Some people are just born to be stars. The natural talent is simply in their blood. But without determination, drive, and hard work, that talent can go to waste. We can safely say that won’t be the case with Sebastian (Seba) Stephens, an 11-year-old fifth-grade homeschool rock star (literally) and rising star in the acting world. What has Seba accomplished in his 11 years? Let’s see…
- Berklee-certified musician? Check.
- Accomplished stage performer? Check.
- Multi-instrumentalist who composes and records his own music? Check and check.
- Actor in a film directed by a seven-time Academy AwardⓇ nominee? Check.
- Drummer in an up-and-coming rock band? Check.
This is just a partial list, by the way. Let’s get to know Seba and how he manages to balance all of his talents with school.
The Decision to Homeschool
Seba is finishing up his third year homeschooling with Bridgeway. Interestingly enough, his talent wasn’t the sole reason the Stephens family opted to begin homeschooling. “We were in a great local private school,” explained Seba’s dad Everett (also known as Ev). “A few things started to converge simultaneously that all pointed toward homeschooling. One, our ‘independent’ private school started including more politicized topics we felt were distracting from a true independent education. Additionally, we recognized Seba’s natural gifts needed to be better supported to reach his full potential.”
Everett continued, “There isn’t a local school that offers true independence coupled with a curriculum that’s tailored to his specific needs and has the ability to meet his performing arts needs.” That led to the family’s decision to homeschool Seba.
Musically Gifted at Birth
Music has always come naturally to Seba, and the desire to learn and play began when he was a toddler. “I’ve wanted to play music longer than I can remember,” Seba said. “It’s actually all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
Seba says he felt the urge to play music before he could even walk or talk and that he would always “shush” his parents when music was playing so he could hear it. He says he was barely a year old at the time. It’s easy to understand where Seba’s love of music originated. “Growing up around Memphis makes loving music easy. But my parents also played music for me all the time,” Seba recalled. “My mom (Mariela) would listen to a lot of classical and Latin music before I was born and when I was a baby, and my dad also had my first playlist and iPod loaded up before I was born!”
His first life-changing music experience? “I heard the band The Police when I was around 2-½, and that’s all I wanted to listen to for a couple of years.” So it was a dream come true when Seba was able to meet Steward Copeland, the legendary drummer for The Police, when he was about 4. “Stewart was great! And it was the first time I remember feeling nervous about anything,” Seba said. “I was actually very shy because he was my superhero. It’s funny because I love performing and I’m not shy at all to be on stage. But, there was something about being around Stewart. We talked all about his time with The Police, his style of playing that made him successful in the band, and how he used to make Sting mad. He was really funny!”
And then there’s this amazing anecdote from Seba’s dad Ev, as featured in a Berklee Online profile on Seba by Talia Smith-Muller:
There was one moment when Everett realized that Seba was on a different trajectory than most kids his age. When Seba was three-and-a-half, Everett and Mariela heard a huge crashing noise and screaming coming from their drum practice room/home office. They walked in to discover the junior drum kit kicked over and Seba in tears. When Everett asked Seba what was wrong, he said: “Daddy, I can’t get the tone I need from these drums!”
“I’m not a musician, but I knew his ears were demonstrating something special, given the level of frustration around tone,” says Everett. “This was all rooted in the fact Seba was trying to sound like Stewart Copeland, and his $300 junior kit wasn’t getting the job done.”
They replaced the junior kit with a TAMA drum kit similar to Copeland’s and enrolled Seba in drum lessons, but a few months later his teacher said that he was advancing too quickly and there wasn’t a program that they offered that could meet his ability.’”
That led to the next phase of Seba’s musical education.
Continuing His Music Education
As Seba grew up, his dad exposed him to a wide variety of music spanning all genres–Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley, ‘70s and ‘80s funk, R&B, and alternative rock. He also cites bassists Victor Wooten (of Bela Fleck & The Flecktones) and Joe Dart (of funk band Vulfpeck), drummer Bernard Purdie, Earth Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, The Who (especially the rhythm section of bassist John Entwhistle and drummer Keith Moon), and Led Zeppelin (particularly drum legend John Bonham). He even considers Victor Wooten to be a personal mentor on bass.
In addition to learning through listening, Seba is actually an online student at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, an institution that claims Alan Silvestri, Steve Vai, Quincy Jones, John Mayer, Branford Marsalis, Diana Krall, Howard Shore, and many other famed musicians, composers, singers, and producers as alumni.
