Thursday, October 4, 2012

Former Stratford High Students Conquer Broadway

As the lights dimmed on the inspiring musical Evita, Stratford High School Choir Director Peter Steinmetz watched three of his former students perform on stage and in the pit. Their dreams of dancing, acting and playing music in a major Broadway production came true.

Steinmetz and his wife recently traveled to New York City to see the Broadway revival during a weekday matinee. The famous musical Evita tells the story of Eva Peѓon, a much loved actress and wife to former Argentina President Juan Peѓon. Eva Peѓon captured the hearts of Argentina and others all over the world during the mid 1900s.

Cece Prudhomme, theater director at Stratford, had told Steinmetz in February that three former students would soon perform in Evita on Broadway together. Thrilled, Steinmetz planned a trip to New York with his wife and contacted all three alumnus to inform them of his visit. They all decided to meet backstage after the performance and go to lunch together.

The students performing included Erica Mansfield, Class of 1997; Andy Einhorn, Class of 2000; and Emily Mechler, Class of 2007.

Mansfield and Mechler are both in the ensemble; Mechler is the understudy to “The Mistress,” a character in the cast, while Einhorn is rehearsal accompanist and plays piano in the pit.

In high school, Mansfield was a thespian, Spartanaire officer, choir soloist and lead in Stratford’s production of The Who’s Tommy. Steinmetz recalls her impeccable dancing talent and her aid in teaching dances to her student peers in the Stratford Playhouse.

While living in New York, Mansfield has performed with The Rockettes and in other Broadway shows, including How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Mama Mia. Einhorn was active in theater throughout high school. He was elected choir president his junior year.

An accompanist and piano soloist, he was the lead in Stratford productions of Brigadoon, Side Show, A Chorus Line, as well as the musical director of Anything Goes. A class valedictorian, Einhorn gave his graduation commencement speech.

He went on to earn a degree in music from Rice University’s Honors Program. Einhorn recently was the conductor of the Broadway run of Soundheim on Soundheim, too. Mechler, youngest of the three, was a thespian, choir soloist and lead in Stratford’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie.

She graduated a year ago from the University of Oklahoma majoring in musical theater. After the show, Steinmetz and his wife headed backstage where he recalls beaming with pride. Steinmetz notes that these students were extremely talented when they arrived at Stratford.

As their instructor, he did his best to showcase their talents and to encourage them to follow their dreams. “Theater Arts is an extremely competitive field, requiring perseverance, study, discipline and, of course, talent. I feel especially blessed to work at Stratford where every year new talent comes our way.

It is hard to express the excitement I felt seeing the fruition of these kids’ dreams,” he said. Communications Dept. Intern Kali Venable compiled this news report.

Spring Woods High debate students win national rankings

Two students with the Spring Woods High School Speech and Debate Team placed nationally at a recent competition.

Both are considered among the nation’s top debaters. Recognized at the National Forensic League’s National Debate and Speech tournament held in Indianapolis, Ind., were students Christian Rice and Cade Bundrick. Rice advanced to semi-finals competition in Congressional Debate and was later ranked one of the top 30 competitors in the nation.

Now a junior, Rice plans to continue competing in Debate this year and next. Bundrick, a May graduate, also advanced to quarter-finals in Dramatic Interpretation during the summer tourney. He was ranked among the top 25 competitors nationally.

He began attending the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, earlier this fall. In order to compete at the national tournament each year, students from around the Houston area compete to represent local National Forensic Districts. Both Rice and Bundrick earned first place in the Space City National Forensic League District competition, held in April 2012.

The Spring Woods High School Speech and Debate Team is led by forensics director Victoria Beard, who also teaches communications.

First Saturdays Program begins new season at art museum


The Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum opens its First Saturdays program for area residents of all ages with “Art Around the World.” First stop is mysterious Egypt. Programs scheduled 10 a.m. until noon on Saturday, Oct. 6. This free family event will include two separate art projects.

In one, masks similar to those that are found at King Tuts Tomb will be made. In the second demonstration, art vessels similar to the Canopic Jars used in the Egyptian mummification process will be fashioned. Upcoming First Saturdays program will “travel” to Asia and Russia.

