Sophia Morel ‘98 has had an impact on countless New York City youth. As the senior director of Education, Career and Enrichment Services at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), Sophia plays a key role in developing education and employment programming for young people who have been incarcerated or are at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. And while her current career isn’t one she could have foreseen as a Calhoun student, her love of learning has helped shape her into the changemaker she is today.
Sophia started working at CASES as an intern in 2004 before transitioning into a full-time position as a community coordinator, advocating for youth in the family court system. In this role, Sophia found herself navigating the complex bureaucracy of the NYC Department of Education, no small feat for an early career professional. Sophia rose to the challenge, relentlessly seeking out the answers that would help her stand up for kids’ needs. “It was a huge learning curve,” she recalls, “but I learned to never take ‘no’ for an answer.”
For her next step at CASES, Sophia worked as a GED teacher. Faced with the daunting task of teaching a room full of teens with widely disparate reading levels, Sophia turned to her own educational background in progressive schools as inspiration, crafting a curriculum centered on students’ interests. “We made a space in which learning was fun, accessible and interesting,” she explains. The program was a great success, and Sophia’s students exceeded the state pass rate for the GED. She went on to get a master’s in community-based learning from the Bank Street College of Education, which allowed her to further solidify her passion for expanding educational opportunities for youth.
Sophia attended Calhoun for Upper School, after beginning her education at Manhattan Country School. “My process [at Calhoun] was about redefining myself,” she says. She played volleyball and basketball, joined the yearbook and forensics clubs, and discovered a love for math. While as a teen she didn’t have grand plans to change the world, Sophia says that being given the space as a student to figure out who she was became instrumental for her future work. “At Calhoun, I was shown that I could do anything I wanted to do and I didn’t have to choose a single path– that’s something I’ve carried with me,” Sophia recalls.
Indeed, Sophia’s gusto for trying new things and learning from each experience has served her well in her career. During her 15-year tenure at CASES, she has held a variety of roles on her path to senior leadership, and built numerous initiatives from the ground up. Whether spearheading a college transition program or piloting job-readiness workshops, Sophia has continuously explored new avenues and grown alongside the organization.
While the opportunity to keep learning is a motivator for Sophia, it’s ultimately the young people she serves that are her true inspiration. As a direct result of the alternative-to-incarceration programming that Sophia has developed, thousands of youth have been kept out of prison and given the resources to become active members of society. “I’m always asking, ‘What else is there that we haven’t thought of? How can we improve the outcomes of the young people we serve?’” she says. Driven by her curiosity and passion, there is no doubt that Sophia’s impact on the lives of young people will only continue to grow.