Saint Stephen’s builds on impressive missionBRADENTON HERALD EDITORIAL | Middle school opening is yet another milestone

Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School achieved another landmark goal this week with the opening of Sunlight Middle School. Now all of the college preparatory school’s 664 students from prekindergarten to 12th grade will attend classes in Saint Stephen’s buildings. Since the school’s founding in 1970, middle school students learned their lessons at Christ Episcopal Church next door.

Our congratulations to the Saint Stephen’s community. Headmaster Jan Pullen and her staff are rightly thrilled. And the students are, too.

The achievement is laudatory on several levels. First, though. let us catalog some of the reasons Saint Stephen’s is a special place.

The mission statement outlines several: “Instill in each student a love of learning, an active respect for all members of the school community, and a fundamental sense of integrity. Provide a nurturing environment which values independence and self-worth, physical health, spiritual awareness, and responsible global citizenship.”

To that final goal, foreign students hail from some 20 countries. Saint Stephen’s international outreach extends to relationships with schools in Tanzania and China. The school also supports a diverse student population, both in ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds.

The emphasis is clearly on placing graduates into colleges and universities, and Saint Stephen’s boasts a 100 percent mark on that point. Rigorous academics — with 19 Advanced Placement and 15 honors classes — account for that success. While the average class size is 16, AP classes are even smaller. Student SAT scores are regularly higher than local, state and national averages, and most graduates earn merit scholarships. The school’s college counselors support admission efforts with a broad range of help.

Other strong points: The school’s honor code emphasizes both personal and academic integrity. While Episcopal in foundation, the school welcomes families of all faiths.

Enrollment does not come cheaply, as tuition and fees start at $11,000. But Saint Stephen’s does offer financial aid based on need.

As a green building with automatic lights, low-flow faucets and other features, the middle school sets an example to youth about environmental stewardship and will serve as an interactive teaching tool and part of a specific curriculum about personal responsibility for the environment.

The building also houses a remarkable collection of historic documents, authenticated letters from the nation’s Founding Fathers. The Wayne C. Rickert Wall of History, named in honor of the generous donor, promises to leave a lasting impression on all who have the opportunity to read those great moments from centuries ago.

Perhaps most impressive is the financial support Saint Stephen’s inspires — even in a recession. Since embarking on a capital campaign to pay for Sunlight Middle School two years ago, Saint Stephen’s raised close to the entire $6 million cost of the structure, built by Willis Smith Construction. This follows construction of three other buildings from 2000 to 2003. All those improvements lend the neighborhood a vibrant atmosphere. Additional upgrades are coming to the 35-acre campus, too.

Saint Stephen’s enriches our community and broadens Bradenton’s reach across the globe. Again, our congratulations on reaching another milestone.