Best of 2023

Jennie Payes, Parent of Isabella ’27

Heading to the state tennis tournament to cheer on Lily!

Andrea Saenim, Parent of Riley '26 and Lucas ’32

Our family’s favorite moment was when Riley won the Wisconsin Poetry Out Loud competition, representing The Prairie School, and was the first freshman to win the award. It was a very unexpected blessing! What was an English assignment turned into a discovery of a new skill for our daughter through the encouragement of her English teacher. We are grateful to Mr. Peterson for coaching Riley from the district competition to state and nationals.

Primary School Halloween Parade! Lucas and his Minion buddies! They planned everything, and the moms executed it by buying them the coordinated costumes!

Lynne Santalucia, 9-12 Learning Specialist, Parent of Emmett '24 and Mason '22

I was invited to be present when a senior opened their acceptance video from one of their top college choices. It was such a privilege to share this joyful experience with them.

Jim Zielinski, Former Faculty Member

Being with Mrs. McDonough when she saw the retirement greetings written on the US windows for the first time. There was an audible gasp, and it was a genuine tribute. It was a priceless moment for a dedicated leader who left her mark on the Prairie community as a teacher, college counselor, and Head of Upper School.

Andrea Stolp, Parent of Patty ’32 and Theo ’35

I was blown away by the beauty of Japan Day in 3rd grade. Every student was showcased in unique and creative ways. Their pride was displayed in their smiles and gleaming eyes. Walking down the hall and seeing the stunning Koinobori fish hanging, I felt as excited as a kid again. Then I noticed how the teachers displayed the other fantastic art projects rooted deeply in Japanese culture, from the breathtaking raku pottery bowls (designed and hand-created by the students) to their fans painted with cherry blossoms. We then got to listen to beautiful haikus written by the students, watch fan dances, listen to drumming – and it didn’t end there! Parents participated in folding origami and writing their own poems….wow! The time and effort given by the fantastic 3rd grade team was not lost on me. The attention to detail was exquisite! Thanks for the memories – that day will never be forgotten!

Jenny Cobb, 6th STEM Reading and MS Writing Support

A favorite moment of 2023 was when my STEM 6 class built a DiVinci bridge out of 2x4s and dowels in the courtyard. I had help from several colleagues, including a fellow teacher with a DiVinci building kit, my awesome MS aid, and at least two of the facilities team members. We were able to experience building at a scale much larger than the chopstick models we made in class. It was a moving experience for me. This is an example of why I love to come to work each day.

Adam Stout, Co-Director of College Counseling, Parent of Alex '35

Grace Begotka, a senior, was selected as a finalist for a competitive full-ride college scholarship requiring an interview in front of 25 committee members. I was invited to participate in the interview and surprised Grace by being in the room when she entered. It’s an anxiety-filled day, and I’m glad my presence didn’t throw her off. Her poise throughout was remarkable. She was intelligent, deep, and reflective. Her experiences revealed a young person who never squanders opportunities and someone grateful for the person she has become. She was, hands down, the most impressive candidate. And that’s saying something since these were students from across Wisconsin. I’m not exaggerating – there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. On that day and every day, Grace epitomized the qualities we want every Prairie student to graduate with. She was articulate and confident but also humble. She was respectful, intellectual, and funny. She carried herself as a true scholar, artist, and leader. Congratulations, Grace. Being there to support you during your Evans Scholarship interview was one of the highlights of my year!

100% of the senior class applied to at least one college by December 1! I think that’s a record! Well done, class of 2024. Many adventures and opportunities await this very talented and kind group of students.

Isabella A. '24

The highlight of 2023 was Homecoming, complete with a Halloween theme, glow-in-the-dark face paint, and Chick-fil-A.


Callie Atanasoff, Director of External Relations and Parent of Braden ’33 and Brynn ’34

Jazz Night 2023. The weather was absolutely perfect; the crowd was a varied mix of grown-ups and kids, grandparents and friends; the food trucks were the best addition, and my sweet Brynn got to help pass out popsicles to guests. The best part, though, was hearing and watching Prairie students in their element – happy, talented jazz musicians playing for a community that loves them dearly. It’s become my new favorite Prairie event and I can’t wait for 2024!


Cecilia B. ’24

Going on trail at Manito-wish! My group was assigned a challenging route to kayak, but we got to see nature along the beautiful Trout River that the other groups didn’t get to. It was a great couple of days, and I spent them with some of my best friends. Even if some parts of going out on trail were not so glorious, I will always look back on it as a great experience I was lucky to be a part of.

Trista Deuster '16, Development Events Manager

My favorite TPS moment was watching the girls’ tennis team play this year. Everyone was very supportive of each other and always left with smiles on their faces. Also, some of the girls made it to the state tournament, and many members of the team and community made the trip up to Madison to support! It was awesome seeing so much support and good energy around this season.

