As I and many other high schoolers can attest, the past couple of months of quarantine, social distancing, and lack of interaction with our peers have not been the most exciting of times. I can still remember our last day of school. I finished my day with track practice, and even though we had been informed of the potential of school closing, the idea seemed unrealistic, and I certainly didn’t anticipate my junior year to end so abruptly. The quick and unexpected end to our physical school year left many without a sense of closure. We all felt for the graduating seniors and their loss, and for many of us as we begin transitioning into the next year, it almost feels as if last school year didn’t exactly end.
Being the outgoing teenage boy I am, the end of school meant the end of sports, the end of so many daily interactions, and the end of many countless little things I never knew I took for granted. I think I can speak for many when I say the first couple of days of online school genuinely didn’t seem too bad. We slept in, got our work done, and had a little extra free time. However, it wasn’t long before we all felt an unusual sense of loneliness. As cliche and normalized as so many little things throughout the school day are, we never realize how much we enjoy or even need them. Whether it’s racing to the front of the line to be the first one to get lunch, Coach Anderson cracking a joke before giving us a math lesson, or Coach Dupe getting us prepared for a big track meet for the weekend, it is the small acts and interactions that make Episcopal like a second home to me and so many other students. It’s not just where we go to learn, carry textbooks, and take notes, it is so much more than that. I and so many others have made many meaningful relationships at Episcopal throughout our time at the school, and this extended time away from school has, without a doubt, made us all cherish and value them so much more.
As we to return to school, despite how the environment may change due to the uncertainty of situations going on within the state and the world around us, we aren’t just preparing our minds to get lectured on the Pythagorean theorem or on learning the importance of mitochondria in living organisms. We’re getting ready to return to an environment we call home. A place where we interact with some of our closest friends and one with a wonderful group of teachers and faculty, who I know want nothing more than to see myself and other members of my class graduate and get ready to take the next step in our lives. I have never once admitted during the summer that I was ready to go back to school, no matter how many times an adult asked me. In the end, it’s because I never truly appreciated “school” for all it really is to me. However, this year as I finish cramming summer reading, pack my bag with pencils that will magically disappear within the first three weeks, and give a large sigh as my mom begs me to take my final first day of school picture, I can truthfully say I’m ready to go back to school. I’m ready to return home.
Oliver Jack is entering his Senior year, has attended Episcopal since Pre-K, and competes on the football, track, and powerlifting teams at school. He hopes to study engineering in college.
The college admissions journey looks a lot different this year. In fact, the current pandemic has essentially upended the entire process for how schools select potential students. While the headlines and the news present a daunting picture when it comes to this year’s process, College Counseling Director Justin Fenske says there are still aspects of the process upon which students can count.
1. College visits.
“Campuses now are not representative of what school is really like,” says Fenske. He says with many campuses transitioning in and out of distance learning and numerous health and safety protocols in place, today’s college experience is much different than it was before the pandemic. While a visit will look different this year, there are still opportunities to learn more about a school. Fenske encourages students to “take part in virtual visits” or to adjust their visit timeline and wait until after they are accepted to visit a school.
Research remains an important aspect of the college admissions journey. Fenske says this year’s research should include several new components. “Pay attention to how colleges are handling the pandemic,” he says. He advises students to closely watch how colleges are treating their students and how they are responding to student needs. It’s also important to pay attention to the school’s financial status and whether or not programs are being eliminated. Fenske advises students to register for college updates and news alerts to ensure they have the latest information as it is released.
3. Soul searching.
As in the past, students should really consider their future goals. Fenske says it’s especially important now for students to examine what they want out of their college experience and go for precisely that. For example, there is an expectation that nationally more students will elect to attend a school closer to home due to the current situation. Fenske says this means for students who wish to go away for college there may be more opportunities to do so.
