Literacy Lights the Way: 32nd Annual Benefit Luncheon

   Literacy Lights the Way Luncheon      From the Left: Erin Gruwell, Michael Stambaugh, Nahla Nasser, Jamie Shick

Literacy Lights the Way Luncheon

From the Left: Erin Gruwell, Michael Stambaugh, Nahla Nasser, Jamie Shick

On Friday, April 13. 2018, Ms. Nahla Nasser, Ms. Jamie Shick and I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon at the Marriott Marquis Houston which was hosted by the Neuhaus Education Center.  For those not familiar with this innovative and groundbreaking foundation, they serve to train teachers to aid their students who have been diagnosed with dyslexia, which affects at least 20% of the US School population.  In addition, the keynote speaker was Erin Gruwell who co-authored with her students their extraordinary journey in the book The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.  The story was so compelling that Hollywood ultimately made it into a movie in 2007.

Each time Erin speaks, she brings her story alive by chronicling her journey as an ordinary school teacher and the obstacles and hurdles she had to overcome to reach these students through innovative teaching methods and strategies while teaching at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA.  After leaving Wilson, Erin taught at University of California Long Beach bringing her methods and strategies to teachers in training.  This led to her founding of The Freedom Writers Foundation which sought to offer scholarships to students to attend college.  In addition, beginning in 2007, Erin began to bring teachers to Long Beach, CA to train at The Freedom Writers Institute.  The magic that was born here helped to create The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher Guide as well as other books that followed.  The momentum continues as educators, administrators, and counselors from both public and private schools to this day are trained by Erin and the original Freedom Writers in her methodologies and strategies.  To date, there are 550 teachers from the United States and countries throughout the world who can call themselves “Freedom Writer Teachers”, and I am one of them, having trained with Erin in 2009.  I am fortunate to have Erin in my life as not only my mentor and colleague, but also as a friend.  Subsequently through Erin’s support and guidance, I was able to serve as one of 12 consultants and contributor’s for Scholastic’s On the Record, a nonfiction reading program, that seeks to engage, enlighten and empower students to reach their full potential.

Through my efforts and connections with Erin and the Freedom Writers Foundation, I continue to bring the magic of the Freedom Writers Curriculum and On the Record to my classes at St. Stephen’s.

By:  Michael J. Stambaugh



Congratulations to us…we did it! Annual Fund is at 100% Participation.


The Annual Fund reached 100% family participation for the first time in St. Stephen’s history, surpassing last year’s overall family participation of 81%. We also reached 100% faculty/staff participation and 100% board of trustee participation! Plus, we had 18 grandparents contribute - two-thirds more than last year and another new record for the school.

Every class reached 100% and earned special class parties. Teachers will provide times and details closer to the dates.

Party Themes:

·     Primary & Orientation – Marsha’s Petting Zoo - March 8th

·     Lower El & Upper El - The Snake Man Reptile Show - Feb. 9th

·     Middle Years – Field trip to Speedy’s Fast Track & Go Carts - TBD

The Annual Fund raised $130,640 towards our $140,000 goal. Thank you to every generous contributor. See the donor list here.

Very special thanks to Annual Fund co-chairs, Cristina & Josh Bedwell and Jessica & Christopher Parkerson, and the fabulous Annual Fund Committee, whose combined enthusiasm and leadership helped the school reach these milestone participation levels.



Nahla Nasser - A Tribute and Thank You

Nahla Nasser.JPG

This September, Mrs. Nahla Nasser, Principal and Montessori Lead Teacher, will celebrate 30 years at St. Stephen’s School. Thank you, Nahla for your steadfast dedication and service to our students and families!

I first met Nahla twenty plus years ago. I was sitting in the church Nave one Sunday morning and listened to her speak to the congregation about the Montessori education provided at St. Stephen’s School. I remember her poise and that genuine smile when she spoke about the students, her love for Maria Montessori and the quality of education our students received. 

Fast forward to today – that smile, her love for educating students and genuine caring still shine forth. You ask Nahla about her early years at St. Stephen’s School and she can tell you many stories about those years: Such as when her classroom was located in Pecore Hall and how she had to take down the classroom each Friday afternoon in order for the church to use the space and put it back up Monday morning in preparation for her students. Family is extremely important to Nahla and her husband, Mustapha. In fact, their three children, Ady, Hala and Ali attended St. Stephen’s School and benefited from their mother’s educational expertise. 

