Students are ready to run the world
by Emily Enders Odom | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — If the life of faith is like running a race, Mikayla Rose Sierra is leading the field.
A two-time state champion athlete in the 300-meter hurdles event — who was also all-district in volleyball and basketball — the 17-year-old high school senior entered the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related Menaul School in the sixth grade and has been going the distance ever since.
Although Sierra, a member of the Navajo (Diné) Nation, attended elementary school where she lived in North Valley, New Mexico, before entering Menaul, she has always considered Menaul to be her home.
“Menaul raised me in a way because of how often I was there,” she said of the college preparatory day and boarding school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for students in grades 6–12.
“Since my mom worked full time for the airlines, she was sometimes gone for four or six days at a time,” added Sierra. “My dad was going through his own challenges as he managed his business, causing him to be gone a lot due to work.”
Then, in the seventh grade, Sierra met a coach, Lauren LaMonica, who genuinely changed her life.
“She was like a mother figure to me, and not only towards me,” said Sierra. “She treated all of us like her kids. If we didn’t eat, she was there. If we were having a bad day, she was there. Some coaches, when you’re not playing well, tell you to fix this or that. Coach Lauren would pay attention not only to our actions, but also to what might be causing our actions. I don’t know how I would have gotten through school or life without her, because she made that much of an impact on me just by being there.”
Sierra’s life-changing experience at Menaul — both in the sports arena and in the classroom — is being made possible, in part, by gifts to the PC(USA)’s Christmas Joy Offering, which helps the school provide scholarships to exceptional students.
A cherished Presbyterian tradition since the 1930s, the annual offering distributes gifts equally to Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color and the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions.
Off the field, Sierra has developed and matured into an amazing young leader — which was just what her parents had in mind when deciding to enroll her at Menaul.
“Whenever there was a substitute teacher or an assignment at my elementary school that we didn’t think was fair, I was always the spokesperson to argue with the teacher,” she said. “That’s the position I was given, but it was also because I wasn’t challenged at that school. My parents thought I would be a better fit for Menaul with my rebellious character. They expected Menaul to challenge me and give me a way to shape my leadership other than rebellion.”
To illustrate what she meant by her “rebellious character,” Sierra recalled a time in the fifth grade when she convinced her teacher to allow her to singlehandedly plan and organize a Valentine’s Day party for her class of 50 after initially having been told no.
“It was the fact that she told us no and I kept pushing,” she said. “That’s why I call it rebellion. I guess it was really assertiveness.”
That assertiveness has already gained the Menaul Corio Scholar entrance into the National Honor Society, election to Student Council leadership and chair of the Prom Committee, and a full scholarship to the AFS Faces of America program, through which she and another Menaul student — who is also Native American — traveled to Kenya in summer 2023.
“Mikayla exemplifies the mission of Menaul School in that she is strong in mind, body and spirit,” said Melanie G. Davis, director of Institutional Advancement. “She is an excellent student, athlete and servant leader. Proud to be Native American, Mikayla also embraces her classmates at Menaul and their cultures from around the world. In Kenya, she was able to build new friendships and gain an entirely different world perspective, further expanding her ‘World Smart’ education, just as Menaul’s tagline suggests.”
Sierra agrees that the Menaul community has helped her to grow in a variety of ways, including spiritually.
“Even though I grew up in a religious household, I have definitely noticed an increase in my prayer life in recent years,” she said. “Chapel at Menaul always gives us a moment of reflection when we get to pray and give thanks for what we do have rather than being annoyed at what we might not have. I’m Native American, so we also have a spiritual connection to the Earth.”
And a deep connection with people.
“Mikayla is one of the most determined students, athletes and leaders I have met,” said Lindsey R. Gilbert, Menaul’s former president and head of school. “Not only is she a high achiever, but she also genuinely cares about the whole community. She arranges birthday cards for advisees’ birthdays, she hangs out with boarding students on the weekends and invites them home. She is both a focused individual who also has a big heart and passion to make our community a great place to learn and study.”
When she graduates from Menaul, Sierra looks forward to becoming a lawyer — and ultimately a politician — not only because she likes to argue, but also because she wants to help people, just as her coaches, teachers and the Christmas Joy Offering have helped her.
“Your gifts allow us to find — as well as support and pay for — teachers, and Menaul has some of the best teachers I have ever had,” she said. “Finding teachers that genuinely care about educating their students and helping them learn the material is hard. Thanks to your gifts, we’re able to get the teachers that are best suited for the Menaul community.”
Your gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering provide leadership development opportunities and help Presbyterian-related schools and colleges equipping communities of color provide quality education for our future leaders.
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