Fenske says now is the time for members of the Class of 2021 to work on their college applications. With changes to the admissions process, an application that tells a good story and provides a clear picture of a student’s academic and extracurricular experiences will be even more important for getting the attention of overwhelmed admissions officers.
Members of the College Counseling team, including Fenske, Shandi Fazely and Dr. Alan Newton, are monitoring the ever-changing world of college admissions. Fenske encourages families to reach out to their counselor for assistance or concerns. The team is also offering several opportunities to help students in the process.
Virtual Admissions Visits
This year, college representatives are logging in and participating in the Episcopal visits of the past, virtually. Fenske says because a virtual campus visit is budget friendly, the team expects more schools to connect with Episcopal students this year. For example, an Irish university recently expressed interest in a virtual visit with Episcopal juniors and seniors. Fenske says there are already more than 30 of these visits planned with many more expected.
Coffee with the College Counselors
The College Counseling team is also providing virtual coffee chats with families on a bi-weekly basis. Counselors will discuss topical issues and answer questions from participants. Fenske says this virtual format is actually proving to be popular because of the reduced time commitment it requires of families. See below for upcoming Virtual College Counseling Coffee event dates:
What is Test Optional Admissions?
September 17th at 10 am or 4 pm
Scholarships and Financial Aid
October 1st at 10 or 4 pm
Everyone in the world of college admissions is adapting to the realities of life in 2020. Episcopal students are fortunate to have a team of College Counselors to help them through the process. Students are encouraged to reach out to the counselors as needed to assist them with this important process.
Genius: a very smart or talented person: a person who has a level of talent or intelligence that is very rare or remarkable Merriam-Webster
Fifth grade teacher Nicole Engstrom was inspired by thoughts of genius during a professional development workshop this summer. In her studies she read statements that outlined qualities of genius as curiosity, creativity and wonder, and she brainstormed on how she could personally encourage those traits among her Lower School students.
Summer professional development is a treasured and inspiring tradition for the majority of teachers, and even though it might have looked different this year, teachers still found opportunities to participate. Episcopal teachers took part in sessions on a range of topics including writing, mindfulness, engineering and science, AP Spanish, AP Computer Science Principles and even building an online dance course. Dean of Academics Dr. Sara Fenske says it is important for students to know that their teachers are lifelong learners. “When our students see their teachers as curious individuals who want to grow and learn, that helps our students see the value in continuing to learn,” she says.
There is also tremendous academic value when teachers are committed to professional development as many of them bring what they learn back to their own classrooms. “Professional development has led to so many advancements in our academic program including reader and writer workshop methods in our English courses, responsive classroom methods for building community and modeling behavior, project-based and design-based learning, and staying on top of the most recent changes to the AP curriculum,” says Dr. Fenske. “It has brought new ideas into the classroom, both big and small.”
Engstrom, who attended virtual sessions regarding wayfinding and student agency through Global Online Academy, is excited to implement what she has learned. She hopes to give students more choice in the pacing of lessons and to add more visual thinking activities to lessons. She also plans to “keep asking students to think about their thinking.” Fourth grade teacher Ros Won, who attended Tulane University’s “Integrating Engineering Practices to Your Science Curriculum,” also learned a few tips from her experience that she hopes to use this school year. “My biggest takeaway from this experience was exchanging ideas with other science teachers and also learning some engineering ideas that I could try to incorporate into the curriculum,” she says. “I hope to implement little engineering activities that have open ended questions and promote creativity.”
Tailored Training for a New School Year
This summer also provided an opportunity for Episcopal educators to learn more about distance learning should there be a need for that type of learning this school year. “To make this summer professional development as effective for our faculty as possible, we wanted it to be tailored to our school and community, rather than choosing a one-size-fits-all model,” says Dr. Fenske. To accomplish such a personalized approach to teacher training, Dr. Fenske participated in a course through One Schoolhouse called Academic Leadership for Hybrid Learning. In addition, faculty members were surveyed about what areas of additional training they needed. What resulted was a professional development experience supported by administrators, academic technology experts and faculty. “Everything that is in these courses comes from extensive research, courses that members of the team had attended, and our own significant educational experience,” says Dr. Fenske. “By doing this, our faculty doesn’t have to pick out those bits of information that are helpful to them, since the entire course is geared towards our own community.”