Oh, and Seba–at 10 years old–became the youngest student to ever earn a General Music Studies professional certificate from Berklee Online. In fact, when Ev enrolled him, the school had to get an age waiver to get him into the Summer Program, which usually requires students to be at least 14 years of age. Age is just a number to Seba, though, as he quickly demonstrated his prodigious talents. Even with his immense natural skill, Seba had to work hard–and continues to do so–at Berklee.
“Berklee is truly an amazing school,” Seba said. “I’ve become such a better musician thanks to the support and challenges of Berklee. “It’s definitely challenging, and you have to practice and study every day. But, I’ve been able to work with some of the best musicians and students from all around the world. Everyone is very supportive, but you have to work hard because of the 12-week schedule of the semesters.”
Showcasing His Musical Talents
While continuing his studies at Berklee Online, Seba does what he loves most–writing and playing music. Much of his time recently is spent on composing original music for his rock band, Soundbox (which comprises four other students–all of whom are supremely talented). Soundbox, which formed in June 2022, spends several hours–20 to 30 per week by Ev’s estimate–practicing, rehearsing, composing, and recording their soon-to-be-released debut album.
“We’ve been very focused on writing and rehearsing and recording for a new album,” explained Seba. “We decided not to focus on gigging for now until we have plenty of originals to play. But we did accept some really cool performance opportunities over the last few months.”
These performances include playing the main stage at Memphis’ Cooper Young Fest, the largest single-day music festival in Tennessee (Soundbox was the youngest band to ever perform on the main stage), and serving as the house band (also the youngest ever) for the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. “We got to perform a pre-game show and at halftime in front of over 17,000 people” at the FedEx Forum in Memphis. “It was so cool!”
Stay tuned for new Soundbox music. The band is planning on releasing several singles on all major streaming platforms over the next few months. In the meantime, check out this video of Seba and Soundbox performing live!
Catching the Acting Bug
According to Ev Stephens, acting was never part of the plan. “Seba started acting on a whim during COVID as a time killer,” he said. “We had no idea it would lead to a major musical and motion picture opportunity.” The major musical? School of Rock. The production in which Seba participated ran from July to October 2021 at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in Ivins, Utah, which required Seba to leave home for several months. He didn’t mind.
“It was cool! We had around 3,000 people attend each performance,” recalled Seba. “I lived in cast housing with some of the most amazing people and worked A LOT. But, being on a giant stage several nights each week was a great experience. The production team and cast are still great friends. I learned so much about musical theater. I never knew I’d love it as much as I did.”
You do have to put in a lot of work,” he continued. “We worked several hours every day during the couple of months of rehearsal. But then, it was showtime! The thing about live theater is every performance is just slightly different, and it keeps things really fun.”
And the major motion picture opportunity Ev referenced? Oh, just a small picture directed by Wes Anderson (yes, seven-time OscarⓇ-nominated director Wes Anderson) and starring a few actors you may have heard of: Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Matt Dillon, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Hong Chau, Steve Carell, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum to name a few. Asteroid City premieres worldwide in June 2023, so Seba can’t elaborate too much on the experience.
“Well, I still can’t say much about the plot or story details,” Seba said. “But filming it was awesome! We got to shoot on multiple giant sets in Spain with some of the best actors in the world.” And to answer the next logical question, Seba said, “People always ask me what Tom Hanks was like. He was just like you’d hope he would be. He’s super nice, funny, and very smart. He always got my riddles and joked around with the kids a lot.”
Ev had plenty of kind words about other cast members as well. “Margot Robbie was awesome. Tilda Swinton was exceptionally sweet to Seba, and he really liked her. Matt Dillon was a great sport – he hung around the classroom with the kids a good bit.”
Hopefully this is just the start of a long and successful Hollywood career for Seba!
Why Homeschooling Works for Seba and His Family
The Stephens family is well aware that Seba might not be able to embark on these incredible adventures and opportunities without homeschooling. But they don’t see homeschooling as simply a vehicle that allows Seba more time to rehearse, practice, perform, and travel. They see homeschooling as something more. So, when researching the right homeschool fit for the family, Ev stressed the importance of feeling that “there is also a heart and soul to the school.”
“On the surface, [homeschooling] is the cornerstone to achieving the personal and developmental goals we share with Sebastian,” explained Ev. “But, beyond the absolute educational and developmental benefits, it allows us to create a rich, loving family dynamic that I’ve always dreamed of, because there’s nothing I want more than to be abundantly present as a father for my son.”
Homeschooling also provides children with the opportunity to learn about the world in a dynamic setting that is not confined to brick-and-mortar walls. “I love taking Seba with me to engage in my “real-world” career,” said Ev. “I want to help him understand how the world functions on a daily basis and the importance of engaging meaningfully to make a difference with your choices as a professional in society.”
