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TOPIC: Madison SEPTO In The News (Sept. 2016)

Madison SEPTO In The News (Sept. 2016) 1 year 5 months ago #1

Monday, Sept. 19, 2016
Online newspaper Zip06 recently published this article about Madison SEPTO and its Co-President Megan Sesma. Please forward to your contacts. Madison SEPTO is a member of the Connecticut SEPTO Alliance.
Kevin Daly
Connecticut Special Education PTO Alliance
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Megan Sesma: Harmonizing Music, the Military, and Special Education
Tom Conroy

Sometimes we do a double take when we see a neighbor in his or her work outfit, whether it’s coveralls or a suit and tie. Nodding acquaintances of Madison’s Megan Sesma would probably be surprised to see her in the uniform she wears as an active-duty member of the U.S. Coast Guard.

They would be even more surprised to learn that Megan’s job is playing harp in the U.S. Coast Guard Band, a 55-piece ensemble based at the Coast Guard Academy in New London.

Megan, a chief petty officer in the Coast Guard, devotes herself to service in her off-duty hours as well. She is a co-president and founder of the Madison branch of the Special Education Parent Teacher Organization (SEPTO).

“Our mission is to create an environment in which the special-education community can thrive,” says Megan, who has special-needs children herself. “We’re kind of creating that bridge between the school district and the parents and the community.”

In order to help get its message out, the organization, which was incorporated only this May, is sponsoring a screening of the new ABC comedy Speechless this Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 5:30 p.m., at the Madison Art Cinemas. As of press time, the event was sold out, but there is a waiting list that can be accessed through a link on the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MadisonSEPTO . The show stars Minnie Driver as the mother of a teenage boy with special needs.
Ann Nyberg, a news anchor at WTNH, and State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-12) will speak at the event. Tickets, which are free, can be reserved by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Acknowledging that the Madison SEPTO is still just starting out, Megan lists some current projects that go beyond generally educating and involving parents and teachers and building partnerships.

“Right now,” she says, “we’re working specifically on unified team sports.”

This is a program in which children with special needs partner with children without special needs in team sports and activities. Currently, there are unified teams at Daniel Hand High School, Polson Middle School, and Ryerson Elementary; activities include soccer, basketball, and track and field, as well as cheerleading and drama.

“We’re working with the school district,” Megan says, “helping to fund coaches and equipment.”

SEPTO is also looking to fund “buddy benches,” Megan says. “It’s a bench that’s in the elementary schools where they have the recreation area. Students can sit there when they don’t have someone to play with at recess. And someone can come up and sit with them.”

Megan believes that most Madison parents are happy with the district’s special-needs programs and policies.
“I think what Madison does well is the integration,” she says. “All the special-education students are integrated in the regular classrooms. I think that’s so important to their long-term success.”

As for the teachers and administrators, she says, “I’m just impressed with the level of knowledge and professionalism.”
SEPTO, she says, has a “very close” relationship with Elizabeth Battaglia, the director of special education in the district.
“She started last year,” says Megan. “And we actually started getting off the ground in the fall as well last year. So we’ve kind of formed this group together.”

Megan says that when you have special-needs children, “you’re your own advocate.”
Madison’s SEPTO branch got its start last September when Megan was attending a series of talks about special education at the Scranton Library.

“Another parent, Nadine Campbell, who’s our vice-president, and I looked at each other and said, ‘How come a parents’ group does not exist, that can assist all these parents with all the issues they were facing?’” Megan says. “And that was it.”
Megan’s own education has always involved music. She grew up in mostly rural northeast Iowa—”where John Deere is,” she says. Her parents met while her father, who was born in Mexico, was studying to be a chiropractor and her mother was studying nursing.

“My mother’s now an Episcopalian rector at a church where she used to help migrant farmers in the basement,” Megan says proudly.

A Foundation in Music
Starting out young on the piano, Megan switched to harp in 4th grade. By the time her family relocated to Las Vegas when she was in high school, she was good enough to play for money. Her gigs, she says, included subbing for professional harpists in casinos and “weddings with Elvis acting as a justice of the peace.”

Attending the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester, in New York. Megan earned double degrees in harp performance and economics.

“I felt like maybe I was going to be a business professional,” she says.

But after a few postcollege internships and jobs in Washington, D.C., Megan decided to devote herself to music.
“It was probably a calling,” she says. “When I realized I would rather be sitting behind an instrument for four hours a day versus doing something else, I knew that was what I should dedicate my life to.”

She entered the master’s program at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. During her first semester, she saw a notice for auditions for the Coast Guard Band. Megan paid her own fare to New London and won the job.
“It was actually my first professional audition,” she says. “I was 24, and I had to make a decision. Then one of my teachers said to me, ‘Why do you want to be a student when you can be a professional?’”

Relocating to New London involved starting over socially as well.
“I wasn’t too interested in dating other musicians at that point,” Megan says, “and I had such a small subset of people I knew in the area, so I decided to broaden my horizons.”

She met her future husband, Albert Gonzalez, on match.com.
Albert is a system engineer at Sikorsky in Stratford. Splitting their commutes, the couple moved to Madison in 2005. They now have three children: Xavier, 6; Gabriel, 5; and Alessandra, 20 months.

Megan has a very full plate. Each member of the Coast Guard Band has a collateral duty. Hers is running the program that brings 6,500 students a year to see the band perform at the academy.

Having eventually earned her master’s in harp performance at New York University, Megan currently teaches harp as an adjunct professor at Wesleyan University, Connecticut College, and the University of Connecticut.
“I do believe that teaching is a love of mine,” she says. “For me it’s more a transferring of discipline. I feel that what they learn on the instrument is something they transfer to everything else they do. I think that’s really important to students today: creating that ability for them to be confident in what they can do.”

Megan also works as a substitute for symphony orchestras in the region and plays private events booked through her website megansesma.com.

The Coast Guard Band puts Megan on the road one or two months a year.
“During the summers,” she says, “I like to take the kids with me on tour.” Otherwise, she says, “We have a strong base of caregivers in the area, and my mother-in-law, Rosa Gonzalez, is a wonderful support for our family.”

She somehow finds time to help with the junior youth choir at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison.
Asked whether she thinks something links the disparate sides of her life—advocacy, the military, music, teaching—Megan pauses, then quotes the inscription on a rock wall at the Coast Guard Academy: “Who lives here reveres honor, honors duty.”
“What I do here is service,” she says. “I serve the general public and my colleagues and the Coast Guard. For whatever reason, I’ve been called to assist with special education.”

Megan likes to quote the chairman of the Connecticut SEPTO Alliance, Kevin Daly: “It’s not about my child. It’s not about your child. It’s about all of the children.”
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