A school, a dog, and a book help find the way to peace

Feb 2, 2023
Annunciation Catholic Academy second graders pose with ACA graduate, Dr. Brooke Stuart and her book Zoë Climbs the Stairs. (COURTESY)

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS | Brooke Stuart admitted she had a difficult childhood after her parents divorced. She also faced many
health challenges.

Then there was a glimmer of light when she began second grade. The confidence instilled by teachers and a loving community embraced her like a warm blanket, filling her with an unexpected sense of worth and safety. It was a turning point in her life, and she credits it to her Catholic school years.

Today 33-year-old Stuart is a licensed practitioner and holistic doctor who helps professional golfers, sports teams, athletes, and others move forward through and beyond their difficulties, using lessons learned from her years at Annunciation
Catholic Academy and life experiences.

Stuart wrote a children’s book about finding courage and confidence, one step at a time and recently read her book, “Zoë
Climbs the Stairs: The first in a series,” to second graders at Annunciation. It brought Stuart back to her favorite place in the school — the library.

“I walked into that library and could see the beautiful stained glass that’s been there since the school opened. You see the way the books are. They create these little hives of creativity throughout every part of the library,” she noted. “It was cool to be in an environment I felt connected, where kids were learning and growing and interested in reading and writing and have dreams of their own.”

Annunciation Catholic graduate, Dr. Brooke Stuart and her Goldendoodle Zoë Hart, on which she based a learning book for children – Zoë Climbs the Stairs. (COURTESY)

She particularly relished reading to second graders as that is where her experience began, the first year the school fully opened as a kindergarten through grade eight school in 1996. As she read about how her dog Zoë overcame her fear and learned to climb the stairs, one
step at a time, Stuart recalled the confidence and courage she gained in second grade thanks to teacher Jennifer Kenney.

“God works through everyone and there are reasons why we are living in this life that are perfect, although we’re not able to see,” Stuart acknowledged.

Looking at the wide-eyed, engaged students reminded her of how Kenney challenged her academically and later chose her as a Disney Dreamer and Doer.

“Family dynamics were not necessarily peaceful at home to say the least. I never thought of myself as special at all,” she said. “Her acknowledgement in that moment really helped me in ways I cannot describe. It was one of those small turning points in my life.”

“The teachers there really saw every student as special and helped students tap into their own gifts and build their confidence. This was not only predicated on academics, but on God and how He sees you. There was a commitment to that throughout the school.”

She credits her love of the rosary to her 5th grade teacher Cheryl Nettles. She taught students how to make them and then send them to third world countries as part of the Rosary Club. Always drawn to the rosary because it involves the Blessed Mother, is still a form of prayer that brings her peace.

“I think being in a school that allows for faith to exist, and not just exist, but to be explored, explained, and talked about openly is so important for children. Without it kids cannot fully express themselves and explore something that will always be knocking at the door until they turn toward it,” she said.

For Stuart, those doors opened through caring teachers who challenged her academically, “because they would see your potential”. They also planted the seeds of faith that matured, enabling her to face many challenges through constant prayer and assuring her “that you are held and there’s always another side of the equation. That even if you can’t see what lies in the next step, if you believe in God, and you begin to believe in yourself – which is what Zoë Climbs the Stairs talks about – you become less and less afraid of what lies ahead. You can begin to enjoy the present moment.”

“Brooke is a prime example of all that we hope our (academy) alums will become — active Catholics who love and serve the Lord, by loving and serving others,” said Patty Kahl, principal of Annunciation Academy. “We are very proud of all she has accomplished and the many talents she shares with the community.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, February 02, 2023