Her institutional knowledge is vast and only benefits our school. When I came on as Head of School, I immediately knew I needed a strong and experienced leader for our lower and middle school programs. Nahla’s reputation as a Montessorian in Houston, TX and nation-wide is second to none. In my opinion, that reputation continues to help build our program, which has doubled in size over these past six years. As a member of the Houston Montessori Center, she is continually sought by young Montessorians to be a mentor and guide and by the American Montessori Society as an accreditation site visitor. 

We want to celebrate Nahla’s 30 years at St. Stephen’s with a reception on September 29th from Noon – 1:00 p.m. The St. Stephen’s community is invited. Please drop by to congratulate and thank Nahla for her service to our students and us. 

David Coe

Head of School



Community is About Giving and Receiving



St. Stephen’s is a generous community.  Our core values form us to care for one another through acts of service with an eye to the future. While we are curious about others’ situations, we want to respect their privacy and beliefs. Stemming from these values, St. Stephen’s leaders have crafted a way for us to respond to the needs of our St. Stephen’s community and the region at large with love and respect.

Ryan Hawthorne, our School’s Interim Director of Spiritual Life, will be reaching out to every family in our faculty, staff, and student body which has been directly impacted by the storm whom we know of now. If you have not shared your experience with us, please contact either David Coe or stop by his office or contact Ryan or call her at the School. Lisa Hunt and Scott Painter will be reaching out to parishioners who have been affected as well. They want to honor your privacy and be here to listen. We care for you.

Our community wants to be generous with money as well. Our leaders have decided to direct our community’s financial gifts to the Hurricane Harvey Discretionary Fund and to the Diocese of Texas Hurricane Relief Fund to meet the needs of our St. Stephen’s community first, and then the broader region. The Discretionary Fund exists to be a nimble way to meet people’s needs with respect and no bureaucracy. All of the money, 100% will go directly to victims of this event; none will go to overhead or administrative costs. Your contributions will also be tax deductible. We have created a link here for you to give online. You may also write checks to the St. Stephen’s Discretionary Fund and in the memo line designate it Hurricane Harvey. Another option is text giving: Text CURIOUS to: 73256 +  the amount. (instructions can be found here)

We have created a means for you to offer help with your currencies of time, place, and wellness. You will hear more about those opportunities to serve on Thursday at the PTO meeting and on Sunday morning.

St. Stephen’s is a strong community and we help each other. Now is no different.

The Reverend Lisa Hunt



Talking about Harvey and its Effects with your child

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As we look forward to Harvey leaving our area, we are left with many tasks. From clean up and recovery to rebuilding what has been lost or damaged, there will be a lot of hard work ahead for us. One task parents and those who work with children and youth will have to face—and may already be facing—is how to talk about this with our children. For many of our students, Houston has always been home, others have relocated here from other parts of the States, and still others recently arrived. And yet, since Friday, many of them have weathered this storm along with their families and Harvey has left no family in our community or city unaffected by the fear, anxiety, and/or physical damage it left in its wake. Your child may have questions about what’s happened, about why it happened, and will wonder if this kind of event could happen again. Here a few ways to talk to your student about what Houston and the surrounding area has experienced:

