As a member of SGS’s inaugural class, alumna Maria Haras is a trailblazer and critical thinker. The hands-on exploration and project-based work that she did during her time at SGS helped develop the skills and confidence she uses today as a TV development executive who works with Warner Bros in Hollywood. Learn more about Maria’s experience below!
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Tell us about your overall experience with Seattle Girls’ School. What stands out?
I was in the inaugural class of Seattle Girls’ School, which graduated in 2004. We were the pilot program – the very first people. Wow. It was cool. Middle school is a seminal time, and this experience was seminal. It was a freeing and challenging environment. I think probably, up until college, it was my favorite school environment. I’d say SGS, even more so than high school, prepared me for college.
SGS was doing some innovative things back in the early 2000s. They were focused on critical thinking, and anti-racism training and education. We were reading excerpts from Howard Zinn, and I was 12! It was an incredible way of seeing the world, introducing us to ideas in gender studies and anti-racism. And at the same time, SGS understood that the experience is more important than the facts you learn.
It was also a significant time for me personally. My father died unexpectedly in the fall after I graduated from SGS, during my first month of high school. During this time, the SGS community was very supportive. I would say some of my best and closest friends – those intense female friendships – came out of middle school.
If you were to highlight a few characteristics that set SGS apart from other programs, what would they be?
First, I would call out the hands-on exploration of the subject matter. Another would be critical thinking, which was instilled in us from a young age. The teachers understood you personally and knew your strengths and weaknesses. And last, the all-girls environment is such a marvelous environment, especially for young women of that age. You’re free to be a young woman, and boys aren’t dominating everything. The SGS environment empowered me to speak out.
Are there any particular memories or experiences at SGS that impacted or directed your future?
In the second term of sixth grade, I had to do a presentation and Q&A on the eye, and through this experience I learned how articulate I was at expressing the anatomy and science of the eyeball and sight. I didn’t end up taking my career in this direction, but I learned that I was really interested in biology. SGS was very STEM focused, but overall, the program gave you a general sense that you can do whatever you want to do.
Another stand-out experience, which I am not sure they do anymore, is when we got to co-fly Cessnas. Our second year, the school was under construction, and we worked for a trimester at the Museum of Flight, which was amazing. We spent time with these incredible planes. I even got to fly a plane and I loved it! It was the continuously pushing you out in the world that SGS did that was influential.
What about the relationships you built? Are there any that were especially important to you or influential?
Rosetta was there my first year, and I was in her homeroom, so she was one of the teachers I remember the most from that year. What I appreciated about Rosetta was that she was able to identify our strengths and weaknesses, and she said something to me which I think was very astute and I still think about to this day. She told me, “The only person stopping Maria from going to Harvard is Maria.” And this was in such contrast to what a teacher said about me in elementary school, who told my mother something to the effect of, “your daughter is pretty, but she is never going to be at the top of her class.” I am dyslexic, and I think they just didn’t know how to handle that. But Rosetta saw my potential. It’s funny because I didn’t end up applying to Harvard. I wanted to go to Yale, and I did go to Yale, and I did graduate at the top of my class.
In terms of content, Wendy was probably my most influential teacher. She was a social studies teacher, and she was the one getting us into Howard Zinn. In her class, we put Christopher Columbus on trial for the genocide of the native people, and we wrote about Disney and the misogynistic and racist depictions in Pocahontas.
How did the years you spent at Seattle Girls’ School influence your career and professional life now?
Seattle Girls’ School was a dynamic, innovative environment. They taught us skills that you don’t necessarily learn in high school, like independent and critical thinking. If you want to be entrepreneurial and work in the arts or in an area where the path is not so established, they are valuable skills to have.
It well prepared me for the kind of critical thinking that you have to do in college. I had gone to a public high school, so I hadn’t had the same experiences as many of those who came to Yale from prep school. But my mind had been developed in a way that I felt right at home. I liked doing things off the beaten path, which SGS encouraged us to do. I think that SGS allowed me to develop an independent voice and greater sense of self-assuredness, and the sense of wanting to do something hands on. And I knew I always loved film.
I knew that I did not want a kind of traditional desk job, and that I wanted to do something project focused. And that was something I really appreciated about SGS – it was project focused. That worked for me, as opposed to a block of time where you have to cram a number of subjects. This is why I enjoy working in film and TV – you have these discrete projects. SGS helped me to develop the courage to go after what I wanted.
I’m currently the Director of Development for a POD at Warner Bros TV, which means we have a deal where we exclusively develop TV series for Warner Bros. Our current show is the legal drama All Rise on CBS.
What are your future plans? What is next for you?
I love working in TV, and I plan to stay in television for the foreseeable future. I’m looking forward to developing more of my own ideas and developing skills. It’s a lifelong process of learning. I am always looking to develop a greater understanding of my job and television and what makes a good story.
What would you say to parents considering sending their kiddos to SGS?
Middle school is a critical turning point for young people and particularly young women in their development and in how they see themselves. I think traditionally it’s a time where women fall behind in STEM, when their voices start to be crowded out. Being in an all-girls environment, it gives you freedom to be a person and not be defined by your gender and to develop as a person at a critical juncture when you’re leaving childhood and entering adulthood. It’s important to train young women how to want more for themselves, to have them skills that they will need to think like an adult. Teaching them how to become smart, informed citizens.