Feb 22 21

Celebrating 50 Years

Join us on Facebook on Friday, March 12 at 6 p.m., as we continue our celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary year. The Green & Golden Game Show broadcast will be an evening of fun that’s filled with surprises! Head of School Dr. Jan Pullen, Social Studies Department Chair Patrick Whelan, Class of 1995 graduate Steve Horn, and senior Taylor Vara will match wits in a game show format, answering questions about Saint Stephen’s facts and history. The broadcast will also include the induction of the latest members into the Falcons Sports Hall of Fame, a conversation with former Headmaster Rev. Louis Hayden (1971-76), and much more. The show is hosted by Preston Boyd, beloved drama teacher and chair of the Arts Department at Saint Stephen’s from 1990-2014. Visit the Saint Stephen’s Facebook page to view and cheer on your favorite contestant. This special online event is presented by Neal Land & Neighborhoods.

Feb 12 21

Boys Soccer Wins District

On the strength of a thrilling 2-1 victory on the road at local rival and top-seeded Bradenton Christian, the Falcons (11-4-1) captured the Class 2A-District 10 tournament championship on Thursday evening (Feb. 11). It was the 21st boys soccer district title in school history and Saint Stephen’s tenth trophy in the past 11 seasons. The victory against BCS (11-4) gave Head Coach Blake Hoonhout a championship in his first season in charge of the Falcons. After a first-round bye, the second-seeded Falcons advanced to the title match by defeating St. Petersburg Catholic in overtime (3-2) on Feb. 9. Regional playoffs begin at home on Wednesday night, Feb. 17, against St. Petersburg Keswick Christian (8-10-1) The Crusaders were runners-up to Shorecrest Prep in the 2A-District 9 tournament, losing 4-2 in a shootout after a 2-2 tie in regulation. Saint Stephen’s will enter on a four-game winning streak.

Feb 11 21

African Penguins Visit

On Wednesday (Feb. 11), Saint Stephen’s students and faculty were treated to a visit from Kirby and Curry, two African penguins who traveled to campus with their keepers from Busch Gardens in Tampa. Middle School science teacher Dr. Paul Suprenand, who holds a Ph.D from the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, helped arrange the visit. Students lined the walkways from the Middle School to the Turner Upper School building while the inquisitive penguins waddled their way through the crowd for about 30 minutes. We learned that most penguin species actually prefer warm climates and water temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees. Nearly all penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere. Busch Gardens features a colony of African Penguins (native to the rocky shores of southern Africa) at its Penguin Point habitat. Kirby and Curry were born and raised in captivity. In the wild, African penguins can swim at speeds of more than 12 mph and dive up to 400 feet to catch their prey: small fish, squid, and crustaceans. To view more photos from the visit, link to our Facebook community.

Jan 6 21

Pandemic Academics

How do we do this? What will it look like? Are we ready?

Teachers across the country were asking these questions and many others in August as they prepared for the beginning of the academic year. While each school faced its own unique challenges because of the coronavirus pandemic, there was no denying one thing they all shared in common: the familiar and comfortable routine teachers have become accustomed to when opening their classrooms to students was going to be turned on its head. The real question was, how much?

Faculty members at Saint Stephen’s were no different. Although they adapted quickly and admirably to distance learning when the campus shut down from March through the end of the 2019-20 school year, re-opening for in-person instruction while still under strict health and safety protocols would be a different animal altogether.

“I think we were genuinely excited to come back. The spring made us realize how important it was to be on campus, but there were still a lot of unknowns,” Intermediate School teacher Tanya Creneti said. “We always feel a little pressed for time, so I think with having to be aware of health precautions we wondered how this was all going to work. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it was nerve-wracking at first.”

Opening school not only presented a challenge to the SSES faculty as a whole, but many times each division, grade level, and classroom faced its own unique circumstances. Often, that was based on how many virtual students needed to be integrated into the classroom on a real-time basis. Some subject areas also lend themselves more to social distancing than others.

Third-grade teachers Lee Ann Pritchett and Amy Ivin began their year with the highest number of online students of any grade – nine. That meant they had to reconsider how they approached their preparation and how they addressed their classrooms to ensure that students who were live-streaming in via laptop could stay engaged and feel part of the lessons.