  1. See what your child already knows. This is particularly useful for parents of students who pay attention to the news or have access to news outlets, including social media, through their personal electronic devices. Ask your child questions to assess what kind of information they’ve already received and also where they might be in processing the information.
  2. Be honest and encourage questions. Give accurate, age appropriate information: yes, some people lost their homes; some people have had to evacuate; very unfortunately, some people lost their lives. This ensures your child is hearing accurate and honest information from you, their parents, which helps maintain trust during such times as these. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so and assure your child that when you know you will share information, or in the case of older children, this might be a time when you research together.  
  3. Try to remain calm. Living within a natural disaster zone is stressful and can be frightening for adults and children. Talking about the aftermath with a child in an age appropriate manner can be even scarier for parents and teachers. Try to remain calm and choose words carefully. If you are becoming overwhelmed take a break from the discussion. If your child becomes overwhelmed, take a break from the discussion and instead remind them that you are together, which is most important at this time.
  4. Try to assess your child’s feelings and affirm them. Some children may express fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, etc. Others may choose silence and personal reflection. Affirm these feelings in your child and then share your own feelings: I am afraid as well; I am so heartbroken that people have lost their lives; I am worried about our friends. This empathetic response from parents and trusted adults not only validates the feelings of a child or youth but also reinforces the fact that this is communal experience and they are not alone.
  5. Point out triumphs, share the good. In the face of unprecedented flooding and raining, Houston has risen to the challenge tremendously. Houstonians and others from the surrounding area have gone to great lengths to help others in any way they are able. First responders have been working around the clock to rescue our neighbors, the Cajun Army from Louisiana is working to rescue people as well, and private citizens have used their own boats and kayaks to pick up anyone stranded in flooded areas. The Red Cross, working at George R Brown, received so many people hoping to volunteer and help their fellow Houstonians, that they had to create shifts to manage everyone. Some of you have donated, volunteered, called, and alerted authorities to the needs of neighbors, friends, and loved ones. Houston has proven itself to be wildly helpful and courageous, so share that with your child, let your student know that in the face of life threatening conditions people chose to be kind, good, and neighborly. 

In peace,
Ryan Hawthorne, M. Div
Interim Director of Spiritual Life



St. Stephen's Update: Letter from the Rector

Dear People of God,

The apostle Paul writes: "Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15). There is cause for rejoicing and weeping in response to the events we are experiencing in Harvey's wake. 


We can absolutely rejoice in the fact that no one in our St. Stephen's community has died in this storm, as far as I am aware. Several members of our community had harrowing experiences as they escaped their homes by boat, walking, and helicopter. Each is in a safe place. Some of us evacuated before the storm. Several of us were out of town. Many of us are privileged to have dry homes, air conditioning, power, and passable streets.

There is weeping as we survey the damage to our community. The pictures of thousands of the survivors, those who are separated from their families, the desolation of our land cause us to grieve. The numbness will begin to wear off soon as we start to cope with the scale of our loss. Anger, resentment, depression, sadness will settle upon us with the residue of this storm. These feelings are real and a faithful response to what we are going through. You do not need to deny them.


St. Stephen's campus has very little damage; merely some broken plaster in the Gathering Area of the Church as far as we know. Our rental properties are also unscathed. The streets in Montrose while initially flooded, drained quickly. 


St. Stephen's folks are ready to respond. We have set up a Facebook page to begin to coordinate what we have, with the needs of our community. Please, let us know what you need and what you would like to offer. If you would like to volunteer this week, and can get there safely, I invite you to connect with new shelters that are being set up: The Forge for Families at 3435 Dixie in the Third Ward, especially needs mental health and medical folks; and Lakewood is open now to receive refugees from the storm. George R. Brown is covered for now. Many people in our congregation have taken on water and will need help shoveling out when the time comes.

If you, or your friends and family from afar, want to financially contribute Episcopal Relief and Development has set up a fund, as has the Diocese of Texas. St. Stephen's has also set up a way to give to the discretionary fund for immediate needs in our community. The links are here


We plan to be open for church on Sunday for all services at 7:45, 8:30, and 10:30 a.m.  St. Stephen's School will open on Tuesday, September 5, and will begin with an All School Chapel service at 8:30 a.m. Parents and parishioners are invited to attend. We respond to these events with prayer--of thanksgiving, supplication, and for healing.


Patience is the virtue we need to deliberately cultivate now and in the days to come. Recovery from this is going to take years, not days. 

Fifteen years ago, my church in Nashville was destroyed by a tornado. My young children were with me in its basement. Many members of my congregation had their homes ripped apart. My father, may he rest in peace, came to my aid the days after it hit. I was frantic and exhausted, trying to coordinate the care for our people and to manage the business of insurance. He drove me to the Kroger and turned to me and said,"Wyms, you've got to take care of yourself. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You will be no good to anyone if you are spent."

