Fine Arts Program Shaping Leaders of Tomorrow

Houston Chronicle features Fine Arts Program at The John Cooper School
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The John Cooper School’s Fine Arts Program is Shaping Leaders of Tomorrow

Now in his 8th year at The John Cooper School, Head of School Dr. Stephen Popp brings 25 years of education experience to the role. Late one afternoon, Dr. Popp was gracious enough to run across campus and offer his insight into what has made Cooper one of the most sought-after educations in the Greater Houston area.

To provide a little context first, The John Cooper School is an independent pre-K through 12 school located in The Woodlands, Texas. Widely considered one of the most prestigious college preparatory schools around, Cooper now has 1,315 students this year, hailing from over 40 different countries, and that makes them one of the larger independent schools in the Southwest.

First formed in 1988, renowned philanthropist and billionaire businessman George Mitchell – who was responsible for developing The Woodlands – set aside 43 acres for what became The John Cooper School. Being a carefully designed school environment that is for the “whole child,” Cooper gives students the chance to pursue their curiosity in a substantial number of ways.

“Part of the value proposition we have at Cooper is that we afford students an array of skills that we think are translatable,” says Dr. Popp. “If you have a particular learning style, you’re interested in sports, athletics, arts or academics, there’s going to be a place and space for you here. We foster and nurture a caring environment for all of our students, with all of their different talents, giving them opportunities to learn, grow and thrive.”

When speaking to Dr. Popp, it’s clear what a massive emphasis is placed on the surrounding community beyond just the classroom, and this is another value-add for everyone.

“We’re really a reflection of this Woodlands community and a representation of George Mitchell’s vision.” Dr. Popp says. “We’re not just behind these 43 acres. We are out and about in our community and making a positive difference. Our mission speaks to helping our kids become responsible citizens and leaders.”

The Enduring Power of Fine Arts

For The John Cooper School, part of challenging their students spawns from creating a curriculum that is robust and dynamic. “We believe that in addition to academic pursuits, the arts and athletics are integral into developing a student,” Dr. Popp shares.

At Cooper, artistic pursuits begin in lower school, as early as when they are four or five years old. Whether through drawings and paintings, sculpting or even learning about art history, the arts become a crucial part of their schedule. This carries on into middle and upper school, where visual arts and performing arts classes are still key.

“They’re not tacked on to a student experience,” Dr. Popp says. “They’re integral in their whole curriculum, and we value that by the way we schedule these classes. You go all the way through in our upper school, and it becomes part of our graduation requirements.”

These different offerings for students can include choir, band, dance, ceramics, kiln work, glassblowing, woodworking, digital photography, digital media, virtual reality and so much more – even aerial silks similar to a Cirque du Soleil production.

“Creativity is extremely important for students to nurture and develop,” Dr. Popp continues. “Not all of our students may be artists, but we think the creative skills learned as students in our visual and performing arts classes will aid them in any of their future endeavors.”

With over 96 computers in their visual arts center, Cooper has also effectively leveraged technology. This fine arts program provides students with a great skill set to help lead successful careers and lives.

What Alumni Are Saying

One recent Cooper graduate has now become one of the most in-demand up-and-coming actresses of her generation. Mallory Bechtel, Class of 2018, stars in the HBO reboot of Pretty Little Liars, has appeared in Law and Order and even performed in the Broadway production of Dear Evan Hansen. She credits much of her acting success to her former school.

“I feel that Cooper taught me how to interact and engage with people in a creative environment at a very young age, which helped me immensely when I first started navigating the professional world of theatre as a child, and has definitely continued to help me in my professional career as an adult,” said Mallory Bechtel.

Class of 2010 graduate Whitney Brandt Gillette is another huge success story who toured nationally in the production of Wicked and choreographed and helped direct multiple dance shows for both Julliard and New York Fashion Week. As a senior at Cooper, she was given the freedom to create her own dance sequences and recently returned to Cooper’s campus to teach aspiring students in the current class.

Vani Desabhotla, who also graduated in the Class of 2018, uses her visual arts design skills in her STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) pursuits and studies to help children by working in neural engineering in a non-invasive brain-machine interface laboratory at the University of Houston.

“The reason I was selected to participate in this pilot design program as a young student stems back to my Cooper education,” Desabhotla says. “This launched my life on this trajectory and unlocked doors for me I never thought possible. I was actually afraid of the technology…I never realized what pairing my interests and these skill sets could do for my life and for the lives of others. I’m grateful for all that The John Cooper School has done to prepare me!”

Applying to The John Cooper School

With even more groundbreaking new visual arts and athletics facilities on the horizon, now is an exciting time for The John Cooper School. It should be noted the Admissions department at Cooper receives extensive interest year-round from diverse families moving into the area who are considering a fully independent school choice.

Unlike public school, admittance is competitive and there are certain academic standards, but for those interested in receiving a premier education in a caring community with a world-class faculty, staff and curriculum, Cooper is truly one of a kind.

To learn more about The John Cooper School and arrange a visit to tour their stunning campus, visit

From Curiosity to Wisdom
The John Cooper School is an independent, non-sectarian, co-educational, college preparatory day school. Our mission is to provide a challenging education in a caring environment to a diverse group of select students, enabling them to become critical and creative thinkers, effective communicators, responsible citizens and leaders, and lifelong learners.

The John Cooper School seeks to attract qualified individuals of diverse backgrounds to its faculty, staff, and student body. The School does not discriminate against any individual in admissions, educational programs, personnel policies, general practices, or employment, on the basis of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, physical disability, or age.