“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?’” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
You never know where a walk down the street or an open, honest conversation will lead you. For Coach Tommy Rhea these simple life experiences have helped him discover connection, purpose and love. Through small, consistent acts of kindness and humanity, Coach Rhea does his best to make the world a better place with each person he encounters, and over the course of his career he has encountered many.
Coach Rhea has been a teacher and coach for 46 years, with 27 of those spent as an Episcopal Knight. He has taught four different subjects in five different classrooms and coached hundreds of student athletes. Walk across campus with Coach Rhea and you immediately notice that students are eager to greet him and share the latest news. “Tommy helps students to realize their full potential because he teaches them that they are loved,” says Middle School Division Head Mark Engstrom. “By loving them, Tommy teaches them to love themselves and that confidence plays out in students trying out for new sports, plays, or joining a club they might not have otherwise considered.”
“This man gave up his life for this. He is my hero.”
Coach Rhea’s science classroom is well known for its enthusiastic display of artifacts. As you enter the room, you immediately notice an array of notes, cards, insect collections, microscopes and tree samples. The room reflects what you would expect to find in a space designed for discovery and exploration. A prominent position on a wall near the front is reserved for a large, framed image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Initially, the image may seem out of place until you speak with Coach Rhea about the significance of the man he calls his hero. With true emotion, Coach Rhea discusses how Dr. King dedicated his life to making the world a better place for everyone and how in his own life he strives to do the same. “The more I learn about him the more I appreciate that he was willing to give so much,” he says.
Fueled by that message of compassion and connection, Coach Rhea approaches his role as a teacher with love and joy, letting his actions speak for themselves. As a seventh grade teacher, he readily volunteers to spend a week with eighth graders at Mo Ranch every year. While there, he takes night duty, staying up with students until everyone is sleeping. “The legend among our student body is that ‘Coach Rhea sleeps standing up’ since what they saw each night at Mo Ranch was someone so dedicated to making sure they get their rest that he wouldn’t sit down or leave until they were asleep,” says Engstrom. Coach Rhea also shows his commitment to student athletes. While he no longer coaches as many sports as he once did, he can still be found on the sidelines supporting the team. During a traditional school year, he can be counted on to take Middle School cafeteria duty where he stands, observing and ready to help. Even Coach Rhea’s carpentry hobby is used to help others. “He also listens to what other people need and will spend his weekend in his woodshop to bring in some of his handiwork for others,” says Engstrom. “For example, Tommy has built covers for our lab sinks, bookshelves, etc., for his fellow teachers.”
An Unlikely Episcopal Educator
Even after a tremendous career in the classroom, Coach Rhea says he is an unlikely Episcopal educator. He grew up in the northeast Louisiana town of Lake Providence, just a few miles south of the Arkansas border very near the Mississippi River. At that time, the population of Lake Providence was quite small, segregated and impoverished. Coach Rhea wasn’t a scholar and actually considers himself “a late bloomer” when it comes to academics. “I didn’t take school very seriously,” he says, although he later went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from LSU. However, as a young boy in the ‘60’s, Coach Rhea’s priorities were sports and spending time with friends.
Later, when his high school integrated, Coach Rhea says some of his classmates transferred to an academy, but he remained. He took physical education with three Black students, and they quickly became genuine friends. Coach Rhea remembers getting ICEEs with his friends when the frozen drinks first came out. “It was a hit,” he recalls with a smile. While getting ICEEs, Coach Rhea befriended another Black teenager named Henry, who worked at the store. Coach Rhea and Henry became very close, having long discussions about life, sports and their future plans. During this time and in this place, such close connections were unconventional, and Coach Rhea remembers others questioning his choices. “I developed friendships with kids that I wasn’t supposed to develop friendships with,” he says. These relationships were meaningful for Coach Rhea and even today he speaks fondly of those times. Then, in April 1968 something occurred that would change Coach Rhea’s life forever.
Coach Rhea was on a trip home from a band festival when he heard about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It scared me,” he says. Equally as profound was how he felt about the reactions of those around him. Coach Rhea knew that some considered Dr. King to be an agitator and initially he went along with that. However, on the day that Dr. King died, everything changed. “I made a deal with myself that I’m not going to be like that.” Coach Rhea found the inspiration in Dr. King’s message that would define him for decades.