“I just have to think a little differently. I can’t point the laptop screen toward the other students in the classroom, because that would be distracting. But if I walk away from the screen to another part of the room, they can’t see me,” Pritchett said. “It’s things like that where I have to be aware. We’re kind of writing the book as we go. I tell the kids, ‘We are warriors! We are making history.’”

While the true impact of what is now nearly a year of U.S. education altered by the pandemic will take time to fully determine, a study published in October 2020 of more than five million math and reading assessments in grades 1-8 indicates there is work ahead. Achievement in reading is, on average, one percentile point below where it should be in a normal school year. Math achievement has been more significantly affected, falling an average of seven points. According to the study, translated in terms of instructional time, students in grades 4-7 will need 4-7 weeks to catch up in reading, while grades 1-3 and 8 are on track. Students in grades 5 and 6 are more than 12 weeks behind beginning-of-year expectations in math, and students in grades 2, 3, 4, 7, and 8 will need 4-11 weeks to meet the expectations of a typical school year. The analysis included students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Schools involved were in suburban, urban and rural areas, serving various income levels, and approximately 85-percent were public.

By comparison, at Saint Stephen’s the overall feeling is that students are well on schedule. In fact, they may actually be ahead. With limited movement on campus, no field trips, and assemblies and school-wide gatherings now held via videoconference, there are fewer interruptions to the school day. Those limitations, however, do impact the vibrant school culture that helps to make SSES such a unique community. Great care has been taken to make sure those traditions continue – even if they look different.

“We’re all about building community here. We’re used to seeing parents on campus, so it’s definitely different when the first time I see a parent’s face is on a screen during conference time,” Creneti said. “But one thing I think all of this has done is it has led to a lot of great conversations and empathy. When I listen to the kids, I hear them relating to each other’s experiences. I hear them talking about how this is affecting them and their families – making a friend feel better because they haven’t been able to visit grandparents and things like that.”

The experience has also provided Saint Stephen’s teachers with unexpected opportunities for professional development. Many have discovered virtual discussion groups where they regularly share ideas and resources with peers around the nation and the world. It has also been a crash course in the use of technology as a tool to improve the classroom experience.

Teachers have become experts with a variety of hardware and software that help them do their jobs. In the Upper School, Charity Clough’s chemistry students use Facetime to bring virtual students into their group lab work.

“Many of us had never heard of Zoom,” Clough joked. “I’m not sure anyone had ever done this kind of daily simultaneous teaching before with some students here, some at home. It has changed our rhythm, but we’ve gotten comfortable with the technology and the kids are super adaptable. I’m really paperless at this point. With a tool like Classkick, I can see the students writing in real time on my screen and work along with them.”

A year ago, it would have been rare to see a Saint Stephen’s classroom set up with aligned rows of student desks facing a teacher at a whiteboard. Social distancing requirements have made that more traditional setup the norm. For Pritchett, it reminds her of her own school days.

“I’ve never had to stand in front of them so much because we’re typically working in groups and I’m moving from group to group. But I still try to make things fun,” she said. “It’s made me realize I can do things that I didn’t think I could. The kids make you strong. Their attitude helps our attitude.”

Creneti agrees.

“This age group wants to be here. Their enthusiasm is high. We can find new ways to do things and they’ve learned that about themselves,” she said. “We’ll all be glad when this pandemic is over, but we’ve found new opportunities to collaborate with each other. We’re more nimble, flexible and resourceful.”

Nov 4 20

Falcons Finish 7th at State

Ben Long finished third at the 2020 Class 1A state golf tournament.

After battling for two days, the Falcons finished seventh at the state golf tournament and brothers Ben and Alex Long both placed in the top 10 individually. SSES shot a two-day total of 635, while Lake Mary Prep won the 16-team Class 1A title at Mission Hills Golf Club. Ben Long, a sophomore, shot 75-71-146 to finish third overall. His freshman sibling, Alex, carded 78-72-150 to take seventh place. The tournament marked the return of Saint Stephen’s to the FHSAA state championship for the first time since 2017, and the return of a Falcon to the top 10 of the individual leaderboard. SSES recorded four consecutive top-7 finishes from 2014-17: 5th (2014), 7th (2015), 3rd (2016) and 2nd (2017). Individually, Saint Stephen’s also placed at least one golfer in the Top 10 at those four tournaments – Ryan Kinkead (6th/2017), David Hu (9th/2017), Alan Klenor (10th/2016), Justin Wynen (8th/2015) and Jack Cen (6th/2014).