But the flexibility homeschool provides is also quite appealing to a family that knows how much time and work Seba must put forth to succeed in this entertainment business. “Yes, there is the reality of Seba’s personal career pursuits,” explained Ev. “For example, he had an audition for a new Disney cartoon this week, but we were able to meet with his singing coach and dial into the audition as part of Seba’s daily routine.”
Seba agrees with his dad. “I think the best part is flexibility,” he says. “I try to stay on a regular schedule, but some days I need to be focused on Berklee to ensure I get my weekly coursework submitted. Or, sometimes I have a big rushed audition that pops up and I have to rehearse and deliver. I can do all of these things without worrying about missing school.”
A “Typical” Homeschooling Day for Seba
There may not be such a thing as a “typical” homeschool day for a performer or competitive athlete, but the closest thing for Seba and the family is to be up by 8:15 and working on Bridgeway assignments by 8:45. Then there’s a lunch break at noon followed by an hour of physical education from 12:30 to 1:30. Then it’s music time. From 1:30 to 3:30, Seba works on his Berklee weekly assignments before spending some time composing original music or rehearsing for acting auditions.
The hard work seems to be paying off, as Seba “typically a 4.0 student,” according to his dad. “He’s also become much more self-sufficient and independent during his time with Bridgeway,” Ev continued. “Seba learned that our expectations are thorough and without shortcuts, which has been a good life lesson for him.”
Seba’s Bridgeway coursework consists of primarily Blended programs in math, science, ELA, and social studies, along with Music Theory courses. “Learning lessons like the fact that math requires work and patience are invaluable experiences,” said Ev.
The Best Things About Homeschooling with Bridgeway
The Stephens family had no desire to move from homeschool to homeschool, so they did their research–lots of research–before deciding to enroll Seba with Bridgeway Academy. “Bridgeway was the clear choice after countless interviews and screenings over six months,” Ev explained. “The combination of a flexible schedule coupled with a truly tailored curriculum and a staff that’s both caring and responsive made Bridgeway an easy choice.”
Ev also mentioned that homeschooling with Bridgeway provides Seba with a well-rounded education experience that is a “balance of a great traditional education and college courses while pursuing a professional career. The trust and confidence we have in the education, staff, and systems, all wrapped in a completely flexible schedule backed by a curriculum that’s tailored to Seba’s ability, makes this a perfect fit.”
And how does Seba feel about homeschooling with Bridgeway? “He loves it. Absolutely loves it.”
“I love the flexibility and courses, and I would never have the ability to reach my full potential without Bridgeway,” said Seba. “It allows me to be a regular fifth grader while also attending Berklee and pursuing my music and acting careers.”
One aspect of Bridgeway that the Stephens family truly appreciates is the confidence that they’re supported in any situation. And Everett raved about Seba’s academic advisor, Laurie Micali. “I know Bridgeway, and especially Laurie, has our back,” said Ev. “I have no doubt Laurie is available and supportive for anything we need, and I can say the same about everyone else we’ve engaged with at Bridgeway.”
“Laurie is exceptional. She’s been a true gift to our experience and has made herself abundantly available for everything we could possibly need during our time at Bridgeway. We don’t speak as much as we used to primarily due to our vastly improved proficiency with homeschooling. But, I know she has our back. Period.”
It’s safe to say that the Stephens family is happy with Bridgeway as their homeschool partners, but Ev understands that Seba has to balance the schoolwork with his personal interests to ensure the partnership flourishes. “It does take a very goal-oriented kid who has their own vision and passion for pursuing personal goals, but it can be done and you can have the absolute best experience along the way.”
Seba Shows That Homeschoolers Socialize Plenty
Many families considering homeschooling express the socialization aspect as a concern. The Stephens family was no exception. “This was a concern initially, but Seba is very engaged with his band and live performances,” explained Ev. “I think it’s very important to encourage kids to explore their natural curiosities through direct interaction with other equally interested kids and teachers. Music education or sports are obvious outlets, but think outside the box.”
Everett went on to cite several excellent examples of these endeavors, making it clear he “gets” the homeschooling experience. “Take your kids to jobsites if you can, take them to other engaging experiences such as cooking classes, martial arts, dance,” he suggested. “The thing about homeschooling is it truly frees you to think outside the box on how to get your child engaged with other areas of life that would not be otherwise available with a traditional rigid school schedule. If you’re patient and engaging with your child, then you’ll get to witness how your child finds their own tribe with whom they’ll have more in common than you could ever imagine. It’s a great experience.”