Coach Rhea, the unlikely educator, has done so much for so many. His ability to notice, listen and comfort makes Coach Rhea one of the most loved teachers at Episcopal. The quiet, authentic way in which he approaches others with support and compassion has inspired the Episcopal community for decades. An unintended result of how he has lived his life is that through giving to others, he has also received. A chance meeting outside of LSU’s Hodges Hall led to a lasting relationship with Episcopal Cross Country Coach Claney Duplechin. Through that relationship, Coach Rhea helped the Episcopal coaches with track meets, scouted for the football team and coached girls basketball and volleyball. When an employment opportunity arose, there was no question in the minds of Episcopal administrators that Coach Rhea was the man for the job. He began as a rotating teacher without his own classroom. One teacher he shared space with was Lorren Magee. Lorren and Coach Rhea became close friends and that friendship blossomed into something more. The two were married two years later. This year, they are celebrating 25 years together.
Among the inspiration in his classroom, Coach Rhea displays the friendship wall that originally decorated the walls of Lorren’s room. The colorful, bright drawings and words represent what students value in a friend. Over the course of his tenure at Episcopal, Coach Rhea’s Middle School students have added to those first messages. Also among them are notes students have drafted showing how they value Coach Rhea.
“You were the best teacher and I miss you.”
“Thank you, Coach Rhea for being the best teacher ever.”
“Dear Coach Rhea, Thank you so much for being the greatest teacher ever. I miss you so much.”
With his hero as his guide, Coach Rhea has lived a life in service to others and there is no question that he is ready to do more. We thank him for sharing his kindness with us.
Share a message of appreciation with Coach Rhea in the comments section below.
Fourth graders recently went on a blind date…with a book. The Blind Date with a Book event officially launched the new fourth grade book club. Teacher Liz Crawford wrapped each potential book and wrote short hints about what was inside on the cover. Similar to speed dating, students rotated around four tables in the QUEST Center in Foster Hall, reading the hints to determine which book they wanted to read with their group. After the groups tallied their top choices, students submitted them to Crawford and enjoyed the sweet treats she had provided to make the occasion truly special.
Why would a teacher go to such lengths to allow students to choose a book? Oftentimes, teachers assign students a book and everyone simply begins reading. Crawford says the goal of establishing a book club is to help students connect to reading. Setting up an event to begin creates a level of excitement among the class. “The craziest thing is that it worked,” says Crawford with enthusiasm. Students were thrilled to participate in the book selection process and even more excited when Crawford unveiled their choices. The excitement was so high that students discussed it with their families who were also eager to see which book their child would receive. Crawford is ecstatic that parents are engaged and that students and families are having conversations about reading.
“We learn all the time as teachers that choice and ownership are the secret sauce to teaching,” says fifth grade teacher Nicole Engstrom. “Book clubs start with choice, students feel the ownership which leads to engagement and excitement. That’s why I love book clubs, there is always a buzz in the room!!” That buzz is created because students enjoy leading the discussions, developing the guidelines for those discussions and even determining how many pages they will read each week. While the focus of the book clubs is reading, third grade teachers Amy Arceneaux and Shannon Pesson point out that students are also developing other life skills. Through the experience, students learn to work together, to take turns and how to disagree respectfully with each other. These skills and the benefits of reading are so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that “recommends that pediatric providers advise parents of young children that reading aloud and talking about pictures and words in age-appropriate books can strengthen language skills, literacy development and parent-child relationships.”
As far as the students are concerned, they simply enjoy the experience. Step into Engstrom’s classroom during book club and you immediately feel the excitement as students discuss what they’ve read with each other. Groups are gathered with books like “Theodore Boone: The Accused” by John Grisham and “A Medal for Leroy” by Michael Morpurgo in hand. There is quiet but enthusiastic chatter as they share what they’ve found in the pages. In fourth grade, Crawford says her students quickly embraced the idea of a book club. Students have asked if they can jot down notes as they are reading to prepare for the next group discussion, and they are eager for each upcoming meeting. She says giving students control over little things like book choice, discussion guidelines and goals results in them paying more attention to the skill of reading without even realizing it. “It’s more about the desire and the depth they’re willing to do it because of the desire,” she says.
