Great schools never stop evolving and St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School (STAES) is no exception. St.Thomas offers families in the Clear Lake area a classical education adapted to 21st century learning standards in order to cultivate children who are knowledgeable, creative, and virtuous global citizens.
Located just down the street from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Nassau Bay, St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School provides an amazing education to students starting at age three through the 5th grade. In the era of high stakes standardized testing, St. Thomas believes children are anything but standardized, and that academic mastery is best assessed through authentic demonstrations of skills and a portfolio of work. St. Thomas offers individualized learning through small class sizes with a 1:12 teacher-student ratio. Smaller classes empower teachers to focus on each child as they progress, closely monitoring their skill development in academics as well as their social and emotional growth. St. Thomas teachers are able to customize learning experiences to match each student’s individual needs and abilities, like the 5th grader who is working on 7th grade math.
St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School is working towards becoming an exemplar school for 21st Century learning, which emphasizes the important skills that students need to be successful in the modern world by cultivating Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration. These 4 C’s support rigorous academic skills like reading, mathematics, writing and scientific investigation that you would expect of any school, but place particular emphasis on how students acquire these skills and demonstrate their proficiency. St. Thomas is implementing project-based and inquiry-based learning to teach the students the necessary academic knowledge through interdisciplinary themes. Some examples are: civic literacy, environmental literacy, entrepreneurial literacy, health literacy, and global awareness.
To cultivate Creativity, students attend art classes 3-4 times per week, and teachers regularly incorporate fine arts into their curriculum. To deepen this integration, STAES is currently renovating a creative space they call The Studio. It is a light-filled area with a view of Clear Lake where students can be inspired to express their ideas and work on projects.
Critical Thinking is developed through the use of a project based learning approach which challenges students to solve complex problems and complete rigorous tasks. These projects are often interdisciplinary so that students see the connections between the academic content and the world they live in. For example, because this is an election year, the 2nd graders completed a project that covered civics, reading, writing, and public speaking. Students studied how a bill becomes a law, and the roles of the Senate and Congress in America. They watched senators on CSPAN present various bills, and then drafted their own bill proposals. They rehearsed their persuasive speeches and delivered them in front of an audience of parents, teachers, and older students.
Effective Communication in the 21st century means being able to speak more than one language, which is why St. Thomas students attend Spanish class twice per week starting at three-years-old. For the 2019-2020 school year, they are expanding their Spanish program to a bilingual model, where students attend daily Spanish lessons to cultivate the language fluency at a time when their brains are most receptive to learning new languages.
Collaboration at St. Thomas takes place in all grade levels and through all academic disciplines. Students also work across grade levels in order to work on projects and assignments. The 5th graders attended a six-week course (Fridays) at the Spaceport near the Ellington Air Force Base to solve complex problems with students from other schools in the Clear Lake area.
Technology is integrated as a tool for learning throughout the grade levels. Four-year-olds in the Voyager’s program travel the world learning about different places and people. They learn how to use Google Earth to zoom in and out of cities to get a sense of what streets look like in Tokyo, Mexico City, Toronto, Paris, or Nairobi, just to name a few. The upper elementary (3rd-5th) students are learning to code using Scratch, the web-based early coding platform developed at MIT.
Being an Episcopal school means St. Thomas practices a philosophy of inclusion – families of all faiths are welcomed and accepted. Students experience character education, guiding them towards kindness, compassion, creating a sense of belonging for each child, showing gratitude, and being responsible. St. Thomas has a virtue of the month that anchors many of the discussions during chapel and school assemblies. The faculty and teaching staff strive to model these values in their interactions with students and with one another. Students learn the value of community service through daily activities (older students are responsible for cleaning up after lunch), and through projects. The kindergartners, for example, engage in an annual project where they learn about entrepreneurialism by creating a cookie company. They and their families bake and sell cookies, and then donate their proceeds to the Nassau Bay Animal Shelter. Each year they contribute hundreds of dollars to the shelter, and learn about how the money is used to care for the animals by visiting on a field trip. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders take an annual trip to Camp Allen each October where they spend 3 days and 2 nights working on character development activities, team building exercises, and immersing themselves in nature through hiking, canoeing, and horseback riding. This is not an “extra” activity – it’s part of the curricular experience, and is included in tuition because St. Thomas believes such experiences are critical in the healthy emotional development of children.
St. Thomas is a family environment. Parents are welcome every morning to attend chapel with their student(s), and can come at any time for lunch as well. They have Friendly Fridays where parents can walk their students to class and then enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and chat with other parents and staff. They invite you to come anytime and take a tour of the beautiful lakeside facilities and meet the staff that makes St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal School a premiere private school in the Clear Lake area. Also feel free to learn more about the school online at stesnb.org.