Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

1110 College NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49503



Filtering by Tag: opera

Working Together

Elizabeth Topliffe

I get by with a little help from my friends
— The Beatles

by Elizabeth Topliffe, Head of School

A few weeks ago, I wept at work. That’s not my usual style, so let me fill you in.

The elementary students were auditioning for our spring opera, Sing Me Home. Every student gets a part, and the auditions are used to help cast roles. It is a pretty vulnerable experience. The students had all been practicing together We are All One Family, one of the main songs for the opera. This practice had been happening for weeks. Now, though, each student sang the song solo in front of the entire elementary student body. I can’t imagine singing in a front of my peers, especially in a solo manner.

One of our first year friends stood in front of the group. The music came around, but she did not sing. The music came around again, and still she did not sing. The kids started calling out encouragement, but it was clearly one of those overwhelming moments, and she was not going to sing.

Then, one of the upper elementary students stood up. He walked over to our friend and said, “Can I sing with you?” Together, standing shoulder to shoulder, they sang the song. It was the ultimate example of what happens when one person joins another. What was overwhelming in one moment became manageable with some help.  After singing together, our younger friend sang it on her own, with courage and bravado, and with the knowledge that a friend was with her.

This was a powerful testament to the power of help and partnership. Those things that we cannot do alone, we can do together. This, more than any performance is the power of opera. And, I was weeping with just how powerful that moment was.

Right now, our school is in a similar moment. We need your help to do something that we cannot do on our own. In the next couple days, you will be receiving a letter from another parent asking you to join them in supporting our Spring Appeal for the Lifelong Learning Fund.

This appeal is our school’s largest fundraiser, and it helps cover the gap between tuition and the cost of operating the school. The funds raised directly support opera, teachers’ professional development, and financial aid. For a small school like Stepping Stones, every dollar matters. Most of the gifts we receive are smaller gifts, and those add up to create great opportunities like the one I mentioned above. Like I said, we cannot do this without you.

In fact, our most important goal with regard to this years’ Spring Appeal is to have a majority of our families participate. Even better, we have a $37,000 matching fund for donors through the end of May! That means that every gift—whether it is $5 or $5,000 will be matched dollar for dollar and will be doubled.

I hope you’ll join me in making this a great Spring Appeal! Keep an eye out during carline and on our Facebook for progress metrics! Thanks for standing with us and for jumping in with our school. We appreciate all the many ways you’re our partner in our endeavors.

I hope to see you at 6 PM this Friday, May 11, for our opera. I can assure you that every student in the performance has the support of their friends and fellow-students!

Opera 2016!

Elizabeth Topliffe

The Miracle Tree—An Ecological Opera by William Bokout

Performed by Stepping Stones Montessori Students

April 29, 2016 at 6 PM

St. Cecilia Music Center, Royce Auditorium

Alumni Reception Immediately Following in the President’s Room

Stepping Stones’ guides are constantly looking for challenging and thrilling opportunities for our students to stretch themselves, while remaining in touch with what a child is capable of doing. That is why I’m thrilled to share that our students (Kindergarten through Upper Elementary) will all have a stage role in the 2016 Opera--The Miracle Tree by William Bokout.

Spring operas and musicals have an honored place in Stepping Stones Montessori School’s history. In the early years of the school, students performed on-stage at Civic Theater. They produced playbills, posters and memorized lines and songs.

A student-made poster advertising a spring musical from the 1980s

A student-made poster advertising a spring musical from the 1980s

Boy, did they memorize them! When touring the school or telling me about experiences they had at Stepping Stones, alumni most often reminisce about musicals and operas. I even had an experience in a bar where an unknown patron noticed my Stepping Stones shirt and demonstrated some of her dancing cow moves from her childhood musical!

Sarah Danielski, an alumna, parent of current students and staff member also refers often to her musicals. “I remember the rush of getting dressed as a grasshopper with tights and antennae. It was just exciting to be on a real stage with my peers, having to learn lines. It was all exciting.”

Why is an event like this so important? A theater production is an incredible undertaking, and provides our students with opportunities to lead and think creatively. Students will be directly involved in set construction and costume design as well as staging and the theatrical components of the production. In order to pull it off, elementary students will focus only on opera during the week of April 25-29.

Ryan DePersia, an alum, currently working as an architect in Chicago remembers, “Although I’m no longer involved in theatrical endeavors, I really love that I had the opportunity when I was at Stepping Stones to be a part of several plays. I really enjoyed my acting roles in the productions as well as my role as a part of something bigger. The lessons of teamwork and collaboration that these events provided were invaluable.”

Teamwork, creativity, collaboration and receiving constructive feedback are all important aspects to this transformative experience. “It’s an incredible adventure and they will come out of it a different person. No doubt about it,” notes Jav Caniff, upper elementary guide.

Students aren’t the only ones to benefit from these experiences! One of the most compelling aspects of the opera are the opportunities for parents. “These events are truly community events. Parents help sew costumes, build sets, chaperone students and offer transportation. They are part of the transformative experience of creating something for our whole community,” says Jan Reed, lower elementary guide.

"They accomplish something that they probably would never otherwise try in all of their lives, and it exposes students to a form of art that they might not otherwise experience," says Wilma Kiefer, former Upper Elementary guide.

"It is a great community event. It helps children understand that it is a process and it takes everyone to make the product beautiful. It is work. It is effort, and in the end, it is magical," notes Erica Shier.

This year’s event will take place on the stage at St. Cecilia Music Center’s Royce Auditorium, a beautiful and historic stage in Grand Rapids.

Royce Auditorium

Royce Auditorium

We are hoping to fund this event through underwriting. If you, a family member or friend wish to help enrich the experience of Stepping Stones Montessori students with the gift of opera, please consider making a donation to support us.


Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends and supporters of all kinds are invited to join us at the opera! We hope to see you there!