Crawford and Arceneaux participated in a virtual professional development opportunity through the Teachers College, Columbia University to prepare for the book clubs. The opportunity was supported by Episcopal’s annual eFund. Arceneaux says the workshop emphasized the importance of books as a connector to a story’s characters, each other and even the world. She says the third grade book clubs look a little different from the fourth and fifth grade clubs because the younger students still frequently read aloud. In addition, teachers have to model for the eight and nine year olds how to talk about books and what they have learned.
“The Nuts and Bolts of Getting Book Clubs Up and Going” helped teachers discover new components to implement in establishing student book clubs. Students developed a constitution of rules that book club members follow. To generate excitement and spark creativity, the students also worked together to create a book club logo. Third graders chose names like The Book Hawks, The Olympic Readers and the Dirt Worms Readers.
The establishment of Lower School book clubs is a perfect example of the creativity and care with which Episcopal educators plan and lead lessons. At Episcopal, reading has always been a priority with a range of events like Battle of the Books, Project LIT and community reads. Ultimately, the hope is that students not only develop strong reading skills but also become lifelong readers. With such a commitment to the effort, we’re sure that students will be turning pages for years to come.
Have you read a great book recently? Share the title with us in the comments section below.
Thank you to everyone who is “All In” by making a commitment to the 2020-21 eFund.
We are thrilled to have reached 90% of our $650,000 eFund goal, leaving only $60,000 to raise. Parents of Ms. Anna Frey’s PreK-4 class were the first to reach 100% participation and celebrated with a pizza party on January 13th. While on pace to surpass last year’s participation level, we are counting on those who have not yet given to help us exceed that mark. An exciting school-wide celebration is underway as soon as parent participation surpasses last year - 76%.
Show us that you are “All In” by making a gift in honor of your favorite student, teacher, or coach. In return, we will notify your honoree that he or she has been recognized by your donation. Gift amounts will not be included in the notification.
Gifts to The eFund are 100% tax deductible as allowed by law. Click here to give today. If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Kline at 225-755-2714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Each year, Episcopal administrators partner with Patty and Carl Newton to recognize three outstanding faculty members for their contributions to student education. The Newtons established the Newton Distinguished Faculty Award because of their belief that excellent teachers make a tremendous difference in the lives of students. Congratulations to the 2020-2021 award winners.
Heidi Hebert – Lower School
Tommy Rhea – Middle School
Paige Gagliano – Upper School
The Newtons are grateful for the positive impact that the teachers at Episcopal had on their two children. Through the award, they grant each recipient a stipend in support of their continued professional development. Recipients are able to choose a professional development opportunity of their choice with approval by the Dean of Academics.
While Hebert may have been surprised to receive such recognition, those around her were not surprised to see her honored. “Heidi is an incredible gift to Episcopal,” says Lower School Division Head Beth Gardner. “What stands out to me most, though, is her sincere love for our students. She knows them all by name, knows their quirks and their talents, knows what they care about and what makes them uncomfortable. And in all the right ways, Heidi supports students and grows their confidence.”
There is a tremendous sense of appreciation for educators at Episcopal. “It is always a privilege to recognize the efforts of our outstanding faculty,” says Head of School Dr. Carrie Steakley. “This year, the Newton Awards are an especially meaningful opportunity to celebrate these dedicated teachers who have gone above and beyond to ensure that learning and student growth continue. We are grateful to them for everything they have done for our students, families and each other.”
Join us in congratulating this year’s Newton Distinguished Award recipients. Share a comment with them below.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1.5
Epiphany, The Season of Light
Wednesday, January 6 was the Feast of the Epiphany. It is a time each year that we focus on and work to understand the light of Christ that comes into the world at Christmas. This year, as we watched the events in our nation’s capital unfold, it was also a reminder to all of us of the darkness that is in our world and in us. We remember that the light of Christ is needed as much now as it has ever been.
We all hoped and believed that as soon as the clock struck midnight on December 31, 2020 and we rolled over to 2021, we would just hit the reset button and all of the problems of 2020 would be gone. That was not the case. Darkness lingers. But this is the time of year when the days start to get longer and the light starts to overtake the darkness. Things do not automatically change because of the date on the calendar or the seasons of the Church.
But a light has come into the world. A light that will grow and spread. A light that causes hope and shines on truth. A light that does not allow ignorance, but calls us to work for justice and peace. We are called to live in the light and at Episcopal that is what we choose to do.