Sep 10 20

Alumni Thrive at College

This summer, in keeping with an FCIS mandate that independent schools take stock of the success of their alumni, Saint Stephen’s tracked the graduates of the class of 2016 to ascertain their progress toward a degree. Of the 69 grads that year, we were able to account for 66 of those alumni. To date, 51 (77% of those reached) have graduated from college in or before 2020. The remaining 15 are all still pursuing their degrees.

Two alumni (at Miami and High Point) anticipate graduating in fall/winter 2020. One alumna is taking her third consecutive leave of absence from NYU as she collaborates on an important environmental film, but intends to return to finish her degree. Other colleges where alumni are continuing their studies include MIT, where an alumnus is finishing an additional physics degree; University of South Florida, University of Florida, Stetson University, and Lynn University, where an alumnus is playing varsity golf after being red-shirted for one year.  

Two alumni (at Simmons College and Ohio University) graduated in less than four years. One Stetson graduate is taking a gap year after being accepted into Stetson Law School for 2021-22.

Many of the alumni distinguished themselves as collegians. One graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis and now attends graduate school at Georgetown. One graduated magna cum laude from the University of Tampa; two graduated cum laude (from Sewanee and USF); another USF alumna graduated with her degree in chemical engineering and is now enrolled in medical school; an alumnus was selected valedictorian of his class at Rollins College; an alumnus of Denison University is now enrolled in a master’s program in geology at University of Nevada; two alumnae earned R.N. degrees – one is now a respiratory progressive care nurse and the other a BSRN; and an alumnus earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees  in cinematography and film/video production at Full Sail University.

Only three members of the Class of 2016 transferred to another institution from their original college destination.

The colleges and universities from which members of the Class of 2016 have earned degrees: Alabama, Amherst, College of Charleston, Colorado, Columbia, Denison, Emory, Florida, FGCU, FIU, FSU, Fordham, Fresno State, Full Sail, Furman, George Washington, Georgia Tech, High Point, Lehigh, Miami, Notre Dame, Nova Southeastern, Ohio, Rollins, Sewanee, SCAD, Simmons, Stetson, Tampa, University of Chicago, UCF, USMA West Point, USF, Washington (St. Louis), West Virginia, Yale.

Aug 24 20

Students Excel on Exams

Our 2020 AP test scores have arrived and Saint Stephen’s students, once again, excelled. Despite the challenge of the virtual environment and significant changes in the test format, SSES test takers achieved passing scores (3-5) on 90% of their Advanced Placement exams. That compares to 32.3% throughout Florida and 23.9% of students nationwide achieving passing scores. Our students took 283 exams in all, one of the highest numbers in school history. In science, math, English, social studies, modern and classical languages, Latin and Spanish literature, SSES scores all ranked at least a point higher than the state average. Students also recorded a 100% pass rate on exams for calculus, world history, European history, and visual arts. Other highlights include:

In English, 41 students took exams, with 91.3% scoring 3 or higher

World history students had an average score of 4.12, 1.2 points higher than the state average

Latin and Spanish literature students all scored 4 or 5, and Latin students scored double the state average

Seventy-one students took science exams and averaged more than a point higher than the Florida average in all areas

Aug 19 20

Q&A: Head Coach A.J. Brown

Long-time assistant A.J. Brown enters his first season as the Falcons head football coach in 2020. Coach Brown sat down for a quick Q&A session as he prepared for his inaugural campaign leading Saint Stephen’s:

Q) You are taking over from Tod Creneti after being a big part of an amazing run as an assistant. What sort of impact did he have on you?

A) Tod had a very positive impact on me. He always coached his coaches. He wanted to make sure everyone had a plan and he wanted to make sure everyone knew how to execute that plan. He taught me how to see the game as a whole: offense, defense, and special teams. He also taught me how to change and shape my coaching attitude toward different individuals. He told me, “You can’t coach every kid the same way; you have to find out what works for each individual and build a plan.” That was powerful to me because it made me begin exploring other avenues of coaching and reaching my players.

Q) What things have you learned over the past nine seasons as an assistant that have prepared you to lead the Falcons?

