by Charles Cassady
Schools across the country emerged from COVID quarantine to return, as best they could, to learning as usual. But for St. Michael School in Independence, it was no mere reopening. The 2022 school year coincides with the Catholic school observing its 150th anniversary.
“We kicked off our celebration of 150 years with our `150th Birthday Celebration’ in May,” said Yvonne Saunders, principal at St. Michael. “It was a great evening and we raised over $100,000. We will conclude the celebration this coming spring with a family carnival. We have a golf outing in September. Catholic Schools Week [Nov. 13-19] will also have a great celebration of our birthday.”
St. Michael School is an award-winning institution teaching preschool to grade 8. It began 19 years after the founding of adjacent St. Michael Catholic Church in 1851, according to the school’s website. The Sisters of Notre Dame have staffed the school since 1908, and in 1997 St. Michael partnered with the Early Childhood Learning Center at St. Basil in Brecksville to offer, off-site, the St. Michael preschool, junior kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade.
“St. Michael School is blessed to have phenomenal support from both St. Michael parish and St. Basil the Great parish,” said Saunders. “Providing a Catholic education to students is a major priority. We also have a tremendous parent community who support us with time, talent and treasure.”
Even in times of dwindling enrollment, parents from outside the Catholic faith have turned to parochial schools such as St. Michael for the promise of quality instruction. The school accepts students not only from Independence and Brecksville households, but also, at last count, some 23 surrounding communities, said Saunders.
“We have 268 students. … Our individual classrooms range from 12 to 24 students with most classrooms having 17 students. The small classroom environment allows for a personalized education where each student can be brought to the next academic level of learning,” she said.
As with all other schools, St. Michael had to pass an unforeseen test, that of virus-quarantine protocols.
“We were only remote during the first year of the pandemic, when the governor shut down all schools,” said Saunders. “We provide all K through 8 students with their own Chromebook, which allowed for a smooth transition. We were fully open last year and this year. While the pedagogy may have had to change, the curriculum remained rigorous.”
And now, turning 150, the school is looking as much forward to tomorrow as backward over a century and half, with a five-year-plan of fresh paint and facility improvements.
“We are beginning to renovate the St. Michael’s library to create new learning spaces that accommodate creativity, inspire innovation and enhance relationship-building,” said Saunders. “Today’s learning spaces must be multifaceted to teach students how to be problem solvers, adaptable, collaborative and creative.”
Catholic education has come a long way from the cherished Latin lessons of past generations. At St. Michael an “Innovation Hub” has been created, and Saunders explained the hub in three parts.
A reading hub is designed especially for younger students to inspire a love of reading and expand their imaginations. In the media hub, students engage in a dynamic media studio while improving writing, communication and collaboration skills. “Not only will it be used for morning announcements, but student presentations, podcasts and videos,” said Saunders.
In the creativity hub, students explore hands-on projects that involve problem solving, designing and creating. There, students will learn how to design and program the school’s 3D printer.
Said Saunders, “Some of the jobs these students will have in the future have not even been created yet. We need to prepare them for their future by providing a solid foundation.” ∞