My father's words were true then and I commend them to you now. We will need our reserves of love, empathy, and grace over this long haul. Spiritual and emotional care are essential. When you need to, fast from the news. Care for your neighbors to ward off despair. Listen to others for understanding; we do not live by bread alone. Say your prayers.

To help, I offer one I discovered from the Church of England:

Lord God, we pray for all who are suffering the effects of the floods: for those who have been injured, for those whose homes have been lost or damaged, and for those who live in fear. Be with them and us, we pray, that we may know the calm of your presence, through him who stilled the raging of the storm, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lisa Hunt
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Rector
Chair, St. Stephen’s Episcopal School Board of Trustees



First Day of School Year

There is something special about the first day of school, a feel of anticipation and excitement.  As adults, we cannot help remembering our first day back in school, or possibly attending school for the first time. From crying toddlers, to crying parents, to anxious teenagers who are not sure how they would fit in and make friends.

The uniqueness about St. Stephen’s Episcopal School is that it follows Montessori from 15 months to 6th grade and IMYC (International Middle Years Curriculum) in 7th and 8th grades. One of the principles in Montessori is multi-age grouping, in which case the students remain with the same teacher for three years. When the returning students arrive after the summer, they are already familiar with their classmates and teachers, which lowers the level of anxiety and increases the level of comfort. The same for the 7th and 8th grade students, they are with the same teachers for two years.

Separation is hard on parents, especially new toddler parents. They watch their children leave the carpool line with teachers they have known for a few days. It is a frightening feeling for some. And then, the amazing transformation happens in a couple of weeks. Toddlers say goodbye to their parents with a smile at the carpool line, parents are comfortable leaving their children with teachers they trust, and children are having the best time at St. Stephen’s.

With a few days of school under our belt, we look forward to students growing in a free and positive environment, learning to approach challenges with enthusiasm and finding true joy in acquiring knowledge.

“Our goal is not so much the imparting of knowledge as the unveiling and developing of spiritual energy.”  Maria Montessori

Nahla Nasser - Principal



An Invitation to Curiosity: an Episcopal Value

We are so happy to welcome each new and returning faculty, staff, and family back to our campus for the 2017-2018 school year. I am especially grateful to engage with our community in a new way as Interim Director of Spiritual Life. I am excited for the opportunity to get to know each student and faculty member through weekly chapels, All School chapels, and other encounters on campus throughout the year.

This year we will continue to deepen our understanding of the Episcopal identity that shapes our St. Stephen’s community, how it relates to our commitment to Montessori and International Middle Years education and principles, and how it shapes our shared core values on campus. Many of these values overlap and are held as beacons among us to point the way in helping us to build a richly diverse, peaceful, and healthy community that is inclusive of all.

At St. Stephen’s we value curiosity and are unafraid to question everything, even those things we hold most dear. We believe that curiosity, like our other values, not only forms us as a community, but also engages our imagination of who and what we can be as individuals, as a campus of life-long learners, and out in the world.

Encouraging curiosity is a value held in esteem in both the Church and School. We know that some are unfamiliar with the Episcopal Church, and with St. Stephen’s as a worshipping community. As a way of welcoming our new and returning faulty and families back to campus, St. Stephen’s parish is hosting Curiosity Sunday, on August 27 during the 10:30 a.m. service. Every member of St. Stephen’s is invited to join us on campus as we offer a back to school blessing and bless every teachers’ and students’ backpack, bag, or briefcase for the new school year. You are invited to come and see what St. Stephen’s has to offer for youth, children, and adults on Sunday mornings, and what service organizations we partner with to serve our greater Houston community.

Following Curiosity Sunday, we will gather in the Nave for our first All School chapel on Monday, August 28, at 8:30 a.m. Every parent, guardian, or adult in our community is invited to join us in song and prayer as we celebrate the new school year and all the learning, growth, and friendships that will develop this year. All School chapels are held monthly and are a wonderful time for our whole community to sing and pray together, but also to see each other in one space, gathered for a common purpose. We will share God’s peace with one another and celebrate Eucharist, or the Great Thanksgiving, in honor of the lively, strong, and wildly curious school community. We hope to see you there.

