An Interview with Stefanie Rivera: Upper School Division Head

Who’s Who at Roycemore:
Stefanie Rivera

The career paths might seem unrelated: actor and English teacher. But these two vocations have merged twice in Stefanie Rivera’s career as an educator. She graduated from Wesleyan University with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and acted professionally for five years. She always had an interest in teaching and ultimately quit the casting calls and auditions to study English and speech and drama at graduate school at National Louis University. She graduated in 2002 with a Master of Arts in Teaching. After graduation, she taught at Sullivan High School in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. During her eight years teaching there, she taught English and drama and created their drama program. Then she got the call to interview at Roycemore. Now, Stephanie is a teacher at Roycemore, an administrator, and also a school parent. Her son attends the 3rd grade and her daughter is in the 6th grade. She lives in Wilmette with her husband, kids, and Shih Tzu, Lucy. We sat down to talk to her about her first day at Roycemore and her life as a teacher and the Upper School Division Head.

What is your first memory of Roycemore?

I remember walking into the building and the minute I walked in, I knew it just felt right. I was a Griffin the second I walked in the door. I don’t know why; I was just thinking ‘clearly this is the place I need to be.’ I was so, so thrilled when I got the job. At Roycemore it just feels like family and I can just be who I am and be anything, which is awesome.

Why do you like to teach at Roycemore?

It is fun for me! I have fun at my job every day. The students are smart and fun and cool to be around, and they are so interesting. Our Griffins are just amazing! I also like to solve problems. It is gratifying for me to find solutions to problems. This is part of my role as an administrator that is enjoyable. Every school has the sudden things that come up day-to-day that require attention, and I like this part of the job.

What do you see is a grand challenge in education?

One grand problem is content versus skills. High schools are content focused and teach skills like reading and writing. More and more often, colleges, companies, and the job market are looking for skills. They are less interested in how much one knows about “XYZ” but rather, can you work collaboratively? How creative are you? Are you persistent? 

Figuring out how to balance our curriculum with skills and content is a big issue for me. For example, you can look at this content versus skills challenge through the Advanced Placement (AP) lens. For something like AP US History, I see the value in taking a challenging course, persisting, failing, getting up, and trying again. It is important that students challenge themselves with things that don’t come easily at first. Memorizing facts and dates does not have much value.

At Roycemore, Upper School students can challenge themselves with NU Option. It is a dual enrollment program where Roycemore students can take a class at Northwestern University for credit. You are the Upper School Division Head, what are you looking for in a student who wants to take classes at Northwestern University?

We review quite a few things. First, they should have completed all the Roycemore courses offered in the subject area. We look at teacher recommendations and we discuss the student’s plan with the Roycemore faculty and the student’s advisor. We want to see that the student is academically ready and responsible. They will have to manage their own time and communication with a Northwestern University professor. 

Basically, students must demonstrate that they are prepared emotionally, socially, and academically. Every once in a while, we have to decline a student that is not ready yet because at Northwestern University, Roycemore students are treated like every other college student. They don’t get any extra help or coaching from the professor just because they are Roycemore students.  If they didn’t qualify yet but are eager to participate in NU Option, Roycemore students can come talk to us about making plans for applying next term or next school year.

What have your students told you about the program?

They almost always come back and say it was really hard! But I know our students like the challenge. The students are proud of themselves, and they should be. They are nervous at first, start their NU Option class, get comfortable, and then they are fine. It just takes them some time and experience.

What are your thoughts on the future of Roycemore? 

I hope that Northwestern University increases the number of courses our students are allowed to take. This option is unique. We are the only private school that offers this. And the students’ parents are thrilled!