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by Gabriel Penaloza, EMBA 2020

From the moment you step into the Miami Learning Experience School, you feel something innately different from anywhere else. It starts with the students. The joy with which these students receive guests is incredible. Then there is the faculty and staff, many of whom have been working there for over a decade. While it may sound cliche, it’s a place driven by love and compassion — not just for students, but for every parent, therapist, office staff and guest. It was an immediate draw to my heart, and I had to share that with my Kellogg colleagues.

For those who don’t know the school, it was founded in 1977, and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit school for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The school provides personal care and attention, carefully developed programs, and objectives that help each student achieve their goals, under the guiding belief that all children with developmental disabilities have the potential for learning and becoming active members of our community.

When I invited my fellow Cohort 119 classmates to tour the facility, I wondered if they would feel the same innate connection and desire to help that I did. Several 119 classmates who were able met up on a Thursday before class for an informational discussion and tour with MLE executive director Kevin Grace, director of admission Barby McDaniel, and director of special events Marisabel Rey. As we walked through the classrooms, gymnasium and facility, the students interacted and gave us a firsthand look at journey they take together daily with staff.

At MLE, the students are taught so much more than just academics. Self-sufficiency practices, such as cooking skills and grocery shopping, and everyday tasks are included as a part of their learning experience. We visited the middle school and high school classes, music and art sessions, athletic and cooking periods. Even in the face of major adversity and daily struggle, each stop on the tour and discussion left us feeling inspired. Everyone we interacted with approached life with such love, joy and courage. The smiles we saw, coupled with grace and perseverance through difficulty made us pause and reflect — one of the first skills taught in the EMBA program.

There was an immediate connection for the rest of the team, which made the decision for Cohort 119 to support my desire in doing something to help MLE feel natural. We learned that the organization has struggled with large capital raises in the past and knew we could leverage the team’s unique skills, networks, and talents to help make a significant impact for the MLE Lions. The result: We are hosting Miami’s black-tie affair of the summer. Our casino-themed soiree will be hosted at Miami’s iconic Jungle Island this July 12 and promises to be an elegant affair with the aim of raising enough money to make a substantial impact for the students and faculty of the Miami Learning Experience School. We are looking forward eagerly to hosting the event and welcome all those interested to attend!

To learn more about MLE and the Miami Nice Gala, or to get tickets, please visit