We recently caught up with Mason Preparatory School 2009 graduate Sara Stamatiades to learn more about her preparation for Cornell’s PhD program in English Language and Literature, her love of teaching, and her job teaching English in Spain.
Sara began Mason Prep in the first grade and shared her favorite memories of her time at the school as well as how her education inspired her to pursue a career as an English teacher.
What are some of your favorite memories from your Mason Prep experience?
It's really hard to choose from eight years of memories. My mind immediately jumps to class trips, like Earthshine, or even just sitting on the playtoy with my friends during lunch. Book fairs, talent shows, or winning Robin Williams' autograph at the Accelerated Reader program auction all stand out. Toward the end of my time at Mason, I got involved in KNI-TV as a special reporter and then as an anchor during my last year as the school mayor. In a way, I think that's when I started to enjoy writing. My best friend Casey Davis — who is now a fourth grade teacher at Ashley River— and I would write short segments, my personal favorite being our "hard-hitting report" about what really happens in the teacher's lounge. KNI helped foster my sense of creativity. There are too many good memories to list!
How did Mason Prep prepare you for the study skills needed for high school and college?
I cannot overstate how well-prepared I felt going into high school. I attended Academic Magnet, which is known for being a fairly intense academic environment. At Mason Prep we were taught to be accountable for our work and were held to a high standard. We learned how to take notes, how to properly prepare for essays, and manage our time. Going to high school can be a big jump. There's more independence on many levels, so I feel like it's normal to flounder a bit. But the skills and habits instilled in us at Mason made that transition a relatively smooth one.
How did Mason Prep prepare you for the writing skills needed for high school and college?
First of all, I want to say that Mason Prep, when it comes down to it, is the reason I pursued English as my major in college— and now my PhD. Literature and grammar studies are such strengths at Mason thanks to the comprehensive curriculum and inspiring teachers like Ms. Bandy.
Mason Prep gave me an incredible base and confidence as I moved forward with my English studies. Even as I worked in the Writing Center at Clemson University, I pulled upon grammar lessons from Grammar, Vocabulary, and Composition— then taught by the wonderful Mrs. Barrett. Not everyone will declare English as their college major like I did, but Mason kids will stand out as writers as they go forward in whatever path they choose. And that's a skill that's needed across the board!
How did Mason Prep prepare you for teaching in your current job in Spain?
It's been nine years since I graduated from Mason Prep, so it's interesting to think about how it may have prepared me for teaching overseas. You know, it's a challenge to work and live in another country. Within one month, I moved to Spain without knowing anyone, started a job, opened a bank account, and found an apartment. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Thrower, had a saying: "inch by inch, life's a cinch; yard by yard, life is hard." That phrase has come to mind often these last few months! But beyond the wonderful opportunities and education Mason gave me, I also was taught how to treat people, as our alma mater says, "with dignity and respect." When you're working in another country, and more or less being an ambassador for your own, it's important to be a Nice Knight.
What schools did you attend after graduating from Mason Prep?
I attended Academic Magnet, and then Clemson University. I majored in English and minored in Spanish.
Tell me about your graduate school plans.
I'll be attending Cornell’s PhD program in English Language and Literature. After finishing my PhD, I hope to teach at the college level. I've always loved learning environments, so it's hard for me to imagine working anywhere else than the classroom. Though I still have other interests that I could pursue with my PhD, right now teaching feels right!
Did Mason Prep affect your career choice?
Absolutely. I remember in first grade I dressed up as a teacher on career day, actually. Granted over the years my interests changed. I shadowed a physical therapist for our seventh grade research project, for example. But again, I think after walking into Dr. Maynard's class, my fate was more or less sealed!
Is there anything else you want to add about your Mason Prep experience?
I'm just incredibly grateful to have attended this school. I met some of my closest friends here, and whenever I return it still feels like home to me. It's a wonderful place!