Stevie Ballow

TAB Instructor


If someone had told me in 2000 that in the future, I would be teaching art to children and adults, I would have laughed. After all, I was studying to be a Biomedical Engineer, a decidedly non-artsy career. I was into math; I just wasn't the "creative type." Fast forward to today, and even though I graduated with that BS in Biomedical Engineering, I am now the director of Shady Oak Primary's new TAB Art Program and Studio 600 Outreach Initiative. Turns out, I'm into math AND art, and it is my goal to challenge--and hopefully change--you and your child's beliefs about creativity.

Simply put, creativity is the application of imagination; it is "having original ideas that have value" (thank you, Ken Robinson). I believe a key part of having original ideas is being able to have experiences and play in a safe environment that freely allows for wondering. In my art room, that freedom to wonder begins with choice.

In a TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) classroom, students are treated as artists. They choose what art projects they work on and what materials they use. Classes incorporate short lessons or demonstrations on different techniques and skills and then allow students to use those lessons (or not) to create their art. Students are encouraged to play, to try, and to discover what works and what doesn't on their own. They are also prompted to spend more than one class period creating artwork, allowing them a chance to dive deep into the planning and execution of their area of interest. TAB programs also include periods of reflection and critique, building confidence and community in the classroom. The role of a teacher in a TAB classroom is mainly to facilitate the students' creativity, not to dictate what projects and what style or art they choose to do.

Pablo Picasso is quoted as saying, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Not every child will pursue a career in art. But I hope that they will leave my classroom knowing that they are creative beings with huge imaginations, that they are problem-solvers and thinkers full of grit and gristle and that they can apply the habits and practices they're learned in art to every other part of their lives. Creativity does not reside solely in the art room--it lives inside all of us, and it flourishes in any place in which people are allowed the freedom to ask questions and pursue their passions.

And yes, my hair is pink...this week.


Rachel Brooks

Primary Teacher, grades 1 & 2


I am incredibly blessed and excited to be teaching with Shady Oak Primary’s team of master administrators and teachers for the third year. Before coming to Shady Oak, I taught a bilingual first grade class (Spanish and English) in Bryan, Texas.

I absolutely love Shady Oak’s relentless commitment to children’s success in all aspects of learning. This school is outstandingly true to its philosophy, and I really see students benefit because of it. They learn through discovery, they build confidence, they gain important values, they learn collaboration skills, and they learn to see themselves and others as valuable, kind people who have the power to make a difference.


Sheila Cook

Math Teacher, grades 3-5
Bible Lesson


Hi! My name is Sheila Cook. I am so excited to be a part of the Shady Oak Primary team. I am teaching the third, fourth and fifth graders this year. I have a long history with Shady Oak. All three of my children came to this wonderful and special place to learn!

The first moment we visited the school we knew it was the right place for our family. The children were engaged and happy, and learning at an age-appropriate level. The teachers were using many different techniques to teach the whole child. My children thrived here, and I am so glad to be a part of it again.

My goal is to work with each child at their learning level and learning style. I believe this allows them the greatest opportunity to succeed. I have been involved in many different educational environments (both public and private). Shady Oak allows a child to excel at their own pace, within their own distinct learning style. That is so refreshing! I believe if you allow children to fundamentally learn the basics of reading, writing, and math, then they will be able to do well with more complex subjects. Many schools don't allow the time for children to really soak up the basics of learning! The children are rushed from one subject to another. Shady Oak believes that once a child masters the basics every other subject becomes easier.

I have a degree in elementary education with a math specialization for 6-8th grades. I taught math for 8 years. I have tutored for many years and have substituted in the public schools. I also have an Educational Therapy Certification, and am truly passionate about education.

I love working with children and my passion is finding out how each child learns and using that to individualize the instruction for that strength. I am thankful and blessed to be here.


Ellen Graham

Primary Teacher, grades 1 & 2


It is an honor and a privilege for me to be part of the Shady Oak Primary School family for the 2nd year! Shady Oak is a school that practices a wonderful approach to education; giving social and life skills the same emphasis as academics. The school’s philosophies of helping children become problem solvers during their formative years, nurturing them to make well thought out decisions about how to manage themselves and how to treat others really resonates with me. By allowing children to be children, teaching academics at age-appropriate levels in a relaxed, positive atmosphere, we create what I believe all children should have the right to experience.