Ryan Hawthorne - Interim Spiritual Life Director



A New Beginning, Campus Summer Updates

Dear St. Stephen’s School Families,

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School - Houston, having been in existence for almost 65 years, is entering a new beginning this coming academic year. The Board of Trustees is committed to growing a thriving toddler through 8th grade program. You will begin to see visible changes to the School’s layout and space beginning this summer. These changes represent components of our long-term master plan for the entire campus.

Attached to this letter, you are receiving the latest edition of Building Community, our publication chronicling the developments of our capital planning and campaign processes. This will bring you up to date on our efforts to build new facilities to support the education of our students. In addition, the Board of Trustees has formed a School Growth Task Force which is delineating our strategy for developing our School in its new form. You will be hearing more about it by summer’s end.

We are committed to expanding our School beginning at the Orientation and Primary levels, paving the road for continued success in providing excellent education for children 15 months through 8th grade with classroom growth accommodated by expansions. We are downsizing office areas to optimize classroom space as we make room for new Orientation students. Remodeling the Primary 4 classroom into a new Orientation classroom will give us a total of four Orientation spaces. We are also expanding Primary 3 to accommodate additional students in the classroom. This change will allow more children to learn with, and from each other. Due to the expansion of Primary 3, the Head of School’s office, along with the school’s Administrative Assistant, will be relocated to the Church administration hallway. This move will also allow for greater synergy between the Church and School administrative staff, as anticipated in our master plan.

In order to improve campus security, at the start of the 2017 – 2018 school year, there will be a single weekday entrance; the church garden entrance will be used by both Church and School. Carpool procedures will remain the same. The new entrance will now be used for late arrivals and visitors. By having one defined entrance for our campus we are improving security by managing the flow of visitors. The new change will be communicated the moment it goes into effect.

As we continue forward with our refined mission to educate 15 months through 8th grade, our Middle Years Program has already vacated their old building and has settled nicely into the former high school building. The new Middle Years Building will offer more classroom space for various course offerings, including a dedicated Visual Arts classroom and a Science Lab, as well as our growing after school programs. We will be renaming this building shortly. The former Middle Years building is now being used as administrative offices and will house Development, Wellness, Fine Arts, and Technology. This space will become a welcome lobby for prospective families and for community gatherings.

A campus map will be made available before the start of the school year to help you navigate these changes. We will be welcoming new staff to support this growth of the school. You will be introduced to them soon.

We will be busy this summer as we ready our campus to support our mission. Thank you for your patience as our campus goes under renovations to accommodate our growth. If you have any questions regarding our new direction, please let us know. We are excited for our “new beginning” and are looking forward to a wonderful 2017 – 2018 school year.

In Peace,

The Reverend Lisa Hunt | Chair, Board of Trustees

David B. Coe, Head of School



A Note from The Reverend Brandon Peete

Dear people of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and School,

With a heavy heart I share the news that I have accepted a call to serve as the next School Chaplain at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida. My duties begin later this summer. My last Sunday with St. Stephen’s will be June 18th.  

I am deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to serve this diverse and unique community for the past four years. My work at St. Stephen’s has always been interesting and challenging – from Christian formation to the pulpit to pastoral care to walking with staff, parishioners, students and faculty – every corner has led to fertile grounds for holy encounters and professional development. Through it all, authentic conversations and significant spiritual growth have marked a special place in my soul that I carry with me along the journey.

I am particularly thankful to have served under the leadership of Lisa Hunt and David Coe, who both have provided flexibility and trust for me to offer care for the good people here on campus. They embody a progressive spirit that is ever-mindful of social justice and the dignity of every human being. Their influence has helped to refine my understanding of God’s presence on the margins in our world.

To be sure, I will grieve during transition. All the while, I am excited about this new call, sensing God’s movement in the midst of change. Know that my prayers continue for you. Please keep me and my family, Hillary, Felix, and Beatrix, on your heart for prayer, as well.


The Reverend Brandon Peete


The Reverend Brandon Peete Purse
With pride, pleasure and sadness the St. Stephen's community will have an opportunity to contribute to a thank-you purse to present to Brandon. An online giving account has been set up via ACS and Text Giving. We have much to be thankful for in Brandon and the Peete family.


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End of Year All School Chapel Sermon by David Coe, Head of School

How many of you have seen the movie – The Breakfast Club? 

