This week, Local15 Today highlighted the progress at the newest school on the Gulf Coast, St. Michael Catholic High School in Baldwin County, as our Cool School of the Week!
The brand new building is refreshing, but that’s just the beginning. The best part is the energy at St. Michael. Everyone from the students to the faculty are all very enthusiastic and excited to be a part of its very first class.
For the first year, there are only freshman and sophomores in the classrooms, totaling almost 100 students. The school is offering a full array of academics as well electives like physical education, music, even driver’s education. The Cardinals also have extracurricular clubs and athletics.
School officials said it has been wonderful to see the kids from all corners of Baldwin County, come together as Cardinals.
“I think the most surprising thing is just how quickly these students came together. We didn’t see lots of pockets of cliques. The kids are one group and one community, they’re excited to be here. And they’ve really grown together as a family,” said Assistant Principal Paul Knapstein, who doubles as the Athletic Director.
UNIQUE STUDENT GOVERNMENT
You won’t find your typical student body president and vice president at St. Michael. They are going more “Harry Potter” than SGA, using the British system of “Houses.”
Each student is assigned to an advisory group with a teacher and students from various grade levels. Those groups are combined into four Houses within the school. And there is a House Council with four representatives from each House, which has already been implementing ideas on campus, like new outerwear options!
The students have been having a blast with the new concept. Each House has made its own crest and flag. And the school has fun competitions between the Houses.
“It really is good, because eventually you’re going to see this continuum where your seniors are in the same advisory groups and houses as the freshman, and they can really be good examples for our kids. And that’s I think the ultimate goal, is to teach them leadership and positive leadership,” explained Elizabeth Loegler, the House Advisor.
The four Houses are named after early Bishops in Mobile – House of Portier, House of Quinlan, House O’Sullivan, and House of Allen.
FOCUS ON FAITH
Even though St. Michael is a Catholic high school, it does accept students of any religious background. For them, it’s more about working faith into everything they do.
Every Wednesday, a Catholic mass is a weekly part of the curriculum at St. Michael.
“We’ve been really blessed. We have a lot of priests in Baldwin county who rotate through. They love coming to the school and seeing the students,” explained Campus Minister Philip Martin.
But he also explained that focusing of faith is found in every aspect of their daily routine.
“It doesn’t just mean that you have crosses on the wall or even that you have a theology class. It means more than that. It means that we as faculty and staff see each student as made in God’s likeness, they’re not numbers. They’re individual human persons who have this potential,” said Martin.
Martin also teaches a theology class. His students are working on a project that takes a lesson about the Arc of the Covenant, and imagines what one would be like for different countries.
“We see theology as, yes, this motivating factor for our school. But theology as an academic time as well. It’s not just sitting around praying, you study the church’s tradition, other faiths, the scriptures, from an academic point of view,” added Martin.
The St. Michael’s Cardinal are also putting their faith into action. In late January, two-thirds of the student body will travel to Washington D.C. for the March for Life peaceful protest against abortion.
INAUGURAL ATHLETIC PROGRAM
School leaders at St. Michael knew that in addition to the academics, they needed to have an athletic program up and running from day one. After just one semester, school pride is already well established for the Cardinals.
A football team of 15 eligible players played a seven-game season. Girls volleyball and swim/dive competed in tournaments across Baldwin County. And currently, basketball has been hitting the court with a strong start. The girls basketball team in undefeated.
“Just trying to start from scratch was daunting,” explained Knapstein.
Putting together the inaugural athletic program was a big task for the athletic director, especially since most of the students have never played together.
“We have kids from Gulf Shores and Bay Minette and everywhere in between in Baldwin County. Getting them to practices, and to meet together as a group, has been a challenge. But it’s been an exciting way to see our community grow,” added Knapstein.
Although a practice field and a gym are the only facilities for this first year, they are top notch, with state-of-the-art sound systems, surfacing, even electronic retractable goals. Plans are in place for more high-quality facilities.
“We want to make sure our facilities match the techonology of the times. And we want to give our kids the opportunity to be successful and be modern with the equipment and the approach to everything we do,” said Knapstein.
Even though athletics was a priority on the Cardinals’ campus, academics are just as important.
“One of the things we’ve done consciously, is we don’t start any practices until 4 p.m. So after school, that time is for students to go visit their teaches, to make up a test, or to get enrichment in the class or extra help,” said Knapstein. “They have time to focus on their studies and then get to athletics afterwards.”
The balance will create a well-rounded student, ready for success.
“They’re going to grow as athletes. They’re going to grow as people. The teamwork and the skills that they learn are going to help them as young people and as adults,” added Knapstein.
Soccer will begin in a few weeks. Next year, the Cardinals will add cross country and baseball. And by 2018, St. Michael’s hopes to be a full-fledged member of the Alabama High School Athletic Association.