Dr. Fenske says that teachers are finding that distance learning training is also applicable to the current classroom experience. “They are learning about new tools and resources at their disposal, how to use our tech tools more effectively both in the classroom and in distance learning, and new ways to present information online, to more effectively track student progress, and to give feedback to students,” she says.
Episcopal faculty have proven their ability to adapt and adjust as needed. A continued commitment to professional development ensures they remain prepared and up to date for the latest in education. This willingness to learn new skills will certainly make this school year a better experience for everyone.
As schools more frequently rely on technology to support learning, it is critical to have technology experts on board. Recently, several Episcopal staff members earned recognition for their efforts. Congratulations!
Information Technology Specialist Steve Latuso has been selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert for 2020/2021. As a MIE Expert, Latuso now has access to exclusive professional development and product tools from Microsoft. In addition, Latuso and Episcopal Upper School teacher Lisa Pritchard have been named Google Certified Trainers. New Academic Technology Coordinator James McCrary has been named the 2020 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Virtual Environments Network Pioneer of the Year. ISTE says this annual award “honors an educator whose work in both real life and in world most embodies the adventuresome and innovative spirit characteristic of a Virtual Environments Network community leader.”
A Pastoral Letter from the Rev. Kirkland "Skully" Knight, Chaplain
Exactly four years ago, we were dealing with what was perhaps the greatest natural disaster this school has ever seen, The Flood of 2016. If you were here at Episcopal or even just in Baton Rouge, you remember those days. They were some of the darkest days that I can remember in my ten years here, but they were quickly followed by some of the greatest days I have experienced anywhere.
Our school, though partially under water, closed for only five days, and then reopened with classes in new places, people helping cover when others were out, and work already beginning to repair the damage.
People opened their homes, distributed meals, gutted houses and supported each other in ways that made us all so proud to be Knights. I had only been here a few years at that point, but I knew this was the right place for my family and me to be and for our children to grow and learn. I have never been more proud to be part of a place than I was then.
It’s time for that spirit again.
It has been another challenging start to the school year. It has been filled with ups and downs, excitement and disappointment, joy and frustration, and some things and feelings that are so unique to these particular days that they defy description. But as in 2016, the sun will set, and the sun will rise and there will be a new day. That is a promise.
This upcoming Sunday, the lectionary readings for many churches includes Romans 12. 1-8. And in that passage is the phrase, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” To live and love sacrificially is one of, if not the most basic Christian tenet that there is.
We are called to set aside our own needs and desires for the good of others, to put the greater good ahead of what might be best for us individually. We are called to be inconvenienced. We are called to lay down our lives for others. We are called to sacrifice.
It’s time for that spirit again.
There is some research that says wearing masks and social distancing does more to prevent that person from spreading this virus than it does to prevent that person from getting it. And if we follow that logic, everyone who comes to this campus is coming with the intention of caring for others. How powerful is the image of a place where for every person, there are 999 other people protecting them? I would take that every day over a place where there are a 1,000 people only watching out for themselves.
We have done this before. We have given up comfort to help those in need. We have given our time and energy expecting nothing in return. We have been patient and understanding. We have been willing to make sacrifices and put the needs of this community ahead of our own. We have lived and loved sacrificially. We have done these things because we are Episcopal Knights.
It’s time for that spirit again.
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.
On August 15th, Dr. Carrie Steakley was officially installed as the Head of School for Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Dr. Steakley was selected after an extensive national search led by a committee of board members, parent leadership and faculty representatives. The search process was thoughtful and the transition seamless. With a pandemic as a backdrop, the installation was humble yet meaningful and powerful.