The museum is located at 901 Yorkchester, on the north side of Westchester Academy for International Studies’ campus. For details and questions, call 713-251-1990.

Please consider joining the Altharetta Yeargin Art Museum. Support for this nonprofit center is needed to continue serving the students of Spring Branch ISD and surrounding communities.

In SBISD, the museum offers art programs to all students as well as programs like First Saturdays to community patrons of all ages. To learn more, please visit the AYAM website.

Are you ready to be EMPOWERED?

Childhood obesity facts for the United States are sobering: Childhood obesity is on the rise.

According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 12% of US children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. This obesity is not just a case of baby fat; the effects are long term. Overweight children have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

How can we reverse this trend?  What can parents and role models do to help our children live  healthy lifestyles that promote well being and fitness? 

Change starts by being informed, engaged and EMPOWERED.  Working together we can combat childhood obesity and diabetes. SBISD invites you to join us for a very special night dedicated to this topic - SBISD's Night of Empowerment Event.

The event, on Oct. 16 at Northbrook High School, will focus on childhood diabetes and obesity. Staff, students, parents and community members are encouraged to attend.

Register for SBISD's Night of Empowerment Event today.  For more information or to register online, click here.

A Look Inside the New Valley Oaks

Get a sneak peek at the new Valley Oaks Elementary School!

At this month's Board of Trustees meeting, SBISD board members granted approval of the schematic design and development plans for the new Valley Oaks, and approved the assignment of SHW Group Architects for the Rummel Creek Elementary School rebuilding program.

The new Valley Oaks is part of the 2007 Bond Program. To date, the 2007 Bond Program has rebuilt numerous older elementary schools; upgraded vital facilities systems; funded the purchase of new buses; and improved safety, security and technology district-wide. Funds have also paid for 1,200 ACTIVBoard Classrooms, hundreds of computers, notebooks, iPads and iPod Touches and a new, district wireless network and digital phone system.  Thank you to our community for their support of the 2007 Bond Program, and their continued dedication to the students of Spring Branch.

For more information on the 2007 Bond Program, visit the SBISD Bond website.  Or, to read complete highlights from this month's meeting in Board Briefs, click here.

Rummel Creek Elementary celebrates its first 50 years

Utopia. For the first principal at Rummel Creek Elementary School, that’s the word that best describes her long career posting at this historically named, 650-student campus.

This school year marks the 50th anniversary at Rummel Creek. A special public celebration is planned early next year, but staff and students are already gathering stories and memories via video, email, Facebook and even blog postings. (See details below.)

Librarian Karen Harrell and co-writer Dorothy Thompson plan to use a recently won $750 J. Landon Short Mini-Grant to pay for a student research, writing, editing and production project that will result in a book, website, short documentary, or multimedia combination about the school.

Retired Principal Shirley Lincoln (Shirley Hale) won’t ever forget opening Rummel Creek. “I can remember Labor Day 1962 like it was just yesterday.

It was every hand on deck at the school, and that included me,” she says. In the midst of preparations, her husband was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Shirley stayed at her station at the new school.

“It’s been my life,” she says, looking back. She retired in 2000 after 38 years as school principal. Rummel Creek Elementary opened near its enrollment capacity as the early 1960s marked a boom period for residential development. The school is named for Wilhelm Rummel and his family, German immigrants who joined others in the 1840s to found Spring Branch on a quiet branch of the Buffalo Bayou.

In 1854, the Rummels helped raise the area’s first log cabin church near Longpoint and Campbell roads. During her remarkable career, Shirley Lincoln achieved professional renown. In 1972, she was named president of the Texas Elementary School Principals Association. She was president, too, of the seven-state regional association before being named to lead the National Association of Elementary Principals. Rummel Creek’s own history is as storied.

The elementary school was one of the first campuses in SBISD to earn an Outstanding School ranking from the U.S. Dept. of Education. That honor was later renamed the Blue Ribbon School recognition, the highest possible national award for a public school. In 1986, U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett called schools like Rummel Creek “as diverse as America itself, but they share a common attribute – they’re all good schools!”

The school has been consistently rated Exemplary by the Texas Education Agency following TAKS assessments.

