“Two kids and a boat” was the theme uttered over and over as Saint Stephen’s contemplated starting its rowing program in 2015. Six years later, the dock on the McLewis Bayou is awash with activity that includes seven crew boats and more than 20 rowers.
Each October through December the SSES Learn to Row program is open to students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. There is no experience required and three afternoons a week, rowers learn the basics from Coach Amber Davis. Now in her fourth year as coach, Davis looks almost as youthful as her pupils, but she is an experienced and talented rower. During her own high school years, Davis was the four-year captain of the Manatee County Youth Rowing Association (MCYRA).
Her training program starts with two weeks of conditioning on land. The novice rowers need to be strong enough to carry the crew boats over their heads and they begin their training on stationary rowing machines. Next is some time immersed in the bayou, including a mandatory swim test. All of the rowers must be able to swim 50 yards, tread water for three minutes, and then swim 50 yards back to the dock.
When the boats are finally introduced, one of the first lessons again puts the rowers right back in the water. Under Davis’ supervision, the rowers must flip their boats and then successfully maneuver and get back in them. It’s a key part of the safety protocols of the sport.
Single, double, and quad sculls are all available and utilized to give the young rowers a taste of how the boats react and how they must work as a team in order to be successful on the water. Nearly half of the 21 current student rowers are now in their third year with the program. Although it is designed as a fun learning experience and not competitive, some of the SSES rowers have advanced to racing programs – two with the Sarasota Crew at Benderson Park and one with the MCYRA at Fort Hamer Park.
“Obviously, there is great visibility in this area for rowing because of the facility at Benderson, but it’s a growing sport in many places around the country,” SSES Athletic Director Lenny Paoletti said. “It was a natural for us to get involved because we’re the only location north of Cortez with our own dock on the water. And because we’re a college prep school, rowing can be a pathway to a university. We already have had two alumni who have rowed collegiately (Tatiana Esparza at Miami and Caitlin Lynch at Dartmouth).”
The next step in the program’s slow and steady growth will be to one day become part of local competition regattas at the high school level. Because Saint Stephen’s lacks a trailer to properly transport the crew boats, the rowers are now confined to just the small slip of water in the McLewis Bayou. Funding for a trailer is on the to-do list for the program.
Until then, the young Falcon rowers will take the beginning steps through practice on the fundamentals, honing their skills on campus with an eye toward the future.
There will be so much great holiday music happening on campus over the next few weeks! The Middle School band, strings, and ensemble start things off on Monday, Dec. 6, with their “Sounds of the Season” concert from 9:30-10:20 a.m. in Upper School Palm Courtyard. The Upper School Band’s “Tidings & Tinsel” performance follows on Tuesday, Dec. 7, from 5:30-6:15 p.m. in Christ Church. A beloved annual holiday tradition continues with the Lower School’s “Lessons & Carols” presentation in Christ Church on Friday, Dec. 10. There will be two performances, at 8-9 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. The Intermediate School “Jingle Bell Jam” caps things off on Thursday, Dec. 16, from 8:15-9:15 a.m. on the Intermediate School basketball courts.
The Saint Stephen’s boys’ golf team won the Class 1A state championship today, running away with the title at the Mission Inn Resort & Club at Howey-in-the-Hills. The Falcons entered the second and final round of the tournament trailing Lake Mary Prep by three strokes, but shot an impressive 287 as a team on Wednesday to capture the title by 11 strokes (590-601). Brothers Alex and Ben Long both turned in scorching rounds of 4-under-par 68 to fuel the run after teammate Leo Li posted the low score (70) during the opening round on Tuesday. Individually, the Falcons dominated the top of the leaderboard. Alex Long was the low medalist for the tournament at 142. Ben Long (75-68) and Li (70-73) tied for second at 143. Jet Chen (84-79-163) and Fergus McLeod (92-78-170) rounded out the foursome. It is the third state championship overall for Saint Stephen’s, which also took home the top trophy in 2000 and 2004.
The SSES Academic Team continued its stellar season with an impressive showing at the Central Florida regional History Bowl at Largo High School on Oct. 30. This all-day tournament qualifies individuals and their teams for national competition in Washington, D.C. in April 2022. The varsity team of Jackson Nealis, Sophia Berry, Tyler Kadivar, and Maxine Mandt placed second overall, and the JV team of Patrick Van Eyck and Theo Frano reached the playoff round – qualifying both teams for nationals. The competition featured questions spanning all categories of history, from ancient to current global politics. In the individual Bee competition, Nealis was the top varsity scorer, and Berry and Van Eyck earned third-place medals in the varsity and JV divisions, respectively. During a break in competition, the students were given the option to take individual subject-area qualifying tests, and Saint Stephen’s students were the top scorers in all categories: geography, science, U.S. history, and political science.
In keeping with a Florida Council of Independent Schools mandate that member schools take stock of the success of their alumni during their college years, the Saint Stephen’s Alumni Office distributed a survey last summer to the SSES graduating class of 2017. The survey was designed to ascertain how many members completed their higher education within four years, and to elicit alumni opinion on the effectiveness of our college preparatory curriculum. The bulk of the class was slated to graduate from college in 2021, but no one could foresee when this group headed off in fall 2017 that a pandemic would impact their campus life and upend usual timelines for graduation for many.
The Class of 2017 included 78 graduates and, as of September, 72 had responded to our survey. To date, 42 class members graduated from college in or before 2021. Three alumni graduated in just three years. Thirteen members of the Class of 2017 transferred from their original college destination. This higher-than-usual number of transfers undoubtedly reflects the impact of COVID-19.