In a pre-recorded message for Dr. Steakley’s installation, Reverend Katherine McQuiston Bush reminded event attendees of the power and strength of love. Reverend Bush, who is the Chaplain at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, also advised that to lead with love requires courage, respect, mercy and grace. After working closely with Dr. Steakley for nearly 10 years, Reverend Bush said these qualities are what defines Episcopal’s new Head of School. We encourage you to watch Reverend Bush's message below.
Dr. Steakley begins her tenure as Head of School in unusual circumstances. However, she is prepared for the challenges ahead. With a quiet strength, she told attendees she feels inspired by the leaders of her former school as she takes on this new role. A look at that story can be an inspiration for us all. St. Mary’s was founded in 1847. In 1873 a group of Episcopal nuns began operating the school with a goal of providing a rigorous academic experience for girls. In the summer of 1878, the Memphis area experienced a yellow fever epidemic that impacted thousands and resulted in the relocation of a majority of the city’s residents. Sister Constance and her companions remained at the school to care for the sick and dying. They are remembered in St. Mary’s and Memphis lore for their commitment and sacrifice on behalf of their students and the community. More than 100 years later, Dr. Steakley now takes the reins of Episcopal as the school and the community deal with COVID-19. At the first staff meeting of the school year, which was conducted online, Dr. Steakley told the St. Mary’s story with pride and asked faculty and staff – How do we want history to remember us? How will our decisions bless future generations?
A Head of School is traditionally installed before a standing-room-only crowd. The entire student body is often invited to participate, with student musicians and vocalists adding their talents to the celebration. Dr. Steakley’s installation had only a small number of attendees due to health and safety protocols. Attendees wore face coverings and practiced social distancing. However, the face coverings and the distance did not diminish the sense of hope, joy, peace and most importantly love.
Those attending the installation will remember the occasion and the sense of community that reverberated through the Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd. The experience may have been somewhat different from those in the past, but attendees felt blessed to be present. There was a realization that while 2020 is filled with uncertainty, it is also an opportunity for new beginnings, innovation and collaboration. With her family by her side, Dr. Steakley will also ensure that there is love, joy and grace.
Thank you to The Rt. Rev’d Morris K. Thompson, Jr., Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, The Rev’d Katherine McQuiston Bush, Chaplain St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, The Rev’d Chris Duncan, Rector St. James Episcopal Church, The Rev’d Bryan Owen, Rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, The Rev’d Kirkland “Skully” Knight, Chaplain (The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge) and Board Chair Chris Kiesel ’92 for joining Dr. Steakley in this celebration.
Welcome to Episcopal, Dr. Steakley! We invite you to share a message of congratulations with Dr. Steakley in the comments below.
Episcopal senior quarterback Dylan Mehrotra played his first game of tackle football at eight years old. Now, after playing for the Knights since the fifth grade, Mehrotra has committed to play football at the University of Alabama Birmingham next fall. Needless to say, he is excited about the future. “This means everything to me!” he says. “I get to continue on my journey to live my dreams to play college football at the Division 1, FBS level. UAB is doing some amazing things with their football program!” Mehrotra points to the fact that the UAB team was the Conference USA champs in 2018 and the winner of the West Division in 2019. In addition to that, they are building a 45,000-seat stadium that he looks forward to competing in soon. And then there’s a future opponent. “I also learned that during my sophomore year, we will play LSU in Tiger Stadium, a dream come true!” he says.
Mehrotra plans to study business and minor in sports management when he arrives at UAB. “UAB was the right school because it checked off so many boxes for me,” he says. “It’s a great city, has a large student enrollment, and offers areas of study that interest me.” In addition, his future coaches and current coaches were on board. “The UAB coaching staff made me feel extremely comfortable and assured if I work hard, I have a chance to compete for the starting job,” he says. “Two people that I trust and admire (Coach Bourgeois and Coach Stevens), felt that this was an excellent fit for me as a student-athlete.”