Our board and our faculty and staff have been actively engaged in training so that we are prepared to guide our students in “Brave Conversations.” We have not been and will not shy away from what is challenging. As an institution of learning we understand our responsibility to teach and to model humility, compassion, and civil discourse for our students, so that we can all learn about other people’s perspectives when it comes to the issues that affect our communities and our world. We promise in our mission to help our students live “purposeful lives.” We want them to live in the light.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.
For the Human Family
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Kirkland "Skully" Knight
The Rev. Kirkland “Skully” Knight has served in Episcopal schools for more than 25 years as a teacher, coach and chaplain. Skully has been at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge since 2011 and serves as the Senior Chaplain and Associate Head of School for Service Learning. Skully earned his bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and his M. Div. from The University of the South at Sewanee. He has been married to his wife, Mary Sue, for 26 years and they have two daughters, Emily a 2018 graduate and Katie who is a senior.
The excitement generated by recent Middle School soccer victories highlights the importance of sports and school activities. The physical benefits of sports are widely known. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention includes weight management, reduced risk of disease, strengthening of bones and muscles, improvement of daily life skills and increased chances of living longer among the benefits of physical activity. In addition, CDC highlights important mental health benefits associated with regular physical activity: “Benefits include improved thinking or cognition for children 6 to 13 years of age and reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults. Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning and judgement skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better.” In addition to the physical benefits, there are numerous other reasons that sports and student engagement are important.
As Middle School Division Head Mark Engstrom has said, “The truth about adolescence is that it’s hard. It’s just hard.” Being a part of a team, an ensemble or a group may help to ease the challenges of this time of transformation. Engstrom reflects on the positive impacts of team participation in his own life. “I was lucky enough in seventh grade to play for three different basketball teams and it changed my life in multiple ways,” he says. “I learned about the benefit of hard work, sacrificing for others, and the responsibility that comes with representing something larger than one’s self.”
Middle School Counselor Alicia Kelly says there is a connection between student involvement in school activities and student happiness and academic success. “I often see that our students perform better academically when they are engaged in a team sport,” she says. “This team commitment seems to keep them centered, with less time to procrastinate. The team sports also offer students the opportunity to form stronger connections and bonds with each other.” At a time when peer relationships are a priority, forming healthy connections are important for a student’s development.
Middle School introduces a range of new and varied opportunities for students to connect with others through sports, activities and clubs. Kelly says it’s the ideal time for students to explore. “You don’t know what your passion is until you try it,” she says. Knowing the importance of student engagement, faculty and administrators were happy to re-introduce Middle School clubs ranging from Peer Leaders to MATHCOUNTS earlier this school year. “Trying new activities, taking a risk, working on a new skill, and working with others are all traits that are beneficial for the rest of a child’s life,” says Engstrom.
Participating in school events also provides students the opportunity to connect through a shared representation of their school. For many young athletes, Middle School is the first time they put on a school jersey. Soccer coach and math teacher James Moroney says it is meaningful to put on that jersey and join your classmates as a team. “It gets the kids invested in the school,” he says. Moroney also points to the importance of family involvement. “What’s nice about Episcopal is it’s a community-based school.” At a school like Episcopal, which serves students in PreK-3 through 12th grade, sports, clubs and activities often provide the perfect backdrop for students and families to come together in support of one another.
While Middle School can be challenging, it is also a time of discovery and excitement as students broaden their experiences. This time of transition can help them build confidence, create valuable peer relationships, develop healthy lifestyle choices and become increasingly more independent. School activities can play a positive role in the overall student experience and pave the way for students to develop into the next generation of leaders.
The Middle School soccer teams had much to celebrate this holiday season with the boys team and the girls navy team winning the Middle School division of the St. Michael the Archangel Holiday Cup Soccer Tournament!
For the first time, the Holiday Cup Tournament featured middle school teams in addition to the high school teams. Episcopal’s Middle School was represented by one boys team and two girls teams. The teams, which were from across south Louisiana, battled through two games to reach the final seeded round. Coach and math teacher James Moroney is proud of what the Knights accomplished.
Let’s Hear it for the Boys!
The Episcopal boys finished the holiday tournament 3 and 0 with wins against Zachary, Most Blessed Sacrament and St. Jean Vianney. The following Episcopal athletes scored:
Philip Auzenne – 1 goal
Jacob Berg – 7 goals
David Olinde – 1 goal
Wynn Turner – 1 goal
Let’s Give the Girls a Hand!
