Sonya.jpgSonya Finkel-Levy, Lower School Principal 

BIO: Sonya is an experienced, veteran teacher whose career spans across twenty years. She began teaching in 1998 and fell in love with the profession.  She has taught first, second, third and fourth grade. Sonya served two years in the Peace Corps where she taught English as a Foreign Language to elementary and high school level students. Her additional projects included collaborating with the US Army Corps as they rebuilt local orphanages in her assigned village. While in the Peace Corps, she arranged book donations for the local library and worked on a campaign with fellow volunteers to help educate vulnerable people about the dangers of human trafficking.  Upon completion of her Peace Corps service in 2002, Sonya earned her Masters Degree and returned to teaching. She completed Teacher Leadership coursework at New York University while teaching in public school and eventually moved to Florida where she continued to pursue her career in education. There, she gained experience working with new curricula in both private and public settings.

In 2008, Sonya left the traditional classroom and began work as a set teacher on a variety of Broadway shows as well as a number of television and movie productions, providing a unique and rigorous curriculum for child actors. While working as a set teacher, Sonya ran on-set schools and camps over a number of years for children of varying ages. In 2010, Sonya earned a second Masters Degree in Gifted Education from Hunter College. She then took her experience and knowledge back into the classroom where she taught profoundly gifted and twice exceptional students.   

In 2014, Sonya found her way to Mazel Day School where she taught fourth grade and started a program to address the needs of high ability learners. Sonya has been the Lower School principal at Mazel since 2016. She completed Yeshiva University’s YU Lead 8-month leadership training program in which she worked with a cohort of other day school leaders from across North America. Sonya continues to collaborate with her peers to bring innovative ideas to Mazel Day School. She oversees grades K-4 and has a true passion for and commitment to her students. She is an outstanding educator distinguished for a commitment to serving the needs of children through a focus on individualized learning approaches tailored for all kinds of learners and especially gifted learners.  She is a motivated, dynamic leader and a team player whose primary goal is to see her students happy, successful, kind and driven to learn. 

About me: I emigrated from the former Soviet Union when I was almost 4 years old. We moved to an immigrant community in Brooklyn. Both my parents worked full time jobs doing whatever they could to support my younger sister and me. I attended public school for most of my life as yeshivas were not affordable and no assistance existed at the time. I had many wonderful teachers who inspired me. I attended a state university in upstate New York and earned two additional Masters degrees in Education, including a degree in Gifted Education. I’ve lived abroad and traveled a great deal. I am still working on visiting Australia and Africa.

I became a teacher and principal because…  The children give me inspiration. I had some challenging times as a young student due to being the only Russian Jew in my school during the Cold War. I have very vivid memories of how crucial teachers were for me as a student and I had always been motivated to contribute to the betterment of children’s lives in any way I could. I fell into teaching by accident.  However, the minute I walked into the classroom, I knew I had found my calling.

My vision for our children is…  to approach everything in life with faith, confidence and gusto. I hope that our children always believe in themselves, discern right from wrong even in the most trying situations and continue to follow in the path of our people.

I joined Mazel because… I had never encountered a school with the unique qualities that Mazel Day School presented. When I came for my interview, I was blown away by the happiness of the children, the sense of belonging the teachers demonstrated and the overall sense of togetherness. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in many school settings and Mazel stood out in remarkable ways.

My favorite memory from being a student is…  my fourth grade writing class. Mr. Karpf was an excellent teacher. He succeeded in making every one of his students feel special and confident in their work, especially in the area of writing. His encouragement affected me positively and fueled my motivation as a student. Looking back, I believe his approach to teaching writing was the Workshop Model in its early stages. I remember how different it felt to write in thoughtful and purposeful ways with constant, useful feedback. I took pride and put real effort into my work for the first time ever. I carried this with me throughout my years in school and aim to do the same for the students in the classrooms at Mazel. 

The most difficult part of being a principal is... The priority is always to do what is best for the students, so when difficult times arise, my focus is always guided towards what will benefit the children most.

My best advice to parents is…. to understand and feel reassured that the school is always looking out for the best interests of all the children. Be a partner and continue to have open, honest, respectful conversation and trust the school.

If I could teach my students only one thing, it would be… to live their lives with integrity.

If I would not have become a teacher I would have become…  This is a tough one. I considered a number of careers throughout my formative years. Most prominent in my memory was a desire to care for infants. In high school, I participated in a Doctors of Tomorrow Program at Coney Island Hospital. After hundreds of hours, I qualified to volunteer in Labor and Delivery and fell in love with the nursery.

A trick I used in the classroom was… I don’t know if I would call it a trick. I tried to stay consistent, stuck to my word, tried to make learning as interesting as possible and truly invested in my students.

Outside of school I like to... spend time with my family, be outdoors as much as possible, and find reasons to laugh. 



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