Independent Spirit: Sara Stern

Winter 2022

_01A5659.jpgSara Stern
Director of Admission and Summer Program
Stanley British Primary School
Denver, Colorado

Photo by Ryan Cason
I grew up in Midwestern public schools and never considered a career at an independent school. At 22 years old, I was accepted to the Stanley British Primary School intern program. Walking through the doors for the first time, I discovered a place where children were engaged and excited about school and learning. Comparing this with my own schooling experiences, I quickly realized school could be a joyful place where children could thrive academically, socially, and creatively.
For my first 10 years at Stanley, I taught middle school science. One year, expanding on a concept from class, a group of students became interested in water-quality issues. I worked with them to design a science fair project, which ultimately led them to create a nonprofit that tested water-quality issues and the right to clean, safe water. We collaborated with Denver-area organizations to bring safe drinking water to a town in Zambia. This type of student-led, teacher-supported work helped me redefine what it meant to me to be an educator. It became more important that the work we were doing with our students was part of a greater commitment to our community and the world around us.
I loved the energy of the classroom, but after a decade of teaching, I started to feel a need for personal and professional growth. That’s when I took on the role of summer camp director and, five years later, director of admission. Through this work, I’ve been able to share Stanley with our greater community and have fostered ways to connect our values as an independent school and my own personal values to find a true public purpose.
One way to do this was through our summer camp program, by making it more accessible to all our students as well as to the greater community. In 2016, I started to build relationships with other nonprofits in the community and began planning Stanley Scholars, a program for low-income students to join us on campus for camp. I’d drive to local elementary schools and share information about the two-week camp, which included a STEAM-based curriculum, meals, swim lessons, and before- and after-care for $25. It sounded too good to be true. It was a slow start, but the community cautiously welcomed me.
Seven years later, I’m fulfilling my need for personal and professional growth, and I’ve seen the children we serve and our community grow in many ways, too. Stanley students and teachers have gained nuanced understandings of what it means to be culturally competent and to respect and collaborate across cultural and economic lines. Three Stanley Scholar students are now full-time students at Stanley. 
When I first started at Stanley, the school’s commitment to diversity, accessibility, and public purpose resonated with my own values. Living these values every day and fostering those values with my students has encouraged my own growth. The privilege that I have as an educator, and the privilege that all members of our school have, is something that we must use to better our greater community.  

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