Cassandra Noldon smoothed her son’s shirt and tie in the vestibule of St. Sabina Church as they awaited the start of his graduation ceremony.
Bryce Noldon smiled as he thought about heading to Bishop DuBourg High School in the fall. During a visit to the school last year, he got to check out the classrooms, including the science lab, where he will study his favorite subject.
The best part of the visit? “The laptops,” he said with a grin.
Bryce and seven classmates graduated from the Academy at St. Sabina in Florissant May 25. All of them have been prepared for this moment, equipped with the skills to head on to the next chapter in their young lives.
The Academy at St. Sabina is one of three standalone schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis with full-time special education services. (Annunziata in Clayton and St. Gemma Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Ellisville are the others.)
The school serves kindergartners through eighth-graders with one or more diagnosed learning disabilities, attention deficits, speech-language disorders or cognitive processing deficits. This year, the school had 28 students, the majority of whom are nonCatholic. That number has held steady for the past five years.
Asked how she found the Academy, Cassandra Noldon deeply exhaled. “Prayers,” she said. “When I first walked in, I knew it was the place for him. It was a small school, with one-on-one learning. And things I didn’t think he was going to be able to accomplish, he did accomplish.”
After graduation Mass, students and their families headed downstairs for a luncheon and diploma ceremony. Each student received a sweatshirt with their high school’s logo. Next year, graduates will head to Bishop DuBourg, McCluer High, McCluer North High, Duchesne High, Miriam Academy, Trinity Catholic High, and Marquette High in Alton, Ill.
Beyond the academics, students have learned the importance of developing a relationship with Jesus, said principal Donald Fingers. He hopes that’s something they’ll take along to high school.
“I tell them it’s so important that you’ve got to spend just a couple minutes a day talking to God,” he said. “Tell Him about your day, tell Him what you did. Talk to Him like you would to me. You build that relationship which turns into a fellowship — and eventually when you get to a point where you’re troubled about something, He’s there to comfort you and protect you.”
Jada McDaniel has spent the last eight years at the Academy, and will be attending Miriam Academy in Webster Groves in the fall. What she’s learned in grade school “is going to help me,” she said. “I have Jesus in my life, and I know I am going to try my best.”
Jada’s grandmother, Monica McDaniel, said she’s going to miss the family atmosphere. Her hope is that Jada will continue to “come out of her shadow and that she will be successful in life. Mr. Fingers has been more than a principal — he’s been like a life coach for her.”