Upper School Traditions

New York State of Mind

By Mark Guerra
Performing Arts Teacher, Lakehill Preparatory School

This past weekend, 34 Upper School students traveled to New York City for the Winter Break. Over their three days in the city, they saw five shows and attended a musical theater workshop. The annual trip led by Tracy Herron and Mark Guerra has become an event to look forward to for performing arts students. It also allows those outside of performing arts to interact with Broadway performers and develop a greater appreciation for theater. The group was comprised of veteran New York travelers and some who had never flown on a plane before. Overall, the trip provided new experiences for all involved.

After their arrival Friday, students were able to explore Times Square before they attended a Valentine’s Day performance of Moulin Rouge. The musical is an update of the popular 2001 movie starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor. While the plot stayed the same, the songs have been updated to more recent hits. “I loved how the musical used songs that we are familiar with. By the end, I was connected to the characters,” said Sydney Rutherford.

The next morning, students attended a Broadway Classroom workshop with a swing/ensemble member of Moulin Rouge. The students learned a section of the Finale Megamix song, “Hey Ya” by Outkast and then were taught the choreography that went with that section of the song. “We learned the job of a swing in theater. Learning the energy and emotion that goes into performing for an audience daily was a great experience,” said Sophia Ganson.”

Later that day, the students had tickets to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This is a two-part show, about six hours long with a dinner break in the middle. Students were blown away by the special effects that were achieved onstage. “All the magic that the movies needed CGI to create was brought to life right before our eyes with some of the greatest acting and live special effects I have ever seen,” said Keegan Clendenin.

On Sunday morning, students attended a mass at the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. They were impressed by the sheer size of the church organ and its gorgeous rich sound.

That afternoon, students were given the choice to attend another musical or spend some time exploring the city. “Shopping in SoHo was one my favorite parts of the trip,” said Kira Willis. “All of the stores were beautiful inside.”

Some students selected Wicked, Mean Girls, or Dear Evan Hansen. Those who attended Hadestown were surprised by Mr. G with an opportunity to go backstage after the show to meet Patrick Page who stars as Hades.“Hadestown was fantastic,” said Spencer Neill. “Everything about it was amazing, but meeting Patrick Page was the most wonderful experience ever. Just standing on a Broadway stage was thrilling. The entire experience was almost overwhelming.”

The students’ final show Six: the Musical is an 80-minute pop rock concert about the six wives of Henry VIII, each singing songs about the trials and tribulations of being married to “Old Coppernose.” “The cast was energetic and I already knew the soundtrack by heart, which it made it all the more enjoyable,” said Lindsey Evans. “After the show, I waited by the stage door and the cast was lovely.”

Throughout the trip, students were able to not only see shows that interested them, but were also given free time to experience the city. This independence enabled students to pursue their interests and be engaged in every activity.


Inspired by STEM

On Saturday, January 25, the Lakehill Bionicles participated in its second FIRST Tech Challenge Qualifier for the year at Woodrow Wilson High School. This event was their last chance to advance to the North Texas Regional Tournament. Being close to home, the team had several Lakehill families, students, and staff in the audience cheering them on.

The students began with the Judges’ panel, which boosted their confidence. After their robot, Mata Nui, passed inspection, the rest of the day was filled with match play and additional interviews with judges. The Bionicles ended match play with a 3-2 record.

Importantly the FIRST organization not only values the students’ and robot’s performance in match play, but also the valuable learning experience that happens when the team put hours upon hours of work into their robots. This hard work is rewarded through the judged awards. According to FIRST, “The judged awards give us the opportunity to recognize Teams who embody important values like Gracious Professionalism®, teamwork, creativity, innovation, and the value of the engineering design process.” They also value the teams spreading the word about FIRST, robotics, and STEM concepts. At each tournament, the team gives a prepared presentation in front of a panel of two to three judges going over their design process and outreach activities. The students also turn in an Engineering Notebook that extensively documents every idea and outcome the students have encountered. The judges pay special attention to how the students iterate creative solutions using math, science, and design concepts. The judges want to hear every detail of the students’ journey, from ideas, to roadblocks, to solutions. The judges also look for how the students communicate the mission of FIRST to their communities, become involved with other teams, and get others interested in FIRST, Robotics, and STEM. The students communicated their journey in the judges’ panel, Engineering Notebook, and several impromptu interviews with the judges throughout the day.