One of Principal Lincoln’s favorite memories is Rummel Creek University, a three-week long, student-based research and learning adventure that combined then-new desktop computers with corporate funding. Rummel Creek U won a $750,000 grant from RJR Nabisco for the project in the early 1990s, and the school was also featured in Parenting magazine under the headline “Six Schools That Got It Right.”

“We lived in a utopia here,” Shirley Lincoln says. “We had wonderful parents and wonderful children.” Rummel Creek’s other principals – Mary McMillan, Bill Burger and current Principal Nancy Harn – report that those good things never change. They all speak brightly of their principal postings.

“The faculty and community are just incredible. We all pulled together when 9/11 occurred, and then again when there was construction with the library and the new wings,” says former Principal McMillan. She recently served as leader at Marymount International School-Paris, a private, Roman Catholic school and the oldest international school in the fashionable European capital.

McMillan and former Principal Burger noted that the school’s practice of having its students read beginning books or their first written work aloud to the principal was one of their best memories.

“We always celebrated when students learned to read their first book,” she added. “It comes down to the wonderful kids there,” says Burger, echoing Principal Lincoln. He now serves as assistant principal at Cornerstone Academy.

“Rummel Creek Elementary has a highly professional staff, involved and supportive parents, and energetic children who are engaged in learning,” Principal Nancy Harn says. She has led the school for seven years now.

Design plans will begin soon as Rummel Creek’s community and architects review rebuilding options.

A new elementary school will be built at Rummel Creek. The new school will be the 13th new campus to be built under the 2007 Bond Plan. This additional school project is possible due to cost savings and low interest rates resulting from prior bond program construction work.

Rummel Creek Elementary School Principals Shirley Lincoln (Hale) 1962-2000 Mary McMillan 2000-2002 Bill Burger 2002-2004 Nancy Harn 2005-2012 50th Anniversary Celebration – Save the Date! March 7, 2013 2-4:30 p.m. Rummel Creek Elementary 625 Brittmoore Share your Rummel Creek memories! The school and students are seeking information about alumni, including where they went to college and what they are doing now.

The school is accepting photographs, videos, old T-shirts and other memorabilia for a planned “museum’ project. Items may be copied and returned. For details on the “Living and Leaving a Legacy” project, please contact Librarian Karen Harrell or Dorothy Thompson at 713-251-6727.

Ways to share your stories and memories:
  • By snail mail – Rummel Creek Elementary Library, 625 Brittmoore, Houston, TX 77079
  • By email –
  • Facebook – Search for Rummel Creek Elementary
  • 50th Blog – Please comment at

Senior Mentor Matches Students with Their Top College Choices

Four years ago, Collegiate Challenge mentor John Grubbs helped Northbrook High senior Yvonne Madrid win a full scholarship to Kettering University in Flint, Mich..

The college is known for its cooperative engineering program where students combine lecture halls and on-the-job plant training. In May, Yvonne graduated from Kettering with a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering.

Today, she is employed at Caterpillar in Joliet, Ill., as a manufacturing engineer. “She’s just like a daughter. I have two daughters, and Yvonne was just like having another daughter.

I enjoy working with all the young people that I have worked with, and I am as proud of them as I am of my own children,” John says. Today, Yvonne considers her mentor’s “belief in my success” and encouragement as vital to her post-high school choices.

“It was Mr. Grubb’s advice and guidance that helped me make a major decision in my life that I do not regret,” she says. For John Grubbs, Yvonne’s story is one of many. The retired engineer and dedicated Chapelwood United Methodist Church volunteer has helped more than 15 Northbrook High seniors make great matches with colleges and universities near and far.

Across SBISD high schools, Collegiate Challenge programs last year alone helped 107 seniors access more than $2.9 million in available college and university scholarships.

Some of the college-going dreams that John has made come true have included these young people: Aleyda Castillo, industrial engineering at the University of Houston (UH); Ambar Balderas, chemistry at the U.S. Naval Academy; Ariseli Ramirez, full scholarship in computer science at Texas A&M University; Duc Nguyen, business at Texas A&M University; Diamond Barbosa, forensic science, also at Texas A&M; Diana Roman, nursing at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi; Elissa Castillo, pre-medicine and fashion design, UH; Janelle Joseph, pre-dentistry at Texas A&M; Kai Muhammad, pre-med at Texas State University; Grace Aranda, pre-law at the University of Houston Honors College; Diana Rivera, University of St. Thomas; Rosa Robles, chemical engineering, also at UH. Griselda Vazquez, who graduated in May from Texas A&M University, plans to earn a doctorate in history.

