Teachers Tell the Truth about High School: Dr. Biebs Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane

“Smug,” said PA Upper School Literature and Latin teacher Dr. Jeff Olsen Biebighauser when asked what word comes to mind when he thinks of high school.

For anyone who has encountered Biebighauser, this may come as a surprise. One would not suspect this passionate and devoted teacher to have previously portrayed a “too cool for everything” attitude.

Dr. Jeff Olsen Biebighauser proudly smiles in his high school graduation photo in 2001.

Biebighauser, more commonly known to students as Biebs, felt somewhat insecure as a high schooler. As a result of transferring halfway through high school, Biebs’ life was abruptly transformed. This interruption of his high school career and uprooting of friendships caused him to feel misunderstood. 

However, in the midst of this tumult, Biebs’ teachers were able to make a positive impact on his life. 

“I saw the value of my smart and funny teachers who reached into the awkwardness of my adolescence to connect with me,” Biebs warmly reflected.

By the time graduation arrived, Biebs knew he wanted to be a teacher. The teachers with whom he connected gave him an indication of who he wanted to be as a teacher. Even teachers whom he found unappealing impacted him positively because he was determined to be better than them.

Although the insecure undertone of his high school career was difficult to overcome at the time, it offers Biebs the opportunity to relate to students in ways that many teachers cannot. This “insider information” gives him a unique view into the lives of students. 

“My own high school experience makes me try to look out for kids whose talents haven’t been discovered yet,” Biebs wholeheartedly expressed .

Dr. Biebighauser sits contemplatively in his teenage home in St. Louis, MO, circa 2000. Although he does not recall the context of the picture, he is confident that he was “most likely thinking about a ska band.”

As the only PA instructor teaching all 9th grade students, Biebs is in an ideal position to guide teenagers on the path to who they want to become. 

For example, “knowing yourself” is a fundamental theme the insightful literature teacher emphasizes to 9th graders. He pushes students to think critically about themselves in relation to the works they are reading. 

Val Fish ‘21 recalled a conversation with Biebs in which he commented that he tries to emulate Abby Cadabby, a popular “Sesame Street” character. 

“‘I don’t actually think I sprinkle magic through the air and make other people magical by recognizing the magic that’s already in them,’”  Fish recalled Biebs candidly admitting. “‘But,’ he went on, ‘I find Abby inspirational in precisely those ways.’” 

Although Biebs cannot shower PA’s yellow halls with magic in a literal sense, he does something even more remarkable. Similar to Abby Cadabby, he has the exceptional ability to empower students by helping them recognize the talents they already possess.

Biebs recalled a powerful moment in his career in which, through tears, a student’s mother thanked him for connecting with her son. She expressed that Biebs had transformed her son’s perspective of high school from one of disorientation and exclusion to one of accomplishment and self-confidence.

Mrs. Amelia Hejna, Biebs’ friend and colleague in the literature department of 5 years echoed this sentiment, “He embraces teaching as his vocation, not simply his job. He sees teaching as mentoring and wants to walk with students on their personal journeys.

The dented water bottle Biebs’ carries daily exemplifies key aspects of his teaching style and outlook on life: we’re all a little bruised, but that doesn’t mean we should be discarded. The dents simply show that we’re broken in, which is beautiful.

A Night Under the Stars: PA’s 2021 Gala

Parents and alumni alike look forward to the PA Gala as a fun night out with friends to support a good cause: the education and formation of current and future PA students. Many extraordinary precautions and long days of extra planning led to a beautiful night held on PA’s campus Saturday, May 1. In a year where the word “unprecedented” has largely referred to unpleasantries, this month’s “Night Under the Stars” brought unprecedented numbers to the annual event.

Gala Chair Mrs. Jillian Twaddle noted, “Everyone was eager to get together, and this year, that yearning alone created amazing success.”

Though the event was up in the air with many unknowns due to COVID restrictions, Manager of Annual Giving, Mr. Josh Anderson worked countless hours alongside Twaddle, staff, and volunteers to ensure the Gala could run as smoothly as possible.

Anderson commented, “We initially were not sure we would be able to hold the Gala due to COVID restrictions on gatherings, but we decided to move it from its usual February date to May 1st in hopes we would have a little more freedom to plan an event like this by the time May arrived.”

Mr. and Mrs. Brian Estrada pose for a picture while enjoying the drinks, games, and music in the outdoor tent at the Gala on Saturday, May 1.

Thankfully, that is exactly what happened. Once gathering restrictions were loosened in March, PA was able to hold a semi-normal event. The evening began as it traditionally has, with Mass at 4:30 celebrated by PA Chaplain Father Michael McClellan, followed by dinner, speakers, a live auction in PA’s Great Room, and an outdoor tent with fire pits, music, games, and drinks.

Anderson helped produce a virtual option for those unable to attend in-person but who still wanted to support the school. Anderson explained, “The virtual program piece was a challenge; it took a great deal of time to put together a quality virtual experience for our at-home audience, but in the end it did pay off, as we were able to reach many families who otherwise could not attend in person.”