I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in vocal performance from the Crane School of Music, State University of New York in Potsdam.  Becoming a mother of two ignited my passion for teaching which led me to a certification in Special Education EC-4.  I have a background as an inclusion and resource teacher for Kindergarten through third grade with Lamar Consolidated Independent School District for 6 years, and a paraprofessional for 4 years before that. I am well trained in the Nurtured Heart Approach, and I believe building inner wealth in our students promotes their greatness. I love teaching children about the world around them, and letting them experience it through whatever means works best for them as individuals. Through my experiences as a parent and teacher, I have learned that allowing children to progress at their own pace promotes their higher learning and self-confidence. I am blessed to be able to instill a love of learning in our next generation of leaders.


Rachel Higgens

Science Teacher, grades 3-5


Hello. My name is Rachel Higgens. I began my journey with Shady Oak as a parent of three students. The amazing community of staff and families that supported each other and were so willing to be involved each child's education was life altering for my family. Seeing my children thrive in this atmosphere and learn to love school, I knew that I had to become a more integral part of Shady Oak. Not just for my children, but for all the children. Shady Oak nurtures every child's strengths and talents, making learning interesting and fun. This approach is exactly what took my daughter from being physically ill from the pressures of first grade, to being the first ready to leave for school every day.

I have a degree in child psychology; while earning my degree I discovered that I am dyslexic. Despite that I graduated with honors. I am an avid reader and truly appreciate the written word. As my children grew I discovered two of them are also dyslexic. Being dyslexic gives me a real opportunity to understand why some things are more difficult for some children to learn and allows me the great joy in helping them figure out how they learn best. This partners perfectly with the Nurtured Heart Approach of learning at Shady Oak. “Learning Disabilities” are simply opportunities to learn outside the box.

As the science teacher for 3rd through 5th grade I guarantee my excitement for science will become contagious and rub off on every child. For all lessons I use at least one hand on experiment or project. This method allows children to truly learn and understand, not just be able to repeat the idea back. My goal is that all children not only understand but crave a deeper understanding of many different scientific theories and disciplines. Also that they can't wait to come home and share with you all they have learned. As an autodidact, or self-taught person, I have researched many different areas of science to its most current understanding. As a member of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) I have access to the most up to date lessons in the Next Generation Science Strategies (NGSS) as well as professional scientists to explain real world applications and practices.


Janet Mezzano

Extended Day Coordinator


Hello, my name is Janet Mezzano and I am very grateful, thankful and blessed to be a part of the Shady Oak Primary School Team!!

I am looking forward to a new and exciting school year as the After-School Coordinator for the extended day program here at the school.

One of my passions and desires in life has always been to be as active and greatly involved with my children and all of their activities as they were growing up. I have served as a parent volunteer, Pre-School Teacher, Teacher Appreciation, School Fundraising Chair and PTA Board Member. I have experience working with the Mother’s Day Out Program and teaching three-year-old students. I am trained in the Nurtured Heart Approach and truly value its philosophy and inner wealth that we as individuals, students, parents, teachers and co-workers can use and implement on a daily basis as we all walk through this world together!!  It is something that I hold very dear to my heart.

My husband and I have been married for 27 years and have been blessed with two wonderful children, Nathan and Lauren. My son Nathan, is a senior at Texas A & M Galveston majoring in Ocean Engineering. My daughter Lauren is a senior at Gateway America Prep School and plans to study early childhood development after her high school graduation. Last but not least, I am a huge animal lover and have a 14-year-old Jack Russell Terrier named Maggie. She is also a true blessing in my life and loves to play outside and take trips to the doggie park.

I look forward to getting to know all of our wonderful students and parents here at Shady Oak Primary School during this 2017-2018 school year.


