When you spend time on campus or with students at St. James Academy (SJA), you will encounter a thriving school community of curious, caring, and intellectually challenged students. Within this caring community, teachers foster talents and skills, build confidence, and encourage students to do what they love, as evidenced by graduates of St. James.
We caught up with three alumni to find out what they are up to now and how their SJA experience helped them find their spark.
Clare Shaffer, Class of 2010
A Love of Science: From Physiology to Neuroscience
Clare Shaffer believes that her love of science was fostered in her early days at St. James Academy, where she was a student from Prefirst until she graduated in 2010. “I’d have to say Mrs. Smith’s math and science classes were my favorites—she’s a phenomenal teacher and always found ways to make something like linear algebra more fun. She also is the one who taught me my first course in human physiology, which I think has played a role in the work that I do today,” explains Clare. Clare’s love of science took her to Elon University, where she graduated in 2018 with a degree in Psychology and Neuroscience.
Today, Clare works in Boston as a part of an interdisciplinary neuroscience lab at Massachusetts General Hospital working on Alzheimer’s Disease research. Her official position title is Research Technician, so on any given day, she may be performing MRI scans and patient evaluations through the research program. She’s also applying to graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Neuroscience. Clare’s memories of her time at SJA is even impacting her personal statement on these grad school applications.
“Part of the application involves writing a personal statement—a writing sample that says why you want to study neuroscience,” explains Clare. “For each of my personal essays, I have started with the same story from my 8th-grade technology class with Mrs. Harold, in which we were tasked with writing a research paper. For my topic, I chose the dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia, and this first exploration into the science of the brain is what captured my interest in this topic and ultimately lead to the career that I am currently pursuing.”
But it wasn’t just the science classes at St. James that prepared Clare for where she is today. She credits the teamwork she developed playing on the school’s field hockey and lacrosse teams and the strong writing skills she developed in English class with helping her develop necessary job (and life) skills!
“SJA taught me a love for science, but more importantly, gave us the space to be intellectually curious about everything. One of the most important skills you can have in any kind of empirical research is to constantly question everything (even findings that reinforce your beliefs) and I think that the experiences I had at St. James played a really pivotal role in cultivating the critical thinking skills that I use every day in my current job,” says Clare. And as she continues even further down this path of life-changing scientific research, there’s no question that the strong foundation she gained at St. James Academy has helped her soar.
Jack Zeiler, Class of 2017
A Musical Journey from SJA to High School
Jack Zeiler attended St. James from 2007-2017 and then continued on to McDonogh School where he’s currently a Junior. Jack was a well-rounded student during his St. James days, playing sports, taking on the role of Tony in the musical West Side Story, and acting as Vice President of the Student Council. And he’s continuing down this path in high school where he has made time for sports including soccer, basketball, golf, and track while maintaining good grades and taking some AP classes. But Jack’s real passion, both then and now, is music.
“I am a musician,” says Jack. “I play the guitar and I am in a band called Static Valley. We play rock music—covers and originals—around the Baltimore/Timonium area.” Jack was in the school band and played guitar throughout middle school and performed in all of the school’s talent shows. “My music teacher, Mr. Wolcott was always really helpful and I appreciated that in my eighth grade year, for my last song, he gave me a guitar solo in the song Smooth by Santana,” Jack recalls.
In high school, Jack has retired from the theater and prefers to focus on music rather than participating in the school’s plays and musicals. At McDonogh, he’s in jazz band and played in the concert band for the last two years. “I am the only guitar player in the jazz band which is quite an honor,” he says.
Jack credits all of his wonderful SJA teachers for preparing him for high school and whatever comes next. Right now, he’s thinking those plans include college to study something involving music. “I plan on pursuing a career in music and keep on going with the band and see how far that can go,” explains Jack.
And life skills? Jack is quick to point out that he left St. James with a bounty of those, too. “I work part-time at Chick-fil-A. Come to think of it, St. James taught me how to do a proper interview, which definitely helped me get my job,” says Jack. The mock interview process during the high school application and interview process—a benefit of the St. James PreK-8 model— gave Jack the necessary skills and confidence to interview for jobs in high school.
When asked if he could sum up his SJA experiences in just one word, Jack suggested “long-lasting.” While this surely describes Jack’s long-lasting love of music and dedication to learning, it also applies to the friendships and relationships he made throughout school. “I learned a lot there that will stay with me forever. And anytime I see a teacher or someone from St. James there is still a special bond.”
Deemer Class, Class of 2008
Lacrosse Legend, On and Off the Field
Deemer Class is well-known in Baltimore and beyond for his impressive lacrosse skills. But before making a name for himself in the lacrosse world, Deemer was a little kid learning the game at St. James Academy. “I started playing at 6 years old in the SJA pony ring!,” Deemer explains. “We had plastic sticks and simply got introduced to the game. From there, I started SJA rec lacrosse with all my classmates and my love took off from there.”
And what a love it is! Deemer graduated from St. James Academy in 2008 and went on to play for Loyola Blakefield. Next, he attended Duke University where he was a two-time National Champion, a three-time All-American, three-time All-ACC, and four-time All-ACC Academic.
After college, Deemer continued to develop his love for lacrosse–and sharing this passion with others. He founded First Class Lacrosse to develop elite offensive lacrosse players through training for individuals and small groups focussed on shooting and offensive skills. And FCL is growing and changing to meet market needs! “We recently launched an online platform–FCL Online–with a website and Instagram login component to teach players and coaches all over the world digitally at an affordable rate!”
On top of FCL, Deemer plays in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) for the Chaos and coaches women’s lacrosse at The University of Southern California (USC) as the Offensive Coordinator.
But reinforcing these skills isn’t the only goal at First Class Lacrosse. Deemer’s vision is to inspire a work ethic and passion for lacrosse like the one he developed over years of playing the game to be successful both on the field and off. And this passion all builds on this early days at SJA, not just in his love of the sport but also the fundamentals of learning.
“St. James was always a supportive environment to help me grow,” says Deemer fondly. “We also played countless games at recess and plenty of other sports. That playground experience helped me be the athlete I am today.” These playground skills and the support and encouragement of his most memorable teachers (most notably Mr. Maddix for math and history) are just some of the things that made SJA such a special place for Deemer. And as he continues to thrive as coach and player we can’t wait to see how Deemer helps develop these skills and a love of the game in future players.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our School Spotlight Series. Each week, we spotlight our partner schools to give you a glimpse into what learning looks like on their campus. To learn more about St. James Academy, visit their directory listing in our Independent School Directory. Images were provided by featured alumni. Want to become a school partner? Email us.