A) One thing I have learned is how to lead a team. Being an assistant coach, I was able to learn the day to day operations such as: developing practice plans, game day duties, coaching clinics, and having a role with dealing with parents, as far as emails and face-to-face contact. Under Coach Creneti, I have coached multiple positions on the field. I think coaching multiple positions has given me an overall mindset to see the big picture as a head coach should. Having veteran coaches return to the staff does make leading this team much easier for me as a first-year head coach.

Q) What sort of things will look the same about SSES football?

A) I don’t foresee any major changes to the football program this year. Our uniforms, practices, and game day operations will pretty much stay the same for now. As a team, we will continue to love one another under my leadership. We will continue the tradition of working hard, playing for one another, and representing our school and community with class and character.

Q) What will look different about SSES football under your leadership?

A) Well, one thing that will be different will be some new faces on the coaching staff. After losing some veteran coaches this past season, I have to find some new guys to take over key positions. I am fully confident that we will fill those roles with great coaches.

Q) You’ll have a young team in 2020, but with some returning leaders like DJ Clark, Matthew Konkol, etc. How important will those guys be with their experience?

A) Yes, we will be fairly young in 2020, but we actually have nine seniors returning to the team. Daniel (DJ) and Matthew will be called upon to lead this team and mentor the younger athletes. There are other seniors that will have to step up and be leaders, as well: Keaton Donnelley, Brock Gay, A.J. Hyppolite and Joel Erby. With the seniors that you mentioned, it will be very important for them to step up as leaders because of the experience that they bring to this team. After missing spring practice and a month of summer training, those guys are going to have to be like coaches on the field, teaching the younger players while learning information about their own positions, too.

Q) The coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring practice. How did that impact the preparation for your inaugural season as head coach?

A) The pandemic has been tough on everyone. Not being able to have spring practice was difficult because spring is the best time to evaluate players before summer break and the upcoming season. As a coach, it gives you a chance to try kids at new positions, to see if they can serve the team in other ways. So, yes, the pandemic did have a huge impact on certain things, but every other school in the nation was affected, as well. We were able to meet virtually as a team and staff to get some “mental” work completed. I do think that was a success and our kids really enjoyed the virtual meetings.

Q) What sort of goals/expectations do you have for the 2020 team?

A) We have always set a goal to win our division in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference (SSAC) and have an opportunity to make the playoffs, which gives us another opportunity to play for a championship.

Q) What does the new SSAC divisional alignment mean for SSES?

A) The new divisional alignment for us does mean we have to travel a lot more than we usually would. It is also a great opportunity for us to continue to get better and put in the work to go and win another division title. I think that will show people that we can play in any division and be successful.

Jul 14 20

Bolek Named Baseball Coach

Ken Bolek replaces Mike Verrill as the Falcons Head Coach in 2020-21.

Former pro player and coach Ken Bolek has been named the next leader of SSES baseball. Coach Bolek brings a long and impressive resume to the Falcons that started at the University of Arizona, where he was a member of the school’s 1976 College World Series championship team. After graduation, he was drafted as an outfielder by the Detroit Tigers. Bolek began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University before moving to the professional ranks. For more than a dozen years, he served as a coach and manager in the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, and Chicago Cubs organizations. In 1995, Coach Bolek helped develop the baseball program at IMG Academy, and he served as the school’s Director of Baseball for 19 years.

Jun 5 20

FHSAA Honors Falcons

Falcon student-athletes were honored on Thursday (June 2) when the Florida High School Athletic Association named Saint Stephen’s as the recipient of this year’s Fred E. Rozelle Sportsmanship Award in Class 3A. The prestigious award recognizes schools whose athletic teams demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship, on and off the field, during the 2019-2020 regular season, as well as FHSAA State Series competition. Named in honor of FHSAA Commissioner Emeritus Fred E. Rozelle, the award has been presented annually since 1991 to one school in each classification whose total sports program best exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship as demonstrated by its coaches, players and spectators. Criteria for selection of the winners includes programs and activities implemented within the school and community to promote sportsmanship; the number and type of exceptional sportsmanship reports; and the source of the nomination. Winners receive a commemorative plaque and $2,500.

NAIS logo   FCIS logo   SACS logo   NAES logo   Cum Laude Society logo   FHSAA logo