Not only was this a fun event, but also a very successful one. Twaddle noted, “This year proved to be record-breaking; the energy and the passion of the community throughout the evening was unlike any other year.”   

Mr. and Mrs. Brian Dudley enjoy spending time with Mr. and Mrs. Dan Shore at this year’s “A Night Under the Stars” Gala, while browsing the many silent auction options.

It was truly a record-breaking evening. “This year, we had 21 alumni in attendance – a record number at the Gala,” reflected Director of College Counseling and Alumni Engagement Mrs. Sarah Hogan. As a young institution, finishing its 19th year of instruction, PA’s 1000th graduate will walk across the state in a few weeks. 

Hogan continued, “Especially as the number of alumni grows, we want to continue to find ways for alumni participation. The Gala is one place we can invite alumni to attend to reconnect with friends and help further the mission of PA.”

In addition to record breaking numbers of alumni in attendance, the evening was full of other firsts. Anderson reflected, “We had many first-time attendees, alumni, guest speakers from brand-new PA families and long-time PA families, and our first ever husband and wife event co-hosts for the evening. At the end of the night, we had raised over $300,000 – the highest grossing gala we’ve had in more than a decade, and perhaps ever.”

Greeks in the House

After Houses were established in the PA Upper School in 2007, House Week quickly because an annually anticipated tradition.  This year, upper schoolers enjoyed not just one but two weeks of festivities. Girls’ House leaders took charge to organize last fall’s House Week, a welcome alternative way of celebrating school spirit in the absence of the traditional Homecoming week. Last week, Boy’s House leaders planned a week full of competitive games and lots of excitement, with the overarching theme of Greek Games Week. 

This week is different because it isn’t a full-blown House Week but more of a ‘lite’ House Week,” said Rho House Leader Eli Santelman ‘21. 

Katelyn Clements ’24 and Gracie Griep ’24 show off their team pride on Jersey Day. Paw Photo courtesy of Anika Austvold.

Though it may have been ‘lite’ by comparison to the fall festivities, students still had ample opportunity to show their competitiveness by participating in a scavenger hunt, powderpuff, and powerpuff games. 

The scavenger hunt game seemed to be a hit in bringing in student participation,” Tanner Kehl ‘21 reflected.  

The scavenger hunt wasn’t the only popular event of the week; students take the spirit day themes very seriously and go full out on all of their outfits. On Jersey Day, there were a variety of colorful jerseys accompanied by facetious arguments about rival teams and players. 

“My favorite aspect of House Week has to be seeing all the different takes on the uniform themes for the day, such as all the various types and colors of togas or jerseys people wore,” noted Kehl.

Due to COVID, the powderpuff and powerpuff games were delayed from their intended fall dates. Both became a highlight of House week 2.0.

Seniors eagerly listen to their captain Aiden Lampe ’21 during a time out at the Powderpuff game on Mithun Field Tuesday, May 11.

The powderpuff game drew an evening crowd last Tuesday night with the seniors pulling away the win. This is unsurprising, since senior cheating is a tradition.

Cheating? The seniors? Never! Maybe some flag tying but nothing too major,” said Marie Leggott ‘21 deviously. 

Anonymous junior sources report that post-game bruising indicates otherwise. The game was, nevertheless, a good time for the players and spectators.

 “The game felt very spur of the moment. We were given the date pretty close to the event itself, without the opportunity to practice, but that made it fun and spontaneous” remarked Liv Klammer ’21.

“We drew up plays on the sideline and then just did them, which made it more like a real game. The boy coaches were absorbing the game and then drawing plays up to combat the juniors game plan on the spot,”  Klammer recalled.

The Junior-Senior rivalry continued on the volleyball court Wednesday when the boys faced off during last period, enjoying the attendance and cheers of all their upper school classmates, spaced in the bleachers. The Junior boys put up a good fight, however the Seniors prevailed in each the two matches. Of the many memorable plays, Santelman noted his personal favorite highlight was JP Ludke finishing a rally with a dominating spike in the second match. 

No doubt students relished the second opportunity of the year to demonstrate school spirit and earn a few more House points before the end of the year, but will have to stay tuned to see the final tally of their efforts in the year-long House competition.

The Magic of Mrs. Gregg

Whether its for a parking pass or a chromebook, a lunch card or a school picture, a prom ticket or tardy slip, Upper School students know where they can go. Whether the Upper School director needs a point by point schedule for her busy day or teachers need dry erase markers; whether parents need to schedule conferences or teachers need a dinner break on a late night of work, they go to the same place.  On the heels of Administrative Professionals Week, PA takes time to appreciate the Administrative Staff for all they do for the school. One person in particular keeps the Upper School running:  Mrs. Kate Gregg. 

The Upper School would not be the same without Mrs. Gregg. She supports everyone whether that means helping to solve a problem in the administration office or taking attendance to make sure that each Upper School student arrives at school safely every day.  