“I don’t believe Mr. Grubbs has any idea how many students’ futures he has shaped either directly or indirectly. He mentors because he truly enjoys helping others. I know for a fact that it is a characteristic that I picked up from him,” she says. “John Grubbs believes in the future,” says Chris Archer, an associate director at Chapelwood United Methodist.

“He breathes out both hope and motivation with his every word. When John mentors a student he sees in them their great potential. John unlocks that potential and helps turn it into success.”

An Ohio native, John Grubbs was the first generation in his family to attend college. He earned a civil engineering degree through a cooperative program like the one at Kettering from the University of Cincinnati. After arriving some years later in Houston, John settled in 1975 with his wife and three children in Nottingham Forest.

In Houston, he completed a master’s of business administration degree at the University of Houston. Before retiring 13 years ago as an assistant director of public works & engineering with the City of Houston, he worked with the A.B. Chance division of Emerson Electric and Dresser Industries. In retirement, he has been active in a variety of roles with the Spring Branch Family Development Center, Chapelwood United Methodist, and in flood relief after Tropical Storm Allison, to name a few projects.

Active in his church choir, he became a Collegiate Challenge mentor a decade ago. He’s not sure exactly where his flame for community service ignited, but says that a social fraternity in college, his father’s involvement in civic affairs, and his own Scouting experiences may have all played key roles. Many students he has mentored remind him of his own college-going experience:

“I can’t recall to this day how I got into college. My parents had never been to college. I had never been a mentor before, but I really like working with young people.”

To learn how you can mentor or volunteer in SBISD, please call the SBISD Community Relations Department at 713-251- 2286.

German-American Partnership Program helps students gain cultural insights

Fourteen German students are expected to arrive in Houston on Monday, Oct. 8, as part of an exchange between two Spring Branch ISD high schools and Gymnasium Ganderkesee, a high school located near Bremen, a major city in northwestern Germany.

In June, a group of Stratford High and Westchester Academy for International students toured Germany for four weeks. That student exchange was led by Westchester Academy teacher and program coordinator Juergen Carl Mueller. He is a host teacher for the 14 German students.

Exchange students are provided invaluable learning experiences by attending foreign schools, living with foreign families, and visiting foreign sites. While in Germany this summer, Stratford High and Westchester Academy students spent two days in Cologne (Köln) and then took a train to Ganderkesee near Bremen where they met their new German host families.

The Spring Branch students spent three weeks attending school at Gymnasium Ganderkesee.  When not in school, the students took field trips that included visits to Hamburg, another major city, and the German Emigration Center in Bremerhaven. The students also visited the German capital, Berlin.
Stratford High students who traveled to Germany this summer were Emily Crawford and John Hopes. Westchester Academy students who toured this summer were Theodore Bauer, Mitchell Barry, Genesis Frazar, John Dakota Kelly, Autumn Riehle, Victoria Sarnoff, Alexey Schmidt, and Ryan Wong. Also traveling with the group was Hannah Shutka of Baytown’s Robert E. Lee High School.

The Spring Branch students returned to Houston on July 1. Having experienced German culture, they now have the opportunity to help their German student counterparts to experience and learn more about culture in Houston, in Texas and in the United States.

The German students will be welcomed with a Tuesday morning reception in Mr. Mueller’s class at Westchester Academy. The exchange students will attend classes at Westchester Academy or Stratford High. They will live with area host families.

Group field trips are planned to the Space Center Houston, San Jacinto Battleground, the KUHF studios, the African-American Library at Gregory School, and Rice University. The students will also attend a matinee of “Death of a Salesman” at the Alley Theater, as well as a Ballet Folklórico de Mexico performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre.

Communications Dept. Intern Kali Venable helped compile this report.

SBISD high schools announce 21 National Merit Scholar Semifinalists

Twenty-one seniors from four separate Spring Branch ISD high schools have been named as semifinalists in the annual National Merit Scholarship program.