What Seba’s Future Holds
To say that the Stephens family’s calendar is busy would be a slight understatement. Looking ahead, Seba is laser-focused on music first and foremost. “My personal goals include getting our album wrapped up with Soundbox, gigging around the region to support our original material [with Soundbox], and finishing my Music Theory certificate with Berklee,” Seba said. “I definitely plan on acting more in the future with the right roles. But music is the biggest priority for now.”
As for Seba’s education, why mess with a great thing? Seba loves homeschooling, the family loves homeschooling, so they plan to keep on homeschooling! “He would be crushed if we didn’t,” noted Ev. Explaining his reasoning for doing so, Ev said, “As his parents, we know Seba will only be a child once. He’s got an entire life to be an adult. Homeschooling with Bridgeway allows us to cherish the fleeting moments of childhood.”
So, does the Stephens family plan on continuing homeschooling Seba with Bridgeway? “Of course,” said Ev. How about Seba? “I’d love to graduate from Bridgeway. It’s tough imagining going back to traditional schools.” We hope to see the Stephens family at our Class of 2030 graduation ceremony!
Words of Wisdom for Would-Be Homeschoolers
Having been through the rigorous process of researching and deciding on whether and where to homeschool Seba, Ev offers a holistic view of homeschooling to parents who are in the same position, especially those who have asked him about homeschooling. “I always take the time to first understand ‘why’ they are considering homeschooling,” explained Ev. “Once I understand why, I know I can frame the benefits in the context of their specific needs.”
“I also encourage them to understand they will have to develop a sense of patience if they’ve never had any teaching experience…the transition from traditional brick-and-mortar to homeschooling is a learning curve for BOTH parent and child.”
As for the day-to-day, Everett emphasized the importance of developing a routine “as it encourages the discipline and organization to produce the best benefits of homeschooling.” Ev also commented on how surprised he was at the amount of “filler” in a typical day at a traditional school. He discovered that “you can accomplish all you need to academically in three or four hours–max–per day of homeschooling. If you work slightly ahead, then you’ll find you can free up a full day per week.”
The Stephens family has truly embraced the advantages that come with homeschooling–but they also understand that the homeschooling experience is really what each family makes of it. In his view, Everett believes parents should help their kids “become explorers and develop their natural interests and gifts.” And, as is the case with many other parents who are disillusioned by what so many public schools have become, Ev noted how “completely liberating it is breaking free of the news cycles and politics that have invaded our schools. Life is less stressful when you turn off the static of an overly emotional society.”
Finally, Ev is a firm believer in experiences…that education isn’t words written on a page or screen or a lecture coming from a teacher or parent. It’s about immersing your child in whatever it is they’re learning. “I encourage parents to consider taking their education on the road,” said Ev. “It’s one thing to read about history, literature, and science, but it’s another to be able to take your child on the road to experience it in a completely immersive lifestyle.”
“This doesn’t mean you have to spend days at the Louvre in Paris to grasp culture and art…but, you can if you want to. Or, you can go spelunking in Mammoth Cave, metal-detecting at old battlefields, hiking in the Scottish Highlands…all while taking your school on the road.”
And with these experiences come not only knowledge but memories and relationships. “Above all else, I encourage families to consider how their kid will reflect on their childhood once grown. You simply can’t compare to the level of bonding that homeschooling fosters between parent and child.”
Why the Stephens Family Homeschools with Bridgeway
We’ll let Ev sum this up for us, since he puts it so brilliantly:
“Bridgeway offers a ‘best of’ experience across all important categories. One is tailored curriculum–the education is designed to let your child reach their full potential based on academic proficiency. Most traditional schools are one-size-fits all. Bridgeway is going to design a curriculum that optimizes your child’s full potential regardless if it’s advanced placement, additional support needed, or on par. They will be right where they need to be.”
“Additionally, Bridgeway offers a truly tailored experience to support the curriculum. You can be truly independent with your curriculum and schedule, or you can opt for a hybrid virtual classroom experience with additional structure. The overall experience can be summed up by saying Bridgeway offers homeschoolers a best-of high-quality education delivered through a best-of system coupled with a best-of highly educated supportive staff with a best-of flexible schedule to support your personal family and lifestyle goals.”
Or, as Seba so succinctly recommends: “Go for it!! You’ll love the freedom and flexibility!”
Meet Ev and Seba Stephens and hear why they homeschool with Bridgeway Academy in this video!
Do you have a student-athlete with similar experiences? Share your story with us! Email [email protected] to be a future family spotlight.