It’s quite possible that Michelle Watkins knows more about Lourdes Academy than any other person on Earth. She’s been connected with the school for 23 years as a student, parent, teacher and assistant principal. Her husband and her in-laws even went to Lourdes Academy.
Michelle has seen principals, teachers, students and more come and go over the years. But she recalls the things about Lourdes Academy that haven’t changed on her watch.
Thinking back to her elementary and middle school education, Michelle recalls that her education and faith development were outstanding at Lourdes Academy.
“The quality of the education was certainly advanced,” remembers Michelle. “When I went to high school, I was already a year ahead of the other students in my grade. What I know about the Catholic faith, I learned at Lourdes Academy. Things like good morals, values, what it means to be a good steward, a disciple of Christ, and a good person.”
And today, those qualities remain. Michelle’s youngest son Nathan is a sixth-grader at Lourdes Academy. Her two oldest children, Ryan and Ashley attended the school.
“The quality of the education and teachers has always been stellar,” says Michelle. “Today, Nathan is challenged, loved and in a safe environment. He says he feels safe and confident at Lourdes Academy. That is why I want him here and to continue our family tradition.”
For obvious reasons, Lourdes Academy is part of Michelle’s family. Her sister, Shawn White, teaches second grade at Lourdes, and her mother, Kay Thompson, works in the church office. But Michelle explains, the family connection is not just relevant for her family – it’s for all students and parents.
“It sounds cliché, but it is true,” explains Michelle. “People recognize that it just feels different here. They may not always be able to name it, but they feel it. You can’t put a price on the family environment.”
Having a smaller school also helps preserve that family connection. The administration gets to learn every student's name and something about them. It catches some people by surprise.
“I was at the book fair recently, and a VPK child came in with his sister,” remembers Michelle. They were so excited to check out the books. I was talking to the pair and their grandmother asked me – ‘Do you know every child in the school? I mean, do you know as much as you know about my grandchildren?’ I explained to her that yes, I actually do. At our school, administrators get into the classroom and build relationships with every student.”
Michelle describes the teacher, staff and administration as a family as well.
“I have worked in other fields prior to education and in other schools before returning to Lourdes, and I know that people do not always like everyone they work with,” admits Michelle. “At Lourdes Academy, everyone has everyone else’s back. The idea of love, willing the good of the other and acting on it is truly at the core of what we do here at Lourdes. People love each other despite any differences they may have. We are on a mission and need to get a job done, and there is no shortage of people stepping up to help in any way they can. That is family.”
In the 1980s when Michelle was attending Lourdes Academy, the students had opportunities to give back to others. As a student, she remembers collecting change in paper cartons for children in need for UNICEF, now called the United Nations Children’s Fund and other charitable acts for others. But now, Lourdes Academy students are more progressive in how they give back.
“Today, Lourdes Academy students work for social justice,” says Michelle. “They collect food for the poor, they collect socks for veterans, and pajamas and backpacks for local foster children who have been rapidly displaced from their homes. The spirit of giving has always been evident at Lourdes Academy, but now we do it differently.”
Decades ago, mostly Catholic families sent their children to Catholic schools. But on her watch, Michelle Watkins has experienced a transformation of the people who are seeking a Catholic education for their children.
“Now it is much more diverse with many more students who are part of other faith traditions and other ethnic groups,” noticed Michelle. “The diversity has changed over the years, and families we talk to want a more diverse environment for their children, and that is also a reason why they choose Lourdes Academy. Our students are learning how to work and collaborate with others from different cultures and beliefs, and they need that to be successful adults.”
To Michelle, the school facilities look similar to what they did when she was a student. As she and Nathan walk into school each day, she doesn’t always think about her time as a Lourdes Academy student. But every once in a while, something triggers a memory.
“Every morning on my way to my office, I walk past the spot where I tripped and fell in first grade and chipped a tooth,” Michelle smiles as she remembers. “My office used to be where I excitedly stood in line for the school store so I could buy a red pen. Sometimes these memories catch me, and they take me right back to when I was in seventh grade wearing a blue uniform jumper.”