The Breakfast Club opened in 1985.  Directed by John Hughes, at that time, the movie was to be considered one of the best coming-of-age teenage movies.  The movie follows five teenagers who spend a Saturday together in school detention.  Although they attend the same school, each hangs out with a different crowd.  One student is considered a jock, another, somewhat of a nerd, a third is perceived to be the perfect student, and the other two students are seen as outsiders.  Each of the five is trying to fit into a world that is constantly changing and dealing with lofty expectations from parents and teachers.  As they spend the day together arguing, listening, hanging out, and getting into some trouble, they discover they have more similarities than differences and learn they are not alone…something has bonded them.  They are entering into what I call a “new beginning,” where life sends you on unexpected, unplanned paths, where outcomes are still to be experienced and not yet known.

As I was reflecting on this morning’s Gospel, I thought about those five teenagers and how the experiences of the twelve apostles are possibly related.  Although the comparison is not exactly, apples to apples, as the apostles are not in detention, they, too, are struggling.  They are struggling with their own identity and the changes that await them.  Jesus is trying to prepare them for a life without Him on earth and, eventually, an ascended life with Him and His Father in Heaven.  However, the apostles are not really listening, and when they do, Jesus’ farewell leaves them confused, lost, and not sure how they are going to fit into a world with no Jesus.  They pepper Jesus with questions or statements:  “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?  Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied!”  Jesus even shows his irritation with Phillip: “Have I been with you all this time, Phillip, and you still do not know me?”  Yet, in spite of this rebuke, the words in John’s Gospel portray a Jesus conveying a message that is comforting, full of hope, promise and plain with little mincing of what’s soon to take place…his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.  The apostles’ lives are changing….they’re entering into their “new beginning” and they are bonded by their love and, a sense of loss, for Jesus. 

Many of you this morning are entering into your own “new beginning”.  Aubrey, Jorleny, Maggie and Nawaf, you have five days left as seniors at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.  You will be the 16th high school graduating class from St. Stephen’s, and its last.  New starts, new lives, new adventures await in Morgantown, WV, Tuscaloosa, AL, Portland, OR and Waco, TX.  In the fall, others of you will be attending new schools, or moving up to a new grade level here at St. Stephen’s and some of our faculty will be in new jobs or exploring new areas of professional and personal interests. 

So, at this moment in time, what can we carry from a movie, or John’s Gospel, that depict teenage or adult angst, loss and change?  In my almost seven years at St. Stephen’s School and my twenty-three years as a member of this Church, I believe we all will carry a “spirit”, that one family I know often says, “Oh, that’s so St. Stephen’s!” A bonding spirit composed of memories, friendships, relationships, community, experiences both good and not so, and, hopefully, in time, a sense of peace; a spirit that does not change, even when a church or a school are going through their own “new beginnings”.  Just as Jesus said, “I go before you to pave the way,” that St. Stephen’s spirit, that bond, goes with you along your paths.  And, in celebration of that spirit, we’ve compiled a short video to remember this year.  I wish you a wonderful and safe summer. May your “new beginning” be filled with whatever you hope it to be.  God bless you!


David B. Coe, M.S., M.B.A

Head of School   |   St. Stephen’s Episcopal School-Houston

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Sixth Graders Bridging to the International Middle Years Curriculum

Every year in April, the sixth grade students experience what it is like to work on an International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) unit. While they are physically still in Upper Elementary, they have started to think about 7th grade and what awaits them.

As I introduce the IMYC Unit, the process begins with introducing an activity that is designed to lead students to the discovery of the “Big Idea”. The purpose of the Big Idea, which is a theme, is to link all IMYC subjects that follow that specific theme in which the work flows.

Our sixth grade students worked in groups of twos with decks of cards to build tall structures. They worked as teams and collaborated on balancing the cards to create tall and wide structures. After 20 minutes, we stopped to reflect with conversation. We discussed what was challenging, what worked, what didn’t work, and what could they have done differently. This interaction led them to discover the Big Idea…Balance.

From that moment, the knowledge harvest begins and the students write an entry in their daily journal about a specific experience that ties to Balance. The experience could be an academic presentation, personal story, or anything else as it relates to the Big Idea. 

