On a warm May day in 1924, 75 families gathered to break ground on what would become Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School. They placed their faith in God and their children in the hands of compassionate faculty and staff who believed in the power of a Catholic faith and education. Today, almost 350 students from about 200 families are evidence that the prayers of these 75 families were answered. Ninety years later, Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School is still providing a dynamic education centered in Christ. This is our story…
Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School opened in 1925. At that time, the Marywood Dominicans of Grand Rapids taught 63 students in just three classrooms. Kindergarten, first and second grades were in one classroom; 3rd, 4th and 5th were in another; and 6th and 7th grade were in the last classroom. There were no 8th graders when the school first opened.
By 1940, we had 147 students at Saint Thomas. In 1945, the school acquired a house to the west of the original property. This house was used as the Kindergarten annex. In 1954, the present church building was constructed, providing three additional classrooms. In 1960, we added an entire new wing, nearly doubling the classroom space. In 1960, we added six classrooms to the original building. And in 1966, we created the Parish Board of Education and, shortly after, the Saint Thomas Home and School Association.
In 1968, we reached our peak enrollment of 470 students. Enrollment throughout the '80s and '90s remained steady at about 300 students. In 1978, we started our 4-year-old preschool program and expanded in 1994 to include a 3-year-old class.
Also in 1994, we started the first stage our technology plan. This plan included our new Computer Lab and Media Center, which provided 22 computer stations; a multimedia station in each classroom; and a school-wide networking system.
For the 1995 school year, we added a Saint Thomas art program and started the Volunteer in Partnership (VIP) program. The VIP program allowed us to offer more programming to our students with the help of our talented parents. Today, more than 95 percent of our parents are active VIP volunteers.
In 1996, Saint Thomas went through our first accreditation and we have remained fully accredited since. Shortly after in 1998, we completed an Early Childhood Education study and then added two new classrooms for preschool and kindergarten.
At our 75th anniversary, our community recognized the Grand Rapids Dominicans for their part in creating a dynamic education centered in Christ. In their honor, we created a sculpture of a Sister and children, which is now featured in our schoolyard.
In the new millennium, we created the Saint Thomas art and science lab. A greenhouse connects our indoor classrooms to the schoolyard habitat, which we use as an outdoor classroom. Also that year, we began our After School Program, which, even today, continues to meet family needs.
In 2001, Saint Thomas entered the electronic age with our first Web site at www.stthomasgr.org. A few years later, we redesigned the site to capture the essence of our faith-filled education and communicated better with our students and families.
For the next decade, we improved and updated several facilities and programs, including: the gym, the hot lunch program, the library, the resource program, and the enrichment program. In 2007, as a tribute to our founders, we restored and reopened the school's original entryway. That year, we also received the "School of Distinction" as designated by the Michigan Non-public Schools Accrediting Association. We were the first recipients of this state-wide award, given to schools demonstrating exemplary improvement efforts.
In the last few years, we have expanded our development and outreach efforts, hired a full-time resource teacher and a part-time resource paraprofessional, and added a kindergarten/ preschool enrichment program to meet the evolving needs of our students. Our dynamic educational experience begins with Christ at the center of all that we do. We are committed to changing to meet our students’ and families’ needs. A dynamic education is ever changing. It is recognizing each individual and inviting them to share his/her unique gifts. It is attending to each child's needs, accepting our differences, and embracing our diversity. Dynamic education is constantly thinking outside the box and anticipating the future.
This is the history of Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School. It includes dates and enrollment numbers, school program descriptions and building expansion information. But our school is so much more than these facts and figures. Walk through the halls and you will see that something special. You will see it in the hands of our little kindergartners, folded neatly in prayer. You will see it in our 8th graders eyes that light up at the opportunity to serve God by helping others. You will hear it in our student athletes’ voices as they begin every sporting event, gathered hand-in-hand in a gym or athletic field, in prayer. You will feel it watching almost 350 school children quietly and respectfully file into chapel to begin each school day, thinking about and feeling the presence of God. We’ve grown a lot since 1924. But the essence of a Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School education has remained faithful and strong. A Saint Thomas education was, is, and will continue to be a dynamic education centered in Christ.