The Bionicles placed in three of the five main award categories. The team earned the runner-up for the Design Award which focuses on industrial design from both an aesthetic and functional perspective. The Bionicles were also awarded runner-up for the Collins Aerospace Innovate Award focusing on innovation and out-of-the box ideas. The team was honored a third time as the runner-up for the Think Award, which focuses on the engineering design process, especially the underlying science and mathematics of the Robot design and game strategies.

The final award given was the prestigious Inspire Award. According to FIRST, the Inspire Award is, “given to the team that best embodies the ‘challenge’ of the FIRST Tech Challenge program. The team that receives this award is a strong ambassador for FIRST programs and a role model FIRST team. This team is a top contender for many other judged awards and is a gracious competitor. The Inspire Award winner is an inspiration to other teams, acting with Gracious Professionalism® both on and off the playing field. This team shares their experiences, enthusiasm, and knowledge with other teams, sponsors, their community, and the judges. Working as a unit, this team will have showed success in performing the task of designing and building a Robot.”

Receiving first place in the Inspire Award is the highest honor at a First Tech Challenge tournament, and is the first spot that is guaranteed advancement to the North Texas Regional tournament. The emcee began to read the pun-filled (as required by FIRST) announcement of the Inspire Award winner. “Things went swimmingly for this team today. They shined like the yellow sun bright and well crafted. We were buzzing with excitement about this transformative team. Team 14904, the Lakehill Bionicles!”

The Lakehill Bionicles will advance to Regionals and once again compete for a chance to attend the World Championships in Houston, Texas in April. The North Texas Regional Tournament will take place on Saturday, February 15, at Wylie East High School. In addition to the Regional Tournament, the Bionicles will be taking part in the TAPPS Robotics competition in Waco on March 30.

The Lakehill Bionicles are continuing their work to make their robot, teamwork, documentation, and presentation even better. The team is grateful to Lakehill faculty, staff, and families for their continued support of the Lakehill Bionicles.

Learn more about FIRST Robotics and the FIRST Tech Challenge.


The Beauty of Happiness

By Julie Murugen
Lakehill Preparatory School, English Department Chair, K-7

We bought our tickets in June, dreaming for the rest of the year. We would visit Durban, South Africa, my husband’s birthplace and home for forty years. To my surprise, this trip of a lifetime was so much more than sightseeing–it changed the way I see myself.

Durban is a hilly coastal town, where December means summer. The undulant Indian Ocean impresses by day or night, as does the breathtaking Valley of 1,000 Hills on the road to Pietermaritzburg. I especially love the lush tropical vegetation at the Botanic Gardens and elsewhere, especially the red-flowered poinciana, nicknamed the “flamboyant” tree.

But our main purpose was a family visit. We would meet most of them at a big gathering of fifty people or more, aged infant to 84. I expected cordiality, but they opened their arms, hearts, and homes to us with unrestrained enthusiasm and generosity, and I loved them just as instantly and completely. My husband is “marma,” “thatha,” and “nana” while I am “auntie,” “aya,” or “nani” to adult nieces and nephews as well as great and great-great darlings.

In the past, I have avoided having my picture taken, always finding something about my appearance to criticize, but in the many photos the family have shared with us, what I first notice are the big smiles on our faces, especially mine. Where before I saw flaws, now I see only the beauty of happiness.

I can hardly wait to go back again.


A Tribute to Hayley Wester

Hayley Wester

I appreciate this opportunity to provide an overview of my daughter Hayley Wester, her time at Lakehill and what was important to her during the years she spent at this exceptional school.

Hayley was grateful for her opportunity to attend Lakehill Preparatory School where she formed enduring relationships with students and teachers. My wife, Judy, and I always looked forward to Hayley’s daily enthusiastic descriptions of her experiences and what she learned. Our impression as parents was that Lakehill teachers had genuine enthusiasm for students and their academic specialties. It was more than a job, it was a passion. That’s what drew us to Lakehill.

Before I get too far into telling the story of Hayley’s formative years at Lakehill I want you to know our daughter passed from this life at the age of 22. Hayley had Cystic fibrosis, also known as CF, a genetic disease that affects children and causes life threatening lung infections. Recently there has been progress in treating the disease and there are a number of hopeful signs that new medications will help those inflicted to live longer, happier lives. The ultimate medical research goal is to modify or eliminate the genetic mutation that causes Cystic Fibrosis.

She was aware of the Cystic Fibrosis threat from an early age. If Hayley had been consumed with fear rather than the opportunities that lay before her, she would have missed so much.  So Hayley did not retreat from challenges but rather went full bore to pursue her education and get the most out of each day at school, extra-curricular activities and at home.