All of the graduates distinguished themselves during their college years. Some of the highlights include:
- A Penn State alumnus graduated with a 3.99 GPA and is now pursuing a master’s degree in Enterprise Risk Management at Columbia.
- A former Falcon will attend Harvard Law School next fall after graduating from Columbia with a B.A. in Economics and Political Science.
- A University of Tampa finance graduate now works at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an Anti-Money Laundering Analyst.
- An alumna graduating from Princeton with an A.B. in Public Policy now works in Washington, D.C. as a financial analyst at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- A grad from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland) with a degree in art history and Middle Eastern studies who is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia.
Among those who are still pursuing their degrees are a Georgetown student who plays football and studies sociology and theology, a former SSES thespian who is now a junior at New York University majoring in theater after a two-year hiatus, and a mechanical engineering major at USF who is the chief engineer for Bulls Racing Formula SAE Team.
Look for a complete rundown of where the Class of 2017 is now in the fall/winter edition of Saint Stephen’s Magazine, publishing in December.
Congratulations to senior Michael Thomas, who has been named a National Merit Scholarship Finalist for 2021. Thomas is Saint Stephen’s 16th finalist since 2016. About 1.6-million students in some 22,000 high schools enter the National Merit Scholarship competition annually when they take the Preliminary SAT, measuring critical reading ability, mathematics problem solving, and writing ability. Semifinalists are selected on a state-by-state basis and represent the top 0.5 percent of the state’s senior students. Of the 15,000 Finalists, about 8,000 untimately receive Merit Scholarship awards. This year, SSES also added five NMS Commended Scholars: Madeline Cashen, Caroline Gans, Connor Grindal, Tyler Kadivar, and Luke Phommachanh.
Saint Stephen’s recently welcomed acclaimed speaker Kelsey Tainsh to campus. Tainsh successfully overcame a brain tumor at age five and went on to become a world champion wakeboarder. Ten years later, at 15, the tumor returned, followed by a crippling stroke. Despite her significant physical challenges, Tainsh worked hard to pull herself up and charged back into life, graduating magna cum laude from the University of Florida and going on to work for The Coca-Cola Company. A renowned professional speaker, Tainsh travels the country presenting to audiences at colleges, schools, organizations, and corporations. On Sept. 22, she used her unique brand of humor and inspiration to share a message of persistence and perspective with SSES students at all grade levels.
Saint Stephen’s 2010 graduate Naarai Jacobs appears on a new song from Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Use the link included below to hear the song “Finish Line” from John’s album “The Lockdown Sessions.” Listen all the way to the end and you’ll hear Naarai’s soaring voice. Jacobs graduated magna cum laude from Howard University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. The following year, she relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. She has sung background vocals for Kanye West. Bret Michaels, Logic, Alessia Cara, Tori Kelly, Kirk Franklin and others. She has also sung with legendary composer David Foster and appeared with Beyonce at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival in 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEyCVAIfiCk
Dr. Jan Pullen, who has served as Head of School at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School for the past 19 years, has announced her retirement effective June 30, 2023. Pullen came to Saint Stephen’s in 1988 as the Director of the Lower School and served in a variety of leadership roles before being named to her current post in 2003. She has led Saint Stephen’s through a period of tremendous growth that has helped establish SSES as one of the most-respected independent schools in Florida. Current enrollment stands at nearly 700 students in Pre-K3 through grade 12.
During her tenure, Pullen has overseen a series of important capital projects on campus, including the construction of the third Upper School building (2003), the Middle School (2010), the Moore Athletic Complex (2013), and the Marine Science Center (2016). The school’s endowment has grown from $275,000 to approximately $9-million, and key classroom initiatives involving technology, marine science, global outreach, and emotional intelligence have been implemented and become part of the culture of academic excellence on campus.
Pullen is also one of the most respected independent school leaders in the U.S., having served in key positions at the state and national levels on the boards of the Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) and the National Association of Episcopal Schools (NAES). She is a current faculty member in the University of Pennsylvania Mid-Career Program, as well.
A search committee will be created to facilitate the process of choosing a new head of school with guidance from Educational Directions, a national search firm. The Saint Stephen’s Board of Trustees will ultimately be tasked with choosing Pullen’s successor, with a target date of May 2022 for selection and a July 1, 2023 start date. Pullen will remain in her current position throughout the 2022-23 school year in order to help create a comfortable transition to the new head of school.
Saint Stephen’s celebrated its 46th graduating class on Saturday, May 22, with a beautiful commencement ceremony under sunny skies at the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields. Our 70 seniors collected their diplomas in front of family members and enjoyed an inspirational graduation address from Mr. Jeremy Perron, an alumnus of the Class of 2011, and graduate of Holy Cross who currently works as a management consultant for Teneo in New York City. The Class of 2021 was recognized for its excellence throughout a most challenging year impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen graduates were offered honors college/leadership program enrollment at their chosen college, including merit scholarships, research, travel, and enhanced academic opportunities. Three graduates were awarded their university’s top academic scholarship, paying full tuition, housing, and research or study abroad grants. Of the seniors who identified a first-choice college, 96% were accepted to that college. In total, the graduates earned more than $4-million in merit scholarships and $700,000 in Bright Futures awards. Eight members of the class were recruited to play collegiate athletics: football, baseball, tennis, and lacrosse.