Nikki G. ’27

Homecoming! It was a fun moment to spend with all of Upper School, and everyone was getting along and having a good time; everything leading up to it was a lot of fun. The competitions and activities are something I look forward to every year.

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Lisa Koleske, Director of Human Resources, Parent of Matthew '08 and Holly '12

While there are so many favorite moments at TPS every year, if I had to pick my favorite for 2023, it would be celebrating my 20th anniversary at The Prairie School. Being recognized at the Faculty-Trustee Celebration for not only my years of service, but to hear Nat speak about the growth I have made in my career made me feel proud of not only where I work, but the community as a whole. The evening is a full-circle event, not only recognizing those with years of service to the school, but celebrating the new faculty who have joined us. Everyone comes together as a community to support each other and our accomplishments.

Vicki Schmitz, Visual Art Teacher and Parent of Leo '29 and Molly '31

One of my favorite moments was seeing my daughter so excited on “Dress like a Teacher” day as she carefully put together an outfit to look like her 4th Grade teacher assistant, Mr. Winnen. She was overjoyed to spend the day as “Mini Winnen”. I love this moment because it shows how much care travels between students and adults in the community. Even though she is no longer a 4th grader, my daughter and Mr. Winnen exchange high fives each day in the hallway; I’m glad for my children to have upstanding adult mentors in their lives because of Prairie.

One of my favorite moments of 2023 was the collaboration that happened between some of our Upper School art students, Joe Manley, and Bill Reid, for the completion of a public art piece for the Downtown Racine Corporation. The interaction between Prairie people from different areas of the school, along with the opportunity to get some Prairie artists’ work out into the community, fills my cup!


Laini A. ’25

I loved Camp Manito-wish! For me, this was an experience I would love to have again. I loved being in a new environment with all of my friends. At first, Camp Manito-wish was something that people warned me of, telling me to be afraid and saying that I should be scared. Going into my junior year, I was so afraid to go out on trail that I didn’t know what to expect. I’m so glad I went into my camp experience with an open mind!

Petra N. ’27

Performing in the Upper School fall play, The Craving!

Rebecca Wheeler, US English Teacher

My favorite moment is when the 2023 Southwest Trip backpackers woke up after sleeping under the stars for the first time. They were a little dazed by the stunning clarity of countless stars, the dawn light on the nearby mountains, the freezing chilliness of a desert night, and the fact that they were tough enough to have slept without tents. These students were changed forever by that simple act and crawled out of their sleeping bags, ready to cheerfully help each other warm up, dive into a warm breakfast, and get on with their adventure.

Jonathan O. ’25

My favorite TPS moment of 2023 was helping to facilitate and work the US Service Club’s holiday party for adults with cognitive disabilities. Whether it was helping guests make crafts, decorating cookies, or even conversing with them, it showed me how much TPS students and faculty show up. We show up for each other and, most importantly, for others in the community.

Mari Grobschmidt, Head of Upper School and Parent of Greta ’33 and Marcus ’36

The third graders have an ongoing partnership with the Racine Heritage Museum, where they learn about their community, visit historical places, and research essential aspects of the community to build exhibits at the museum that represent Racine. If that was not impressive enough, they had a formal presentation where they individually shared information with a large, captive audience at a private “Night at the Museum” event. The confidence of the students and attention to detail of their information was terrific. The students then led family members around the museum with both poise and grace. For us, watching our third grader inform her grandparents of all things Racine was a moment that left an imprint on our hearts. The third grade team continues to inspire our students’ love of learning, and we are truly grateful.

Joe Manley, Kindergarten Teacher, Boys’ and Girl’s Head Varsity Soccer Coach,
and Parent of Raven '31 and Sonny '25

The girls’ soccer team finally returned to a “normal” season, without COVID restrictions, in 2023. With that game, there were many Suburban rides and a new tradition of the UW-LaCrosse high school girls’ soccer tournament. This year, the tournament was from May 5th through 6th, and we journeyed up with the help of Coach J and Coach Modesti in our Suburbans. The rides were chock full of loud music, good conversation, homemade baked goods, and lots of hair braiding from Ruby Flynn. We left early and arrived Friday in time to check in at our hotel and prepare for our first game. After four hours in the car, we promptly gave up a goal in the first 10 seconds of the match against LaCrosse Central, only to respond with an emphatic 5-1 win. That night, the girls succeeded in convincing us to take a walk to get ice cream, and I’m grateful Coach Modesti caved because the walk together, as a team, to share in some late-night treats became one of my favorite memories of the season. We faced torrential rains on Saturday, but they parted long enough for us to all go for a hike up the bluffs to the lookout point over campus as some bonding before our game vs Cedarburg, which we won 3-1. The results were positive, but the experience is what school sports is about, and I cherished that time with our fantastic group of young women.