She blossomed at Lakehill, forming lifelong friends and excelling in her studies. She was an avid participant in the Pan American Student Forum, PASF. The activities and trips initiated by PASF expanded Hayley’s awareness of other cultures and languages.  It was the PASF experience and her other extra-curricular activities that helped form the direction for Hayley’s future.  She knew that although she had a life threatening health situation that she could pursue her dreams and focus on studies in Human Biology leading to a career in medicine.

Hayley was valedictorian of her 1993 Lakehill class.  We visited a number of college campuses around the country her senior year. She was accepted at every university where she applied and ultimately decided Stanford University provided what she wanted. The acceptance rate for undergrads at Stanford was then and continues to be the lowest in the US. There are many students with stellar grades and SAT scores who cannot gain admittance to Stanford.  Ultimately what differentiated Hayley was a combination of her openness and wit during the Stanford interview and a record of participation in PASF and other extra-curricular activities. Her admissions essay also seemed to hit the mark.

While at Stanford, Hayley was one of only two undergraduate students in the entire university who were selected to work with the postdocs on genetic research projects. If you haven’t guessed it already, Hayley, of course, selected a Cystic Fibrosis study that was initiated at Stanford. This activity was in addition to her normal class load but it exemplifies her spirit to get in there and make a difference. Through all of this she received media coverage. She gave us about a one hour notice to advise us she was going to be on the national news in case we wanted to watch. It was exciting but also a weird experience for us to see our daughter being interviewed from her Stanford dorm room. She got her points across regarding the importance of research, organ transplantation and her own health challenges.

CF took our daughter from us during her senior year at Stanford. There are no words that adequately express the sense of loss. However, Hayley’s friends from Lakehill and Stanford are still our friends. Those are cherished and sustaining relationships.

I recall the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford Medical School asking me if he could spend an hour with Hayley while she was in the hospital. He told me he had heard so much about her from the other doctors at the Stanford Medical Center. I told him we need to check with Hayley and see what she thinks. As always she was eager to talk even though she was in very serious condition at the time. Afterwards the chairman tearfully told me in the hospital hallway he was extraordinarily touched and inspired by her poise and courage. I tell you this story because I think much of who Hayley became and what she achieved was in no small part due to the teachers and her fellow students at Lakehill.

My reason for writing is to share with you how Hayley pursued her dreams and how important her studies and her whole-hearted participation in Lakehill, PASF and other extra-curricular activities provided a strong foundation for her future. I hope you will continue the tradition of participation yourselves and as you do so remember a kind and courageous fellow Lakehill student named Hayley Wester.

Alan and Judith Wester (parents)


Grateful for Gratitude

By Julie Murugen
Lakehill Preparatory School, English Department Chair, K-7

Thanksgiving is coming, the time of year when the words “grateful” and “gratitude” abound in advertisements, greeting cards, and church sermons. We are mindful of our blessings (especially those we can eat!), glad to spend time with friends and families, and moved to compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. When prompted to list the things for which we feel grateful, we say family, health, home, safety, employment, friendships, and such universals. But a recent experience has made me rethink my priorities: I am most grateful for gratitude itself.

Recently, searching for the opportunity to trade apartment life for a home of our own, I got into a rut of focusing on what we don’t have, what we can’t afford, what neighborhoods won’t fit with our commutes, and other negatives. Lost in a self-generated labyrinth of limitation, I felt disconnected from the flow of happiness and well-being that I associate with the presence of God. Worse, I disparaged myself not only for having failed to accumulate sufficient savings, but for what I considered nearly unforgivable: feeling ungrateful for the bounty I possess in a happy marriage, a wonderful job, good friends, and more.

We looked at one more open house, and it would be a great happy ending if I could say it was our perfect answer. It wasn’t–it was far beyond our means. But we both instantly loved it, and suddenly the delight of being fully on the same page with my husband shattered the barriers that had seemed so daunting. At that moment, feeling access to free-flowing thankfulness was like a new life. Nothing had changed but my attitude, but everything had changed.

So, with all sincerity and goodwill, I can say to all, Happy Thanksgiving!

State Fair

Royal Collection: Lakehill Teacher Wins Blue Ribbon

While living in London in 1982 during her junior year of college, Lakehill Preparatory School English teacher Elizabeth Schmitt purchased a coffee mug commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, her first royal family souvenir.