“Mrs. Gregg is basically my right hand,” glowed Mrs. Kelly Harrington, Director of the Upper School. “She is my go-to for everything from planning to problem solving.” 

Gregg works on responding to emails from parents as she wraps up for the weekend last Friday.

Gregg has not always worked in Administration. Over the years she has taught preschool, first grade, been a stay-at-home-mom, and also opened two restaurants. One could argue that her vast and varied resume prepared her–albeit, in a roundabout way–for the multitude of tasks that await her on a daily basis in the front office.

Mrs. Gregg has big jobs to complete throughout the day like making Mrs. Harrington’s schedule and working Athletic Director Mr. Daren Messmore on schedules for athletes who require early dismissals. But, she also always has everyone’s back, whether it be having all the answers to everyone’s questions, keeping supplies in stock for teachers, or replacing the printer paper. 

“When I first took this job as the Upper School Administrative Assistant, I was a little hesitant about working with older students,” remarked Gregg. “But over the years, I realized how much I really love them and they make my days.” 

Students return Cromebooks to Mrs. Gregg at the end of the day on Tuesday, April 27.

She is the inspiration for everyone around her to work hard and do their best every minute of the day. 

“Mrs. Gregg has taught me balance,” reflected Julia Dailey ’21, who was given the task of reading the announcements written by Gregg each morning during second period. “In watching her, I have learned to juggle different demands, even though it is so hard.” 

Gregg has been at Providence for nearly a decade and has loved every crazy second of it. Throughout these years her job has changed, especially since last spring. From the beginning of distance learning in March of 2020 to the hybrid model currently in place, Gregg’s duties have expanded and shifted to keep students equipped for their work and accounted for, even if logging from home.  

This hasn’t been a typical year, but, for Gregg, that’s par for the course, since no day is typical.  But her joy in serving students and staff remains constant, as does their gratitude for you.

Late Night Out (or in) with the Addams

Mae Monette ’21–in the character of Wednesday Addams–draws her bow to shoot an apple off of Lucas’  head, played by Bobby Hughes ’21.

Going to watch a play is one of the most enjoyable activities in the world. At Providence especially, the Drama program takes great pride in their productions. But even theatergoers may be in the dark when it comes to all the work leading up to opening night. In addition to the hours of practice put forth to memorize lines–to say nothing of music rehearsals and costume design–the performance itself demands a certain poise under pressure that many would find impossible to uphold.  This year’s Spring production, The Addams Family, is a perfect example of those typical preparations, and then some.

“[In the year of Covid] We changed a couple of big things; instead of a traditional musical [with a lot of movement] it’s a concert,” director and theater teacher Mrs. Simmons remarked.

The entire cast lines up to take a well-deserved bow on the PAC stage at the end of dress rehearsal last week.

The distancing guidelines prompted adaptations that allowed Providence to move forward with the production, rather than having to cancel altogether. Changing from a musical template to a concert version not only meant omitting dancing in this year’s play, but also eliminated the need for multiple set designs since there won’t be any scene changes.

Without any dance numbers, with fewer songs, and particularly in the absence of scene changes, the audience will find the welcome addition of a narrator.  Val Fish ’21 paints verbal scenery, calling the audience members to imagine various backdrops throughout the play.

“It was initially confusing to me that this character was added; I thought the projections would be sufficient,” noted the veteran member of performing arts.

“But Lupe Addams [the narrator] provides another source of dark humor in this production and forms a kind of solidarity with the audience, unabashedly pointing out the unfolding eccentricities,” Fish reflected.

Many actors find the concert version less stressful because they are allowed the use of their script throughout the play. But even with a script on stage, performers try to memorize most of their lines, and the time invested adds up quickly, especially during tech week.  Rehearsals could last until 9:30 PM as the cast runs tirelessly through every song with the full pit band and a practice run of all the lighting and sound effects.

Commenting on his methods for rehearsal, James Herrera ’23 shared, “I go to a quiet spot in the house or outside and usually go through the entire script once, seeing how it goes, or I go to specific parts of the scripts where I had big trouble in singing or acting.”

Main cast members like Herrera have to do blocking rehearsals, or dialogue practice, in their place on stage. The blocking rehearsals push actors to polish their teamwork, one of the more difficult components of a group production.  “You have to make sure your parts fit in with the other parts,” said Mae Monette ‘21, another member of the main cast.  Timing, rhythm, and vocal blending were some of the main focal points last week.

Characters play their part convincingly not only with what they say, but what they wear as well. “Costumes are a key part in telling the story and signifying to the audience certain things about a character,” commented Sarah Huebschen ‘23, a member of the cast and design team. The design team goes through extensive research to find the perfect costume for each member of the cast.

After weeks of preparation, efforts culminated in a private showing of the Addams Family last Friday night.  There won’t be any public showings of the play but it will be available for viewing (for $20) beginning later this week and through the rest of the school year.  The link will be published in the Ebulletin.