Upper Arlington, Ohio, school focuses on educating the whole child: body, mind, and spirit
By Michele Faehnle
As the school nurse at St. Andrew School in Upper Arlington, Ohio, I have the unique opportunity to be a “fly on the wall” and observe the ordinary yet exceptional beauty of the Catholic school environment provided to 434 students. As I walk the halls, the philosophy of a school committed to the development of the whole person in the image of God can be seen in its inclusionary effort and strong community bonding.
The four pillars of education at St. Andrew School are faith, character, academics, and community. Through faith and character development, students become compassionate, responsible, confident, contributing members of the Church and society. With diverse instructional approaches, each student’s learning needs are met, and a strong bond of community is formed through faith, family, and a supportive educational environment.
Inclusion for exceptional learners
St. Andrew School offers a wide range of programs to help educate the children of our school. One unique offering is our SPICE (Special People In Catholic Education) program, which exists to provide funding for Catholic education for students with special learning needs as well as those who are accelerated learners. SPICE was brought to the school 10 years ago by a parent group working with the school and parish staff to create an environment that would embrace children with special needs (todayct.us/2FQpqwE).
SPICE encourages all students with special needs to live out their Catholic faith by affirming the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the saving power of Christ. SPICE offers the opportunity to be educated and evangelized in a faith-filled environment for many students who would not be able to attend a traditional Catholic school. Students with Down syndrome, autism, and other learning needs learn alongside other students; this benefits all children as they study, play, and pray together.
With the help of financing from the Jon Peterson Special Needs (JPSN) Scholarship Program, St. Andrew School now employs three intervention specialists and five aides to focus on students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). They spend time assisting the students in the classroom and also working one-on-one in the intervention rooms with them.
“Our school promotes an inclusion effort,” junior-high intervention specialist Jake Lombardo commented. “We work with students with learning disabilities, mild-to-moderate disabilities, or mild behavior disorders. We provide the support teachers need for these students. By offering a different approach, we are able to help students with disabilities succeed in the classroom.”
Lucy, a student with autism, shares about her experience at St. Andrew School: “I like music, my friends, and being at the same school as my big brothers and sisters.” Parents of students who are part of the program have shared how well their students do because they are integrated with the rest of the student body.
“My son Peter has become much more independent,” reports Brenda Lombardi, whose son has Down syndrome. “With an aide by his side, he is able to be in the classroom for about half the day. He loves to attend ‘specials’ like gym class, and he works one-on-one with the intervention staff. He also works on life skills and does jobs around the school, such as helping the cafeteria staff make cookies and delivering notes to the classroom.”
The SPICE enrichment program incorporates grades one through eight. Enrichment teacher Susan Kundu leads weekly STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) lessons with first- and second-graders. Grades three through six are visited weekly and participate in Creative Thinking lessons, which encourage teamwork and problem-solving.
In addition, Challenge is offered as an opportunity for students who thrive academically. Small groups from grades three through eight meet weekly and participate in cross-curricular units meant to supplement their existing curriculum. One of the favorite Challenge programs is a small “store” the students create. They research toys and items to sell, set up shop, and run the store during lunch hour at school.
With the help of intervention specialists, a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, the school nurse, a psychologist, and a school counselor, St. Andrew School is able to assist students with many learning needs.
Special People in Catholic Education (SPICE)
“As spice adds flavor to our food, so do children with special needs add richness to the classroom — encouraging a dimension of understanding and acceptance in even the youngest students.”
SPICE was founded in 1993 at St. Catharine School in Columbus, Ohio. Learn about its history and how to bring this program to your school.
Get more information about St. Andrew’s SPICE program.
Coming together as families
Family Groups is another noteworthy program offered to all students at St. Andrew School. Each family group is named after a virtue, fruit, or gift of the Holy Spirit and consists of one to two representatives from each grade. A small group of teachers plan prayers, discussion questions, and an activity based on the religion accreditation theme for the “families” to do together in their monthly meeting. These meetings start with the older students going to the classrooms and gathering the groups together. Once all 12 or 13 children are present, the groups are led by an eighth-grade student with the help of the seventh-graders. This promotes leadership skills while teaching younger students that we are all part of a community.
Language arts teacher Jenny Johnson shared, “I love watching the older students interact with the younger students one on one. It’s really cool to see the eighth-graders take care of the younger students. I also like to see how this allows for the more introverted students to get the spotlight.” Johnson also pointed out that through Family Groups, the students have the opportunity to share their talents. “One year a student wrote a song and played it on her ukulele each month; it was really neat.”
Students love their monthly groups, and having the opportunity to spend time with children of different grade levels fosters a strong family bond within the school. “You come together to talk about Jesus,” Chioma, a fifth-grader, commented, “and it’s a lot of fun.”
Eva, a fourth-grader, shared, “I really like getting to know the teachers better. Mrs. Ravenscroft, the art teacher, is my family group leader this year, and I like spending time with her outside of class.”
Family groups also sit together during special school Masses, just as real families do on Sundays. The program culminates at the end of the year with Field Day. Instead of the traditional division of the students by grades, the competition is between the “families.” Field Day is one of the most enjoyable days of the school year, and the benefit of family groups enjoying a day of recreation adds to the students’ bonding experience.
Building the Kingdom with strong enrollment
Although Catholic-school enrollment is declining in many areas, St. Andrew is home to 434 students, drawing from three parishes in the surrounding area and six different school districts. To keep enrollment up, the school employs a full-time registrar, Debbie Joseph, whose duties include marketing and helping the school stay visible within the community. “The key to strong enrollment is getting people in the door,” Joseph commented. “Once they see the school, the students’ behavior, the friendly staff, and the educational opportunities offered to children here, the school sells itself.” She also spends time connecting with parishioners and visiting local preschools and parishes that do not have schools.
Keeping the school in the public eye, whether it is in the local Catholic newspaper, suburban news, or social media, is also an important part of helping strengthen enrollment. Making sure each special function is captured on film and shared is easy to do in this technological age. Joseph can often be seen in the hallways and classrooms with camera in hand, and she sends articles and pictures to media outlets regularly.
Since finances can be a barrier for many families wanting to enroll in Catholic schools, St. Andrew works with alternative revenue from state funding, the EdChoice Scholarship Program, and diocesan and parish assistance. A strong subsidy program from the parish and significant discounts for siblings also help families make the decision to give their children a faith-based education. Within a high-performing public-school district, it may seem like a difficult choice to pay tuition for something the community offers free of charge, but the difference is more than an educational choice at St. Andrew.
“The sacrifice is definitely worth it,” Joseph shares with prospective parents. “Your student is given an opportunity for moral and intellectual development. It’s an extension of what they are learning at home.”
St. Andrew School serves students in preschool through eighth grade. The school’s mission is to educate the whole child through our Catholic faith. It has been a pillar of the community since its inception in 1956 and has a strong alumni base. Its aim is to instill and reinforce Catholic values in lifelong learners within a supportive and challenging academic environment.
Contact information for St. Andrew School:
Phone: (614) 451-1626
Fax: (614) 451-0272
Address: 4081 Reed Rd, Upper Arlington, OH 43220
Michele Faehnle, RN, BSN, is the school nurse at St. Andrew School, Upper Arlington, Ohio, and co-author of Divine Mercy for Moms and The Friendship Project.
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