Brandy Parratt

Administrative/Teacher Assistant
P.E. Teacher


Hi! My name is Brandy Parratt and I am so excited and blessed to be starting another wonderful year at Shady Oak Primary School. In 2010, I graduated from University of Houston with a Bachelor degree in Psychology and then trained through Region 4 in Early Childhood through 6th Grade and ESL. After graduating, I began working in the private school sector as a Teacher’s Assistant and later as an Art Teacher and Yearbook Director. I prefer working in the smaller, private schools as I can give more one-on-one attention to each child. I was born and raised in the Houston area but have lived in Richmond for the past 14 years. I have two small dogs (a Yorkie and a Maltese) named Hiccup and Girlfriend who are truly my little "fur-babies".

I look forward to having another exciting and treasured year with our Shady Oak Primary family. It is a real blessing to work with such a great group of women who are kind and all have the same desire - to inspire students to be the best version of themselves. I love that the goal and philosophy at Shady Oak is to develop the whole child - mentally and emotionally. We believe that each student is important and unique as an individual. At Shady Oak we provide a positive, nurturing, safe school environment where students can truly learn, grow, and develop into the best young individuals they can be, both academically and personally.


Nancy Wenzel

Assistant Director
Social Studies Teacher, grades 3-5


When Shady Oak transitioned to a school that serves grades 1 through 5, our staff developed a mission statement that defined our educational vision: “At Shady Oak Primary School, we inspire children to be self-motivated, self-reliant, and independent thinkers.  We provide the academic and life skills that encourage our students to love learning and be successful.”  We put this together because we know that the world and the workplace our children will inherit will be vastly different from what we know today; it is imperative that they learn to be creative thinkers, self-starters and have the desire to be life-long learners.

Across the board, each generation has the unique opportunity to fine tune processes in order to improve on the one previous, and education is a perfect example of this phenomena.  Using Project Based Learning, students learn how to investigate real world issues, take responsibility for their learning, and solve problems while collaborating with their peers.  This method ensures that they are active participants in the entire process of their learning, and deepens the impact of their education.  We have implemented this approach and developed our mission statement as a response to the best things in previous educational experiences, and also, to respond in real time to the concerns about what students today are missing out on: independent and individual thought and accountability.

I am thrilled to be part of a team that works on real-world big picture solutions in educating our future leaders in both content and method. Our students will enter middle school with a unique grasp on their own education and are prepared to be active in their own learning and their own lives. The skills we develop allow them to think outside the box in classroom and extracurricular settings. As a mother, grandmother, and educator I can attest that Shady Oak Primary offers the key to a well-rounded, academically challenging yet appropriate education.


Stephanie Wheatley

English Language Arts Teacher, grades 3-5


This will be my 9th year teaching at Shady Oak. I have taught ELA for the past 2 years and am thoroughly enjoying bringing my love of the English language and the joy of reading to young minds. I have also taught art for 5 of those years and have acted as a teacher’s assistant. I am also a former Shady Oak parent.

I have been connected with Shady Oak since1998 when I enrolled my children at the school My first impression was how comfortable the environment felt. Outside there were many opportunities for pretend play with the provision of dress up clothes, old cameras, kitchen utensils etc. The huge sandbox was a big favorite of my daughter’s and she still talks about the ‘prairie dog’ tunnels she would make with her friends. I loved that the children were encouraged to explore their environment from the leaves on the trees to the squirrels that lived in them. Learning through exploration and play is central to Shady Oak’s program. It is committed to fostering a love for learning in its students by making it fun. Cherishing each child as an individual is also central to Shady Oak’s program. I love how hard the staff works to instill a sense of fairness in the children. Everyone’s feelings are acknowledged and the children quickly learn to resolve conflicts through constructive language and problem solving. My children learned early on how to be part of a community through being responsible for cleaning up common play areas to working on group projects. I think the biggest and lasting impact that Shady Oak has had, has been to shape my children into independent and confident learners. By meeting each child just where they are in their academic journey, students develop a sense of confidence in their own abilities. These are just some of the reasons why I love teaching at Shady Oak.

I have worked with children in various capacities including many volunteer programs and as the Children’s Ministry Assistant at Faith United Methodist Church in Richmond. I received a degree in Librarianship with a major in English in 1987 and a Masters in Library Science in 2001.