Episcopal Head Coach Travis Bourgeois is happy to see Mehrotra achieve his goal of playing in college. “To see a player put the work in and get rewarded with a scholarship defines what playing sports is all about,” he says. “He is a great example to the younger players. Dylan represents what an Episcopal student/athlete is all about. He plays multiple sports and maintains his grades. It is awesome to watch Dylan grow as a person/player throughout his years on campus.”
Episcopal Athletic Director Randy Richard agrees. “I’m proud of Dylan,” he says. “Over his four years in high school, Dylan has become a hard worker who understands what it’s like to be a top-level athlete. I think his transition will be fairly seamless because he understands the difficulty at hand to be a college athlete. He knows the UAB coaches won’t expect less than the Episcopal coaches when it comes to hard work and dedication.” Bourgeois offers the following advice: “He needs to remember the things in life that got him to this point; family, faith, work ethic, education, being able to take constructive criticism, accepting competition, leading and learning with others. People see things differently, come from different backgrounds, so have an open mind.”
Mehrotra’s journey to college football did not happen by accident. When asked what advice he would give to fellow student athletes, he had this to say: “I would tell them there is no substitute for hard work and always give your best effort. Episcopal has great coaches, soak up their knowledge and believe in the process. You have to put in the time, and once you do that and play well, coaches will take notice.” Mehrotra says Episcopal has done a great job of preparing him for this next step. “I know that the teachers and administrators at Episcopal have set me up for success in college!”
Before Mehrotra heads on to UAB, there is still the business of the Knights football season. “We have a talented quarterback that will give us a chance to be successful every game,” says Coach Bourgeois. “We have a leader who will make good decisions for the team on and off the field.” Regardless of what this season holds, Richard says the decision to commit early allows Mehrotra the opportunity to focus more on his senior year and guide his team to be in the best situation possible.
Congratulations, Dylan! We can’t wait to see you play. Please wish Dylan well in the comments below.
Once a Knight, always a Knight. This is certainly the case for beloved cross country and track coach Eddie Cole. Coach Cole retired from coaching in 2017 after an award-winning career. During his tenure at Episcopal, Coach Cole led the girls’ team to numerous victories and state title runs. He is known across the Episcopal campus for his impromptu harmonica performances and his willingness to help others. Teachers depended on him to help with everything from assistance with project-based learning and hiking tips to driving the team bus to cross country competitions.
Since retirement, Coach Cole has remained in touch with his former colleagues and cheered the Knights on from afar. Now, as he battles leukemia, members of the Episcopal community are stepping up to support the coach that has meant so much to so many.
“He is fighting this with such a great attitude,” says Coach Dupe. “I only hope I could be as strong mentally and physically if I ever get in this situation. He is setting such a great model for all of us.”
“Coach Cole is stronger than he’ll ever know,” says Athletic Director Randy Richard. “He’s been on this hike before. I hope he’ll take in a little bit more and stay the course until the finish line.”
There is an effort underway by one of Coach Cole’s former E.D. White students to support him on this journey. The former student has teamed up with the owner of www.threestitches.net to post the following call to action on social media:
As most of you know Coach Eddie Cole has been diagnosed with Leukemia. He is receiving Chemo treatments and will be undergoing a bone marrow transplant afterwards. The lives he has touched throughout the years is undeniable. Let's cheer him on as he conquers his hike! What better way to do that than with our new normal, a mask! Please visit https://threestitches.net/hikeyourhike/shop/home to get yourself a mask! All benefits will be sent directly to Coach Cole. Take a picture wearing your mask and don't forget to use #hikeyourhike to show your support!
Coach Cole is an avid hiker, making this effort a fitting tribute to the man loved by so many. “Every student he taught or coached remembers the type of man he is,” says Richard. “He always had time for his students.” Now, Coach Cole’s students are showing that they have time for him.