By John Sacco
BELLE VERNON — Megan Russell is thousands of miles away from her roots at St. Sebastian Regional Catholic School.
The road traveled, however, seems to always lead back there.
“St. Sebastian helped me develop a good foundation, intellectually and in gaining the fundamental principles that make you successful in life — hard work, dedication, leadership skills and the ability to communicate in the public.
“Without a doubt, the school set me up for success.”
Russell, who has resided in Long Beach, Calif., for six years, graduated from Belle Vernon Area High School in 2008.
The 31-year-old attended St. Sebastian through eighth grade, taking advantage of all its opportunities — from serving as her eighth-grade class president to playing basketball and volleyball, cheerleading and being an altar server.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Juniata College, Huntingdon, and a doctorate in physical therapy from Columbia University in New York.
“Learning about science at St. Sebastian drove me to explore biology and eventually moved me into physical therapy. We did a Junior Achievement project there, and my focus was on physical therapists. I wrote a report on it. When I was home a couple years ago, I found the certificate for that, and I had a picture of the whole class. We were all dressed up. It was funny to see it and remember that project again.”
Russell says her involvement in many extracurricular activities at St. Sebastian also led to her knowing about more things outside of the classroom and helped nurture deeper relationships with her friends.
“I was really involved,” she said. “Our class of 26 students received a lot of individual attention in the classroom and outside of it. We were led by a good group of people, and we just grew with them. I remember a lot of the names and some of the lessons.”
While finishing her final rotation for her doctorate at Columbia, Russell was offered a job.
“I had not planned on staying in California until that last day,” she said. “There was about a six-month gap between boards, and I actually worked my first true job at Mon Valley Hospital. I knew it was temporary, but that was nice working for the first time so close to home.”
Russell works with stroke victims, brain injury patients and people with neurological issues at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, Downey, Calif.
She’s involved in her community, serving as secretary/treasurer of a physical therapy organization in Long Beach. She is also an adjunct professor at Mount St. Mary’s University, Los Angeles.
“It’s kind of nice to circle back and remember my time at St. Sebastian,” Russell said. “When you’ve had good teachers, it makes it easier to teach yourself.”
St. Sebastian is making the same kind of impact on the five children of Judy and Mike Brewer.
“I think the (school) does an amazing job,” Mike Brewer said. “Clearly, it positioned our family for success academically, spiritually and morally.
“The families there really care about their kids and St. Sebastian.
The education is outstanding and athletics were good. It is guided by God’s morals and strength of the family, and not by politics or school boards. St. Sebastian is really driven by the fundamental aspects of educating children.”
Son Aiden, 21, a senior studying computer engineering at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, where he is captain of the track and field team, attended St. Sebastian from kindergarten through sixth grade and went on to Greensburg Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School.
Patrick, 19, is a sophomore studying biology at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Like his brother, he is a member of the track and field team. Both young men are decathletes.
Corrin, a 17-year-old senior at GCC, plans to study architecture at Notre Dame University in Indiana on an athletic scholarship and be a member of the track team as a pole vaulter and heptathlon.
James, 15, is a sophomore at GCC and a member of the soccer, wrestling, and track and field teams. Grant, 13, is an eighth-grader at GCC and a member of the same sports teams.
Judy Brewer attended the former St. Margaret Mary School in Lower Burrell. Neither she nor Mike attended Catholic high schools.
“I think St. Sebastian helped so much in the formative years from a spiritual standpoint,” Judy Brewer said. “The faith-based education held the same values that my husband and I hold. St. Sebastian was more than we even hoped for. It was an awesome experience, and the people there guided our children through every aspect of life.”