Students also created mind maps to connect the Big Idea to their daily class work and field trips. The last part of the unit is what is known as “Exit Point”. Each student then prepares a presentation using a specific means, such as a power point, board, video, etc. that captures their entire process.

Going through this learning experience allows the sixth graders to bridge to 7th grade and to know what to expect next year. In addition, they meet with both Ms. Jamie and Mr. Michael, the Middle Years teachers, to have further discussions about the class culture, expectations, and most importantly to connect with them. The students have visited the Middle School building and spent some time attending and observing presentations as well as connecting with their future classmates.

This practice has continued for the past three years and I happily lead this class with the goal of bridging Montessori and IMYC. Our goal is that sixth grade students leave with a better understanding of IMYC, what is expected of them, and form relationships with rising eighth graders as well as their new Middle Years Instructors.

Nahla Nasser, M.Ed. | Lower and Middle School Principal



St. Stephen's Middle School Freedom Writers-Voices Unheard

In Eighth Grade English, one of the books that I have the honor of introducing my students to is The Freedom Writers Diary (FWD) by the Freedom Writers with Erin Gruwell.  As a Freedom Writer Teacher since 2009, this book enlightens my students by helping to broaden their “humanistic and cultural perspective though literary response, while also forging a natural link between reading and writing.”

This activity is called “Dear Freedom Writer, Advice Column. “  This asks students to get into the head of a Freedom Writer and analyze the problem he or she faces.  The students select an entry from the FWD and write two letters from two different points of view: the first seeking help for the problem described in the entry, the second offering advice about the problem.  As students work together brainstorming possible solutions, they bond over their shared concern for another teenager’s problems which ultimately leads to voicing their personal connections to each story. Sometimes it is tearful, but the impact of what they are able to say helps them to speak things in our classroom that they may have never voiced before.

I believe this and other kinds of activities we do throughout the year help the students to practice different kinds of writing and public speaking, and become critical thinkers as they explore their own opinions, reasoning and reactions within a “real world” context.

I thank not only the Freedom Writers that I have come to know over the years, but most importantly Erin Gruwell, my mentor, colleague and friend,  for allowing me to bring my students along this incredible journey!

Michael J. Stambaugh | Lead Humanities Teacher, Grades 7 and 8



"Hug Our School" on April 12

As a part of our commitment as a designated No Place for Hate school through the Anti-Defamation League, each year we participate in activities designed to ensure anti-bias and diversity education. One such activity will take place next Wednesday morning, April 12th, at 8:20 a.m. We will gather around the church and Munro building to figuratively "Hug Our School." This activity seeks to "create a physical sense of community, respect and kindness. Because it takes many hands joined together to make it around an entire building, creating this human chain around your school is a powerful and highly memorable symbol of kindness, inclusivity and connectedness."

Once we have joined hands in this human chain, we will process into the Nave for All School Holy Week Chapel at 8:30 a.m. The homily will in part be a reflection on what it means to hug our school. We encourage all parents to join us in this circle and time of prayer. Please see the map to know where class levels will be in the chain.

We give thanks for the diversity of races and cultures at St. Stephen's Episcopal School.

Brandon Peete, Director of Spiritual Life

"O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." - Book of Common Prayer, pg. 840



"I am..."

I am... "sweet, funny, lonely, creative, engaged, hardworking, respectful, a joyful person, brave, confused." These are just some of the words expressed by our students and faculty at one our new chalk boards across from the kitchen in the Munro building. This board is designed to engage our campus in authentic spiritual conversation, providing the anonymous freedom to express where we are on the pilgrimage. The other chalk board is a space dedicated to ongoing prayer requests. This effort was coordinated by the Spiritual Life Committee, a group of parents, faculty, and students dedicated to reflecting on our Episcopal Identity and spirituality on campus. 

The "I am..." prompt is in collaboration with our Welcoming Schools initiative to engage students with dialogue about identity. In classrooms, our Lower School has been reading and discussing "Looking Like  Me" (Walter Dean-Myers), celebrating the identity of each child. This week our prompt will shift to "Family is..." as we wonder about unique configurations of families, along with what family has to offer. This prompt will accompany classroom discussions from "The Great Big Book of Families," by Mary Hoffman. 