Little did she know that, years later, her hobby would earn her a blue ribbon at the State Fair of Texas. Her entry of two plates, one celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and the other the coronation of Edward VIII, earned first place in the Collections category.

“I had many items to choose from, but I selected these two pieces for their age and history. Victoria was the first British monarch to reign over 60 years, and Edward abdicated the throne before his formal coronation.”

Growing up with the same name as the queen of England spurred Schmitt’s interest in British history and the monarchy.

“I added to my collection during vacations to London, and when I lived there while studying for my Masters’ Degree. My late husband found several items for me, including the ones I entered, at local estate sales. Winning the blue ribbon is a tribute to his memory.”

The plates will be on display in the Arts and Crafts building during the State Fair.

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Uncategorized Upper School Traditions

Hands-on Science

By Mark Guerra
Lakehill Preparatory School, Theater and Film teacher

Lakehill’s annual Biology Trip to the Galveston area was on the brink of cancellation because of Tropical Storm Imelda.  Jeremy Holman, who leads the charge on these trips, worked tirelessly to rearrange all of the travel plans just 24 hours before setting out.

Natural Bridge Caverns, just north of San Antonio, was the first stop. The group of nearly 50 teachers and students hiked 180 feet down into a crack in the Earth’s crust. We learned of the college students that discovered these underground caves in the 1960s, and we were able to see some of the stunning rock formations and bodies of water that have been preserved for all to experience. Breathtaking is an understatement.

The next day was an exploration of two San Antonio sites that were brimming with life. First was the San Antonio Aquarium.  We were first given a tour of the facilities by two of the knowledgeable staff.  The aquarium does not only house water animals, but land animals as well. After the tour, the students were able to explore the space and interact with the animals.  Stingrays and tortoises were fed and petted; everyone got to touch a starfish; and colorful birds adorned the heads and shoulders of the students as fluffy, silky chickens ran amuck at our feet. A few students were able to enter the lemur cages and interact with them as the lemurs ate grapes.

After lunch, we headed over to the San Antonio Zoo. Students got a chance to see some great animals and exhibits. Some crowd favorites were feeding the giraffes and watching the hippos swim.

We spent the final day of the trip at Sea World. Mr. Holman turned into a young boy again, eyes wide with excitement about what the students were going to get to experience that day. We saw a hilarious sea lion show and a fascinating land animal show Pets Ahoy.  Students roamed the park and enjoyed some of the rides and attractions. We reconvened to watch two whale shows, “One Ocean” featuring Orca whales and a separate, Beluga whale show. These massive beauties are a joy to watch as they glide through the water and perform acrobatics. Mr. Holman and some students sat in the Splash Zone. You could see the joy on his face as he stood there, soaking wet, with a grin from ear to ear.

As the Theater/Film teacher at Lakehill, going on the Biology trip was an excellent experience for me to get to know the students a bit better, but what I really learned on this trip is that we have a gem in Mr. Holman as our Biology teacher. His passion for the subject and for teaching meld him into an amazing instructor that I wish I would have had in my high school days. We are so lucky that our school allows us to take our students on excursions such as this one, and I truly believe that is a large part of what makes being a Lakehill Warrior so special.

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Summer Camps

Create Your Perfect Summer with Lakehill Summer Camps

Summer Camps are in full swing at Lakehill Prep! I’ve been excited to see some of our new camp ideas find success already, and I’m looking forward to seeing more new ideas come to life later in the summer.

This was our first year offering Dungeons and Dragons camps! The classic role-playing game is more popular now than ever, and our first session was full to the brim with campers taking their imaginary fantasy characters on grand adventures. I suspect that this camp will be a popular one every summer. The June session was totally sold out, but the July session still has space available for kids who want to create fantasy characters of their own.
Our hands-on science camps are always a delight! Summer Science Spectacular for the younger crowd and Build It Big…With Newspaper for the older crowd saw kids discovering the properties of dry ice, building hot air balloons, and building towers that touched the ceiling! I want to be a kid again to join July’s Grossology camp to perform slimy, goopy chemistry experiments and The Incredible, Indestructible Egg physics camp to save fragile eggs from all manner of catapulting, dropping, and crushing. Messy fun is the best fun!
July will be busy! We will host our first leatherworking camps, our annual favorite Warrior Youth basketball and volleyball camps, and themed camps that will take kids on journeys from the jungles of the Amazon to space and beyond. Our Take the Stage camp will feature Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, a delightful parody of Harry Potter. There’s a camp to suit everyone’s interest.
Which camp would you want to attend if you were a kid again?
By John Trout
Director of Summer Programs, Lakehill Preparatory School
About Lakehill Summer Camps
Lakehill Summer Camps are unique in offering quality, teacher-led camps at an affordable price, with FREE before-camp and after-camp care available every day. Half-day, week-long camps are just $275 per week, while full-day, week-long camps are priced at just $375 per week. Mix and match from a variety of camps to create your perfect summer.
This summer, Lakehill is offering 90 different camps for all age levels, with new and exciting camps in every area imaginable. Find out for yourself why Lakehill Summer Camps were voted Best Summer Camp in Lakewood by the readers of Bubblelife Magazine.
Registration is continues throughout the summer.
Learning and Leading

