Once a week, All-School Assembly launches with the Teacher On Active Duty (TOAD) sharing something of interest—a reflection, a story or song, a demonstration of some sort, or a simple poem. In this way, the community gets to know one of our own a little better. This week, Stephanie Thomas was the TOAD. Ms. Thomas is the director of academic support, an advisor to freshman girls, and coaches the JV girls’ basketball team. Her TOADTalk is featured below.
I’m Ms. Thomas and I am a little nervous. I keep thinking of that sign up above camp supply that says: Hope For The Best; Prepare For The Worst.
So as a new faculty member, I thought it might be important to share a little bit more about me—about who I am and what I do at Thacher.
I am the director of academic support; I help people with study skills, executive functioning issues, and accommodations, offering strategies and a variety of approaches to learning. Sometimes I feel like I am a bit of a go-between, helping students understand what the teacher may need and helping teachers understand what students may need. But ultimately, I hope to guide students toward being true learners—embracing both the excitement and the power of learning and knowledge.
When students come to my office, sometimes they want to talk about academics, and sometimes they don’t. For example, maybe someone will want to talk with me about a recent assessment. They want to share with me the excitement of getting an A they really worked hard for—or the disappointment of getting a D and having to work through that—or maybe someone will want to talk about procrastination, or a group project, or what makes a good thesis statement.
But sometimes people will want to talk about what’s going on at home, or about a relationship. Or about coming out. Or a new crush, or pain, or stress, or maybe they come to talk to me about something they said or did that they regret. As far as I’m concerned, all of it is important, and all of it interconnects with academics—certainly with learning—in one way or the other.
So come by the library or make an appointment; and if it’s any incentive, I almost always have a jar full of candy on my desk.
Another role I have at Thacher is as a dorm advisor in Casa. I have the great privilege of welcoming freshmen girls to Thacher, and I want to give a special shout out to my advisees, who not only make for a great advisee group, but they also share a strong, yet odd, penchant for wanting to eat at fast food places for our advisee dinners. Popeye’s chicken sandwich? I gotchu!
Transitioning to a boarding school from middle school can be tough, I know. New space, new teachers, new friends. But when I go to the dorm at night, I see some great things—students working together during Study Hall, or laughing and dancing, or sharing some food.
But I do have to wonder: What is up with this TikTok nonsense? It’s a totally ridiculous thing and totally fun. And I love you, Casa.
Another role for me at Thacher is being a co-advisor to Spectrum, Thachers LGBTQ club. This club is important to me because I remember feeling quite alone when I came out. I was 18-years old and at a Christian university. And, to make a very long story short, coming out was a very painful process. For a long time I felt like an outsider, living a double life while trying to figure out who I was. And I’m happy to say that I made it through the fire, and here I am, and all is well.
So if you are the Q for questioning in the LGBTQ spectrum, or you are just coming out, know that you are not alone and there are many people here at the school who will support you and your journey wherever it may lead.
And finally, as some of you know, I am the JV girls’ basketball coach, which is a little bit funny because I don’t play basketball. I mean, I played basketball for a short time twenty-some years ago when I met my wife, Ms. Henderson. But it wasn’t like I knew what the positions were or how to shoot a ball!
Anyway, our JV roster is 10 people. Four of them have played basketball before, but only one of those people can play with us regularly. So, we, in essence, have a really new basketball team. Our first practice was learning how to dribble.
But thankfully, we have had the help of Ms. Honorato, and we have also had the great fortune of guest coaches like Ms. Henderson, Dechen ’21, Vicki ’21, Ali ’23, Nia ’23, and the owner of the Peak Power Yoga studio in Ojai, whom we affectionately call hot yoga Ellen. So it takes a village indeed!
Last week we had a home game against a team that Mr. Popa termed “a basketball school.” Our team went into this game, as we do every game, knowing that it is unlikely that we will win—and so we make individual goals. We had two team goals: one, to score in every period, and two, to get 12 points. That’s total points. Our team cheer in the huddle before the game was literally, “12!” These goals were reach goals, by the way, as our team had never done either one of them.
By the time the third quarter came around, our opponents had five times as many points as we had, but we were half-way to our team goal: six points!
There was a large crowd of Toads hyping up our team in the bleachers, cheering for us—dribble dribble dribble—and then! the ball went to Journey ’23. Journey is a beginner basketball player in the true sense of the word, but she is tough and scrappy. And she definitely has a growth mindset! She doesn’t give up! And, Journey gets the ball and she quickly chucks it towards the basket.
And guess what? The ball goes in! It was amazing!!
This moment nearly brought Journey to her knees in disbelief, but it brought the crowd to its feet. People were hugging each other and screaming and it was such a great moment to be part of a community that lifts its members up with good spirit and good will.
But the story gets better. As the other team is now beating us by a trillion points, our Toads don’t give up. We have 11 points now, just one short of our goal of 12.
There are 12 seconds left in the game and Eve takes it up court. She passes it to Chrissy who then nails a three-pointer. It brings us to 14 points! The clock runs out and we are psyched that we’ve made our goals—and a group of fans in the bleachers come rushing down to join us on the court, jumping up and down, and giving us a lot of Toad love.
Our team is happy, the crowd is happy, and the other team wonders what the heck is going on because they just creamed us in a game. It was a perfect, true Thacher moment of what is really important: a good community. Sure, we lost the game, but success means different things to different people. We ran our own race and as far as we were concerned, we won. And there is nothing more powerful than to be a part of something, a part of a community that supports one another, is kind to one another, who celebrates our victories and supports us in our defeats.
It reminds me of how lucky we are to live here in this valley and at this School. The sunset during formal dinner. Tacos and tator tots and mud pie. That we value honor, fairness, kindness, and truth. That we have faculty that are willing to meet with their students in the evening or on the weekends. That we live in a community that cares and shows up even when we are down.
Sometimes I think that we as humans take too much time comparing ourselves to others or thinking that the grass is much greener somewhere else, but maybe we should focus instead on ways where we could make our own grass greener and help others grow. A great example of this is the Upper School boys dorm when they took the very generous step of mucking stalls for the freshmen and writing incredibly kind notes to faculty members.
These are the moments that count in life, much more than that moment you might not do well on a test.
So let’s find our joys and make more moments to be good to one another, to be a positive force, and to make a positive impact in this community.
I’m grateful to be here. Thank you for having me, and Go Toads!