We encourage all parents to stop by the chalk boards and join the discussion!

Brandon Peete, Director of Spiritual Life




#WildlyCurious Montessori Teachers Attend National Conference and Local Workshops

St. Stephen’s Episcopal School values continuing education and professional development.  Faculty and staff are encouraged and supported to attend national conferences, as well as local workshops.

On March 9-12, the school sent four teachers, one from each of the Lower School levels, to attend the American Montessori Society National Conference in San Diego, which theme was “Beyond Borders”.  The teachers attended workshops they found valuable to enhance their teaching and understanding of child development.  Among the workshops  were “Organizing the Disorganized Child”, Peace Education, and “Dealing with Challenging behaviors”.

They listened to three keynote speakers that delivered important messages.  The keynote speakers were:

  • Nicholas Kristof - Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, journalist, and best-selling author.
  • Jessica Lahey – author of the New Work Times bestseller, The Gift of Failure; How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.
  • Sonia Manzano – Sesame Street’s “Maria”; Emmy Award-winning actress and writer; best-selling author.

On Saturday, April 1, nine faculty members  and myself have attended an all day workshop at the Houston Montessori Center.  The title of the workshop was “Collaborative and Proactive Solutions – Understanding and Helping Kids With Social and Emotional Challenges.”  We learned strategies to help children with difficult situations to solve problems.

Just like we encourage continuing education, we encourage collegiality and shared learning as well.  When the teachers return from workshops, they give short presentations to their colleagues on specific topics they found beneficial to share.  The presentations are followed by discussions to help us continue to ensure best practices in our approaches to education.

Nahla Nasser, M.Ed. | Lower and Middle School Principal



The Middle School Experience

What do people look for in a middle school? Many prioritize academics, their social life, or the school’s community. The IMYC (International Middle Years Curriculum) program at St. Stephen's Middle School focuses on all of those points, through its "Big Idea", push for student individuality, and its sense of community.

Academics wise, it’s superb. All of our core classes are taught by Michael Stambaugh (Mr. S) and Jamie Shick (Ms. Jamie). Two amazing teachers. The core classes are all integrated, through the Big Idea. The Big Idea is a theme all our classes focus around. For example, earlier this year the 8th graders had the theme “relationships”. In science class we learned about the periodic table, and the relationships the elements have with one another. In many other schools, it has the teacher teaching the class upfront, but here, at St. Stephen's, the teacher engages in “active teaching”. Active teaching is different from what other schools do, “passive teaching” (where the teacher just stands at the front and teaches the lesson with minimal student involvement), because it engages the student and integrates them into the lesson. For example, Mr. S, our English and Geography teacher, will question us a lot. This makes it so that we teach ourselves, and learn from ourselves, rather than him just giving us the answers. He will enable the questions through a discussion the class will have with him. Even his body language is engaging - he walks around the class, weaving through the desks, instead of standing behind a pedestal. The whole class is involved in a discussion about the topic. This helps substantially in making classes less boring and a lot more captivating.

Compared to other schools, St. Stephen's has a tiny student base. My middle school class, comprising of 8th graders, is THE only 8th grade middle school class. There is no other. But, this is not a bad thing. Having a smaller amount of students in the learning environment allows the student to develop relations that are a lot more meaningful. We are closer to one another and can be seen as one large family. Like the phrase goes, “quality over quantity," and that's what St. Stephen's has to offer.

The St. Stephen's community is one of a kind. Nowhere else will you get the experience found here, at this school, in Houston, Texas. Nowhere else will you see a high schooler and a student in elementary school having a conversation, together. St. Stephen's finds its community very important. It is a community of acceptance, tolerance, and is a friendly one. St. Stephen's lives on through its community. It is through the administrators and the good hearts of the parents and board that this school can continue to operate.

I have been at St. Stephen's since 2nd grade, and for the past two years I have been in the middle school. I can say, with all my heart, that it is a great middle school. The academics offered there are excellent and engaging. The teachers push us to do our best and help us get there. Socially, my classmates and the community is one I’ll never forget, and it is one that will never forget you.

Jacob Preston, 8th Grade