Seeing Again with a New Purpose

By Julie Riggs
Lakehill Preparatory School, English Department Chair, K-7

I had so become discouraged with our tiny apartment that my husband agreed to visit some other rentals in the area. They were lovely and spacious, but moving would mean less privacy, higher rent and other expenses, and the enormous disruption of packing and unpacking.  Back at home, taking a newly appreciative look around, we discovered that rearranging a few pieces of furniture and tidying up clutter made our little home feel almost as spacious and charming as the others we had seen.

That’s a tangible example of revision, a skill I try to teach in English classes. To “see again” with a new purpose, to rearrange and tidy up cluttered writing, makes dysfunctional communication work. Even so, students are often reluctant to revise because writers are not only emotionally attached to our first drafts, we can become terribly stuck, believing we have no options.  But we do— all we have to do is take another look.

Building Relationships

The Courage to Learn

By Victoria John
Lakehill Preparatory School, Middle School Mathematics and Latin

Several years ago, I joined colleagues at a weekend educational retreat, hosted by the Fetzer Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It was most exciting for me, as our facilitator, Parker Palmer, noted educator and author of several books, including his seminal work, The Courage to Teach, was someone I had respected for years. He is one of those rare individuals, who instantly puts individuals at ease, while empowering them to trust their intuition. Parker Palmer gave voice to my own intuition with his words, “If students get to know each other as people first, it is easier to share ideas.”

As a child entering school in the 1950s, I was always uncomfortable, afraid of sharing ideas, in a classroom setting. During my undergraduate work at Indiana University, I was drawn to John Holt’s groundbreaking book, How Children Fail. Its premise was that fear in the classroom is the biggest deterrent to learning. Inspired by his thinking, I wrote a paper suggesting a model for reducing fear in the classroom. Children would get to know each other by meeting in small groups and sharing stories about themselves. They would gradually rotate groups until students felt safer with one another in the classroom setting. My professor encouraged me to use this model when I started teaching. I successfully launched this project at Indiana University Middle School, and observed happily that my students gradually became more confident to participate in class discussions without fear of ridicule or judgment.

The original model has morphed into telling my own childhood stories related to learning, followed by my students sharing their experiences. Despite the difference in our ages, at times we all feel uncomfortable about our ability to learn. We spend more time comparing ourselves to others than focusing on our own growth. We realize how we are alike, and in the process of that acceptance, learn to respect differences. Through annual student-written feedback, I discover that students feel at ease in my classroom. This comfort level translates into a sense of community, builds teamwork and results in mutual respect that contributes to learning without fear.

My most memorable story reveals that I failed the seventh grade math final exam. I was shocked and ashamed to see a huge red “F” marked at the top of my paper. I felt terrified, not because of what my parents would say, but because of my own doubt in my ability to think. How could I, an “A” math student, fail a math test? My parents trusted me to handle the situation. I made an appointment with the teacher to discuss my performance and requested extra summer math assignments to ensure I understood the material.

I value that experience and the resulting empowerment I felt from focusing on the solution and not the problem. That choice gave me the ability not only to acknowledge my students’ disappointments, but also to guide them through the process of understanding why it happened and taking steps to move forward. They learn that resilience builds courage.

I love teaching middle school and believe in empowering students. I encourage them to trust their intuition and live within their own integrity. I believe in the inherent good in each and am inspired to guide them through the middle school experience. Through stories, my students embody the value of what Parker Palmer noted as “getting to know each other as people first.” They share amazing, humorous, and valuable stories that have a profound effect on their peers, as well as on me. In the process, they are able to focus on learning the subject matter in Latin or math, rather than hiding silently behind a wall of fear. It is a gift to have taught at Lakehill Preparatory School for 19 years. I dedicate this blog to my current eighth grade students who have influenced my life through their willingness to grow by choosing the path of courage.