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Alumna Sparks Joy for the HERO Project

By: Sixth Grade Teacher Jordan Andes

February 5, 2019

When you join Rossman School, you are not only welcomed into a joyful and caring community but also become part of a history of traditions. Each day I have the joy of seeing students take part in such traditions, from singing “woohoos” at birthday lunches to hugging their Rossman little siblings as the Junior Kindergarten class passes in the hallway. As a teacher, I have the privilege of stepping into curricular traditions.

Each year the sixth grade embarks upon the traditional HERO Project. While the project has evolved through the years, the heart of the inquiry has stayed the same:

Who in our world embodies the Rossman values of kindness, honesty, respect and responsibility? When the world faces adverse circumstances, who are the helpers?

We believe that our students are capable of being those helpers in big and small ways right now. After identifying a cause about which they are passionate, students pursue independent research, identify heroes who are making a difference, and learn about ways to become helpers. Currently, students are exploring an array of topics including ocean pollution, youth homelessness, educational rights for girls, and workplace support for individuals with developmental differences.

We are fortunate to have a network of alumni who are helpers themselves and love to get to know and encourage current students. Last week, the sixth grade class connected with one such alumna who once sat at one of their desks and wrote a HERO paper of her own.

Helen Rapp Nightingale (‘04) video conferenced into our classroom and spoke with the Class of 2019 about becoming a helper. In a written reflection, student Zain described that Helen was a helper when she “founded the ACTT (Arch City Theater Troupe) at age thirteen, right after her brother was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. ACTT raises money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation by having an annual music review for the community.” Helen explained how she used her interests and the resources available to her at the time to become a helper, which looked like performing musical theater songs with her friends to raise money.

Throughout our chat, Helen encouraged students to ask themselves, What do I enjoy and how can I share that with others? During her college career at the University of Pennsylvania, Helen shared her love for baking as she taught nutrition and cooking classes at an underserved middle school. Today, Helen is the director of e-commerce for brand Draper James. She now uses her interests and professional experience to help run a resale clothing store that funds first generation college scholarships.

While Helen’s embodiment of the HERO Project is impressive, the humble alumna was most interested in learning about our current students and finding ways to empower them where they are today. Students focused as Helen candidly answered their questions, which included “What was it like to start an organization as a kid?,” “Did you face doubts or obstacles?,” and “What are your favorite Rossman memories?”

Sixth grader G.T. shared, “I connected with Helen because I like theater, too, and am part of COCA’s Rossman play. It was also interesting to me that Rossman supported Helen and let her have the first ACTT show in the Performing Arts Center!”

Classmate Courtney reflected, “Many times, people underestimate children, but [Helen] pushed through and founded an organization that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for children with diabetes.”

Helen’s message focused around the affirmation, “I definitely believe that no matter what your passions are, no matter how old you are, you can make a difference now. There’s no need to wait until you’re a grown up and have more time or more money to give.” Before signing off, Helen left us with the thought, “You never know what kind of joy you can spark for someone when you share the things that bring you joy!”

Helen’s joy for service and for connecting with her alma mater sparked joy in our students last Friday. After our chat, Zain concluded, “The fact that someone who comes from the same place as me is making changes and still continues to do so to this day, inspires me to want to make changes for my own causes in the future!”


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here.

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