desktop, and then have my EHS laptop open as well, so that I could review my notes and remind myself of things like how to do math problems.” 

“I was the quiet, shy girl at EHS,” she adds. ”It was challenging to ask for help, but my mom convinced me that the teachers were there for me. I had an IEP but they didn’t know that until I told them.” 

In her self-advocacy, she explained that she didn’t learn as fast as other students, didn’t take notes as fast as they did, and might stumble on words now and then, but she was going to take her time and figure it out. 

Moving to West Hill (the public school in Stamford) to finish high school was a boon, as they had a specialized class at the end of each day for students with IEPs, which really helped. 

Her grades improved, and her confidence with self-advocacy grew. Emely’s transition to college was a bit circuitous as her initial program wasn’t the best fit. 

She had decided to study nursing, especially the science of children with disabilities. When that didn’t work, she transferred to Forensic Psychology, where she completed her four-year degree studying the brain and especially abnormalities. 

Still, it wasn’t the career she had dreamed of since her childhood. Finally, she found what she was seeking at Fairfield University, where they offered a Master’s program in School Psychology. 

“I’m finally with my people,” she laughs, expanding on the great story that will forever link her to Mr. Sylvestro. 

“When I went for my interview, they asked me why I wanted to take the program. I told them about EHS, and about Mr. Sylvestro and his big connection with everyone, even the parents. He always knew kids’ names and was welcoming and nice. The interviewer asked his name and when she heard, she told me he was not only my inspiration but an alumnus of Fairfield. My head blew up! I ran back to the car and told my mom it was meant to be!” 

These days, because of her dyslexia, note-taking in lectures remains difficult. 

“I use audio recordings. A teacher in sophomore year told me about them, and what I have trouble understanding in a book is easy to understand when I hear it.” Emely, now 23, remembers EHS fondly, and is quick to refer students there who she feels could benefit from the specialized education. 

“Just because it’s a school that helps people with LD doesn’t make you different from anyone else.” She adds, “I’m very grateful for EHS, and so glad my mom sent me there.”

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Topics: Alumni Spotlight