In addition, 10 other district seniors have won National Hispanic Scholar honors, and two seniors have been awarded the National Achievement Scholarship Award. These students will be recognized by the SBISD Board of Trustees during its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 22.

Based on their performance on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSATNMSQT) that is administered during the junior year, students may qualify for more than 8,300 National Merit Scholarships valued at more than $32 million.

About 1.5 million students took the assessment. This year’s Semifinalists – about 16,000 students nationwide – reflect the highest scoring test takers across Texas and other states. Final winners of the 2013 National Merit Scholarship will be announced next spring.

To qualify for these business and corporate scholarships, semifinalists must have an outstanding academic high school record, write an essay, be endorsed and recommended by high school officials, and earn qualifying high SAT scores. National Achievement Scholarships are issued in recognition of outstanding African-American student performance on the PSAT.

The National Hispanic Scholar Award recognizes scholastic excellence by students of Hispanic or Latino ancestry on the preliminary PSAT.

High school seniors honored this year in SBISD include:

National Merit Scholar Semifinalists
  • Memorial High School – Emily R. Ackerman, Joy Y. Ahn, Maryam Amjadi, Casie Chen, Timothy M. Davis, Austin C. Espey, Marie C. Evans, Yezhou Feng, Andrew M. Frewer, Sang H. Ji, Dmitriy S. Khripkov, Min Woo Kim, Mary E. Schatzman, Paul W. Snow, Katherine F. Ustick, Tzu-Ming Yeh.
  • Spring Woods High School – Parker J. Blome Stratford High School – Matthew J. Lastrapes, Elaine Lui, Harrison L. Vaporciyan.
  • Westchester Academy for International Studies – Zachary D. Rejwan

National Achievement Scholar

  • Memorial High School – Jessica Watts
  • Westchester Academy – Destiny Lewis

National Hispanic Scholar

  • Memorial High School – Emma Bravo, Benjamin Kroger, Katherine Parada, Karina Soto, and one additional student*
  • Stratford High School – Stephen Martinez, Alexandra Napuri and Caroline Suchman
  • Westchester Academy for International Studies – Dorian Granizo, David Kassir

* One student not named here by request.

SBISD Communications Dept Intern Kali Venable helped compile this report.

Veterans Day Observance Set at Spring Forest Middle School

Military veterans who are residents of Spring Branch are cordially invited to be our special guests during a patriotic assembly in the Spring Forest Middle School gymnasium on Monday, Nov. 12. The school assembly will begin at 9 a.m. with a breakfast hosted by students for veterans and their families beginning at 8 a.m. that morning.

The annual Veterans Day observance at Spring Forest Middle School honors hundreds and is one of the biggest such events held in Houston.

 Guest speaker this year is former Marine Capt. Daniel Priest, who led a combat platoon in Iraq for two years, 2006-2007. Raised in the Houston area, Priest was an honor student at Clear Lake High School. Active in the Corps of Cadets, he graduated from Texas A&M University with a business management degree. Priest earned a Marine Corps Scholarship and was commissioned in December 2003. A San Antonio resident, he works today in the medical device sales industry.

Spring Forest Middle School is located at 14240 Memorial Drive. To RSVP or for more details, please contact Spring Forest Middle’s Jana Gwinn at or call 713-251-4618.

Bus Drivers Needed

Spring Branch ISD is now hiring school bus drivers immediately. The SBISD Transportation Dept. is seeking adults with patience, compassion, a sense of humor and above all a genuine concern for the welfare of SBISD students. SBISD bus drivers earn salaries ranging from $12.75 to $14.00 per an hour. In addition to an hourly paycheck, school bus drivers receive full-time employee benefits and are eligible for Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas benefits.

During employment, drivers will attend training to obtain their CDL license. In Spring Branch, bus drivers work 5 to 8 hours a day and drivers do not have to work on days that children are not in school. As a result, bus drivers have summer, spring and winter break periods off to spend with family and friends. If interested in the position please visit the SBISD Administrative Dept. at 955 Campbell Road, Houston, TX 77024.

For details, please call the SBISD Transportation Dept. at 713-251-1060.