What’s new at St. Michael the Archangel High School?

As the school day winds down, students gather on the Learning Stairs to study, have a snack and hang out with friends. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

LEE’S SUMMIT — St. Michael the Archangel High School opened Aug. 14, with students, faculty and staff excited to begin the academic year in a brand-new, state of the art school. There were still a few areas in the school building as well as the campus grounds that weren’t complete, but no matter. It would get done. And inside the school building, it has.

Entering the school on the second floor, a visitor passes the academic and advancement offices before stopping at a flight of enormous wooden stairs heading down to the first floor. These stairs, called the Learning Stairs, are used for all-school Masses, assemblies, large classes and for eating lunch, studying and hanging out with friends after school and between classes. The stairs have charging stations for the laptop computers that all the students are equipped with.

Rounding the Learning Stairs and passing several classroom areas, a visitor comes to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Chapel, at the center of the school, its heart. The completed chapel was dedicated and consecrated by Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., on Sept. 29. Alan Burns, the school’s Communication Director and Director of Enrollment, said the ceremony was attended by the entire student body of nearly 300 and the faculty, benefactors and donors, as well as local residents.

“This is the heartbeat of the school,” Burns said, “with a voluntary Mass celebrated daily and all-school Masses on Fridays.”

Another feature of the school is the Legacy Conference Room, with windows looking out and down into, what SMAH Principal Jodie Maddox once described as “a ginormous gym.” St. Michael the Archangel High School is the first new Catholic high school built in the diocese in 53 years and, as such, sits on the shoulders of former high schools and their students, especially Archbishop O’Hara (closed 2017), St. Mary’s (closed 2013) and De LaSalle (closed 1971). Three glass-fronted cabinet-walls of the Legacy Conference Room showcase memorabilia from the closed schools, including a letter jacket from De LaSalle’s football team that Burns said might be nearly a century old.

There are also display cabinets set up around the school containing footballs, school jackets and other items from the three schools. Even the school colors are legacies —blue from St. Mary’s, silver from De LaSalle and green from O’Hara.

The gym has seating for about 800 all on one side focusing on the gym floor, or the stage on the far wall. There is a weight room, filled with newer equipment brought over from O’Hara, and easy access to the practice fields behind the school. St. Michael’s opened with many sports programs — football, basketball, volleyball, golf, archery, men’s and women’s soccer, track and cross country, baseball, softball, tennis, cheer and dance teams, even bass fishing. There is a good-sized, well-stocked pond slightly east of the school, already beloved by the principal, the faculty and students, and some ducks.

Learning is 21st century at St. Michael the Archangel. As each student has a laptop and so much information is “in the cloud,”, the way teachers teach has changed. The key to teaching today is to help students determine what of the myriad layers of information out there is true and important, Burns said. Streamlined and interactive online learning, replacing most textbooks, levels the playing field for students, he said.
Twenty-first century academic learning also applies to faith learning. Students are able to discern and integrate faith with reason. The school’s mission and mantra is three-fold: Know truth, love God and serve others.

St. Michael the Archangel High School sits on 84 acres of rolling hills. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

St. Michael’s interim president, Father Randy Sly, appointed by Bishop Johnston shortly after the school year began, wrote the words to the school song, which embodies the school’s mission:

Our patron sure defends us, the guardian of our might,
Archangel Michael sends us to be Christ’s living light.

Knowing truth, we give our all.
Loving God we praise.
Serving others is our call.
Guardians all the way.

Our school is built for virtue, that love may be our fame.
We stand as one together, St. Michael’s is our name.

Shields of navy, silver, green,
Disciples we will stay.
Our legacy enduring
As we sing SMA.

The words were set to music by Hunter Eisenmenger, the school’s music director.

Most high schools, public and private, follow the time-honored, maybe time-worn, system of homeroom. The St. Michael’s high school community consists of three smaller communities, named for saints John Paul II, Padre Pio and Maximilian Kolbe. Within each community are several “houses,” Each house is comprised of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, and creates opportunities for students to form relationships, develop leadership skills, plan and study with others in every grade level.

The academic program is not run of the mill. In helping students learn their gifts and expand them, the program features Learning Academies. In an environment centered on discovery, students use their talents, technology and the community of faculty and fellow students to explore many areas of interest. Graduation requirements are designed to expose students to a wide range of content. The Learning Academies include Aviation, Business/Computer Science, Human Services, Engineering/ Industrial Technology, Healthcare and Performing Arts/Communications. Students aren’t locked into a specific academy; they are encouraged to explore diverse areas of study.

The St. Michael Inclusive Learning Education (SMILE) program supports students of all abilities, and helps students with disabilities experience a Catholic high school education. SMILE, which is supported by the FIRE Foundation, follows students’ Individual Service Plans and Missouri education standards, and encourages participation in school activities and organizations appropriate to student needs. SMILE also encompasses the Mentor Program inherited from Archbishop O’Hara High School, having Junior and Senior mentors work with students in the classrooms.

Core courses, the basic courses all students take, include four years of theology, English and Math, at least three years of Science and Social Studies and two – four years of World Language.

St. Michael the Archangel is the only U.S. Catholic high school offering a comprehensive, four-year aviation program, directed by Howard Schneeberger, through nearby Lee’s Summit Airport. Developed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilot’s Association with Purdue University, the curriculum conforms to rigorous math and science standards. Aviation is a program highlighting four distinct paths of study: pilot, aerospace, engineering and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Each study path will culminate in a capstone project: pilots must pass the FAA private pilot’s written exam. For the UAS path, students will obtain their drone license.

All of this on 84 acres of rolling hills and meadows. Alan Burns described it well, “Wow, forwards and backwards.”

To learn more about St. Michael the Archangel High School visit www.smacatholic.org or email aburns@smacatholic.org.

 

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Monday
December 18, 2017
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph