Faculty Highlight: Steve Soldi

Meet Steve Soldi

Born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts, Steve graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in his home state, where he majored in English and discovered his lifetime love for the intersection of Christianity and Literature. Steve completed his graduate studies at the University of Dallas. He took an interdisciplinary degree in the Humanities, combining the pursuit of History, Philosophy, Theology, and Literature. Steve went on to satisfy his dual concentration in Philosophy and Literature with independent research projects on the religious epistemology in Blaise Pascal’s Of the Geometrical Spirit and the Christian Humanism in François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel.

A member of the Humanities Department, Steve brings an extensive background in boarding school life to Brook Hill, having previously taught at Blair Academy in New Jersey and Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island. Read more to learn about Steve’s recent Teacher of the Year recognition, published journal article and his overall experience at Brook Hill so far.

Q + A

Mr. Soldi! Can you tell our readers your overall involvement on campus? What all do you teach at Brook Hill? What extracurriculars are you involved in?

“Of course! I currently teach AP Humanities, Humanities 11, Great Texts: Moby-Dick, Business Principles, and Personal Finance/Investing. Outside of the classroom, I direct the Student Club program! I lead two clubs of my own, the Culture Club and the Investment Club.”

How neat! What is your previous experience in education? How did that lead you to Brook Hill?

“I arrived at Brook Hill from my home region of New England, where I previously taught in the English Department at Blair Academy in New Jersey and in the Humanities program at Portsmouth Abbey School in Rhode Island, both of which are college preparatory boarding schools. When my wife and I were ready to move back to her home state of Texas, I discovered Brook Hill in the Piney Woods of East Texas on a search for private schools in minor Texas cities. After a deeper dive into Brook Hill’s website I was sold on two things: it was a boarding school, and it had a three-year Humanities program. Since Humanities programs that integrate multiple disciplines into one course are very rare in high schools and colleges, I knew that Brook Hill’s commitment to a three-year flagship program of its caliber meant that the school itself was built on a solid foundation. The past five years have only reinforced my initial impression.”

How amazing! So you teach five different courses across two departments – what’s your favorite course to teach? Why?

“Tough question! I love all of them. But if you insist that I home in on one, then I’d say that I particularly enjoy teaching my double-blocked AP Humanities course. This course is a foray into the American World by way of 63 primary source documents and 6 novels as we investigate the genius behind America’s founding and the intricacies of the American spirit. The primary sources allow my students to obtain a proper understanding of what it means to be an informed member of the sovereign people and join in the effort to uphold our constitutional republic’s ideals, which are constantly under attack. Because I aim for my students to connect their learning to real life through the study of literature, I revel in their engagement with The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Sea-Wolf, The Turmoil, The Great Gatsby, and Fahrenheit 451. These powerful stories of American life are extremely useful in helping them appreciate their current lives in all their complexity and imagine their future possibilities within a framework of reasonable hope. “

We heard you wrote a journal article that got published! Tell us all about it. Who published it? What is it over? How have your experiences at Brook Hill inspired it?

Yes! My forthcoming article in VoegelinView (VV) is entitled “The Recovery of Wonder in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.” VV is a publication of the Eric Voegelin Institute (EVI) at Louisiana State University. The EVI is “a humanities and social sciences research institute devoted to the revitalization of teaching and understanding of the ‘great books’ of Western civilization.” In turn, VV is “an internationally prominent online journal of the arts and humanities” that primarily publishes pieces dealing with “the human condition and experience, the humanities as a source of wisdom and cultural renewal, and…the transformation of education.”
The soul of the article can be directly linked to my work in the Humanities program at Brook Hill and my love for the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. I have assigned this text to all my Humanities students for the past five years, and each year it only becomes more relevant due to our current society trending towards radical standardization and groupthink. To me, Ray Bradbury is a prophet whose message needs to be broadcast far and wide. The origin of the article stems from a “homework assignment” given to the four Humanities teachers by our Department Head Mr. Travis. Last spring, he asked us to define what is unique about being a teacher in a Humanities program. As I sat down to write my reflection, I channeled Bradbury’s view that liberal education in the Humanities is the antidote to societal decay. About a month later, my AP Humanities students were revisiting Bradbury as part of our exploration into communism and the Cold War. I had them read my reflection. Since it received such a positive response, I decided it might be worth putting some elbow grease into it. Luckily, after revising it over the past few months, it was accepted for publication in November. I sincerely wish to thank that special group of students who encouraged me from the beginning through their wonder-filled receptiveness to my teaching. They are members of the class of 2024: Peyton Kay, Ayo Fadase, Brighton Lee, David Sims, Drew Sims, Lennie Kiguru, Haley Gregori, Aaron Nguyen, and Neville Siko. We had a memorable year together! I view my article as a tribute to them because they, like Bradbury, know the irreplaceable value of true education in pursuit of truth and wisdom.”