The gold team finished the tournament 1 and 2 and came very close to earning a spot in the final round, which would have pitted them against their navy team classmates. Congratulations to the following competitors for scoring:
Anne Bradley Ewing – 2 goals
Olivia Graham – 1 goal
Virginia Kirkpatrick – 1 goal
Anna Kurz – 1 goal
Hollis Spring – 1 goal
The girls navy team shut out all competitors, finishing 3 and 0 with no goals scored by their opponents. Moroney says goalkeeper Maddie Teague had several nice saves during the tournament and throughout the season. The following athletes added to the navy team’s score tally:
Lucy Cramer – 1 goal
Molly Cramer – 2 goals
Claire Moore – 4 goals
Elizabeth Odom – 2 goals
Eloise Tharp – 1 goal
Grace Waguespack – 2 goals
Moroney points out that 11 different girls scored in the tournament between the two teams, highlighting how well the athletes work together on the field. He says the hard work of the defenders and midfielders often creates great opportunities for the goal scorers on the team.
These talented Middle School athletes are led by a group of dedicated coaches. Moroney is grateful to have Phoebe Kantrow, Rhys Lopiparo, Paolo Messina and Eliott Reimann coaching the boys and girls. With the Holiday Cup win wrapped up, the teams now turn their attention back to league play. The final regular season weekend is January 9th and 10th with the tournament scheduled for January 16th and 17th. Moroney hopes Knights fans will stop by the Burbank Soccer Complex to cheer on the teams.
Saturday, January 9th at 3 pm on Field 10
Sunday, January 10th at 10 am on Field 9
Sunday, January 10th at 1 pm on Field 10
Sunday, January 10th at 8:30 am on Field 03
Sunday, January 10th at 5 pm on Field 13
The Episcopal Middle School soccer teams have earned a reputation for being a talented and dedicated group of competitors. Read more about recent year’s success by clicking here and here.
“100% COMMITTED.” Episcopal football standout Austin Sybrandt made his plans clear on Twitter when he proclaimed his commitment to Tulane University. The defensive end made it official when he signed with the Green Wave before the Christmas break on National Signing Day.
After only two years of playing football, Austin had a huge impact on the field for the Knights, and the sports community took notice. The Baton Rouge Advocate highlighted Austin’s efforts in this November article - A defensive stance: DE Austin Sybrandt, other senior leaders help set tone for No. 5 Episcopal. In addition, Austin was the BRProud.com Recruit of the Week. Knights Head Coach Travis Bourgeois says Austin had a tremendous senior season earning the District Defensive Player of the Year Award. “He is one of the most explosive defensive players that I have coached,” says Coach Bourgeois. “He led by example with his work ethic on and off the field.”
Austin’s on-field success also earned the attention of college recruiters. Ultimately, he chose to continue his football career not far from the Knights home field at Tulane University in New Orleans. “Tulane is a great fit for me because it is the perfect balance of academics and athletics,” says Austin. “Not every D1 school is able to maintain such a high academic reputation. The coaches over there are great and the program is definitely something I am proud to be a part of.”
Life as a college athlete can be a challenge, but Austin is up for it. Athletic Director Randy Richard says Austin is a “stalwart in the weight room and an all-around hard worker in athletics and academics.” As an athlete, Austin recognizes the importance of hard work and encourages others to do the same. “Some advice I would offer to younger athletes or other students is that it is never too late to try something new as long as you are willing to put in the work if it is something that you are passionate about,” he says. Coach Bourgeois is confident that Austin is ready for the next level. “Having played only two seasons, he will continue to improve his skill and physically develop into a college athlete,” says Bourgeois. “I look forward to watching him progress in college on the field and in the classroom.”
At Episcopal, Austin is a multi-sport athlete who maintains a strong commitment to academics. College Counselor Shandi Fazely describes Austin as “goal-oriented, collaborative, driven and energetic” and says these qualities will serve him well as he transitions to Tulane. Once at Tulane, Austin says he plans to pursue a degree in finance.
Knights fans had much to cheer for this season with a district title and an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs. Now in the offseason, it is rewarding to see players like Austin earn the opportunity to continue their athletic journey. Join us in congratulating Austin on his success. Share a message with him in the comments section below.
In addition to Austin signing with Tulane, Episcopal celebrated Dylan Mehrotra signing with the University of Alabama at Birmingham. You can read more about Dylan’s commitment here.