Very insightful! You got Teacher of the Year last year! How did that feel? Tell us about that experience.

“Wow! Such an honor. I owe a big shoutout to my amazing colleagues for their recognition of my commitment to the art of teaching. Teaching is a selfless labor of love that sometimes makes you feel like Robinson Crusoe on his island. So being recognized as Teacher of the Year was a big boost for me. We celebrated as a family. Actually, my parents happened by chance to be in town visiting that week. As lifelong educators themselves, they were extremely proud of my accomplishment. My dad, a retired leader of schools for 30 years, always told me that his schools were only successful institutions because of his great teachers. He understands the sacrifice that teachers make better than most. On that note, I need to thank my wife Elizabeth who knows something about sacrifice, as well. During the school year, she always allows me the time to invest in my courses and my students, which often takes up big chunks of my evenings and weekends. I know for a fact that I would not be able to meet my high standard of excellence as a teacher, modeled to me by my mentor Dr. Lee Oser of Holy Cross, without her support. I do my darndest to repay her in the summers.

“I owe a big shoutout to my amazing colleagues for their recognition of my commitment to the art of teaching. Teaching is a selfless labor of love that sometimes makes you feel like Robinson Crusoe on his island. So being recognized as Teacher of the Year was a big boost for me.”  – Steve Soldi, Teacher of the Year 2023

We love that! What is your favorite thing or aspect about Brook Hill?

“I would have to say that my favorite aspect about Brook Hill is its location and all the benefits that come with it, namely the deeply Christian people. When my wife and I decided to move back to Texas, we did so for the sake of our children. With so much confusion in our society, we knew that we needed to find a Christian haven for them to thrive. Brook Hill has allowed us to do just that. We love being in East Texas where common sense prevails. Not to mention that Mr. Dement and the administration have only intensified Brook Hill’s commitment to Chrisitan education and traditional morality since I have been a part of the community. Due to these efforts, Brook Hill is no longer a hidden gem. More families are realizing what we realized five years ago. The future is bright for East Texas and Brook Hill!”

That’s great to hear! What are some peak memories or favorite moments of yours while being a teacher at Brook Hill?

“Our former Head of School, Mr. Rod Fletcher, inspired in his teachers a desire to facilitate “peak moments” for our students. The way I interpreted his presentation was for us to create microcosms that students would remember when they reflected on their time at Brook Hill. So far, I have tended toward creating these microcosms by partnering with my students. For example, the Culture Club was created three years ago by my former AP Humanities students Marlee Gunter and Seth Sagen from the class of 2022. This club is known for its high-cultural excursions to Dallas, where we frequented the Dallas Museum of Art and soaked in Mozart’s’ Requiem and Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Likewise, the following year a group of students from the class of 2023 (James Jordan, Claire Kinsky, Luke Graves, Jesus Jimenez, and Jakub Jirku) pushed me to create a Humanities elective, so that they could continue the work they were doing in AP Humanities. The result was a seminar called Great Texts, in which we focus solely on reading Herman Melville’s 700-page magnum opus Moby-Dick, often cited as THE “Great American Novel.” It’s the one book that’s too dense to fit into the AP Humanities curriculum, but somehow the students found a work around, and I’m delighted they did. In short, I’m always on the lookout for ways to support the interests of my students. I cannot even imagine what types of things we will come up with next.”

Thanks for creating peak moments for our students! Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

“If this interview caught your attention, I urge you to check out two of my courses via my podcast channels on Spotify, AP Humanities and its extension Great Texts: Moby-Dick. For further inquiries, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.”

Mr. Soldi, thank you for everything you do for our students in the classroom and in your clubs! We are proud of you for your recent published article, and we are grateful for your expertise in our Humanities Department at BH.