Students in a journalism class at St. Dominic High School were at work on a recent morning preparing their portfolios, working on blog posts and assigning articles for their online student news site, Crusader Nation News.
Meanwhile, upstairs, other students in a human body systems class, part of the school’s biomedical program, were reviewing the parts of the brain and the development of nerve cells and building neural pathways.
Their experiences are being nurtured in a new environment, The Wies Family Center for the Sciences, which opened at St. Dominic in early January. The center is the centerpiece of a $7.5 million capital campaign. With its addition, St. Dominic’s facilities grew to 175,000 square feet, increasing educational square footage by 17 percent. The project also received a special grant of $250,000 from the Annual Catholic Appeal.
Enrollment is currently at 938 students, the largest enrollment in the coed archdiocesan high school’s 92-year history. With the recent expansion, St. Dominic is poised to welcome more than 1,000 students in the future.
The Center for the Sciences features nine laboratories for biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, forensics and biomedical science, and a ZSpace virtual and augmented reality lab. The labs will support the school’s STEM curriculum, which focuses on computer science, engineering and biomedical sciences. The school launched Project Lead the Way in 2014 to further develop curriculum in those areas.
The space also includes a new broadcast journalism studio, a new campus ministry center and an entryway and student collaboration space. An earlier phase of the capital campaign funded the expansion of St. Dominic’s campus to provide a private entry drive and increased visibility from Interstate 70.
Previously, some teachers had to share classroom space, but with the addition of the center, every faculty member now has a dedicated classroom space, said principal Stacy Stewart. “We’ve alleviated space (issues) for teachers, so now they have their own space for grading and planning, and we’re hoping to maintain that,” she said. Some classrooms also have various types of seating (soft-sided and hard chairs) and adjustable and movable tables to accommodate different learning needs.
The school’s journalism program has grown in the last several years, especially within the broadcast curriculum. Some of that was due to the pandemic, when students looked for ways to stay connected, including through broadcasting and providing commentary for school sporting activities. Some students have discovered a future career path in journalism because of their experiences inside and outside of the classroom.
Senior Allison Herbert has taken journalism classes for two years and is considering it as a possible minor as she pursues a health sciences degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia, eventually heading toward dental school. Allison has helped with anchoring Crusader Nation News and livestreaming and providing commentary for school events.
In the new space, she said, “we’ve been able to use the new equipment, and it looks way more professional.”
“Our students are pushing us to our limits and thinking outside of the box on what they can do,” Stewart said. “As they move through their own career-driven ideas and where they want to go — ‘I saw this, and I would like to implement this at St. Dominic’ — they bring that to us and we are able to offer it to them. There’s an expectation that our students and our teachers work together so seamlessly when it comes to breaking new ground of what can happen here.”
Campus ministry also has experienced a boost, partly due to a more prominent placement of its office space at the entrance of the new center. “The primary idea behind that was increasing visibility and making sure it is easily accessible to our students,” said Father Patrick Russell, vice president for mission and identity. “Right now it’s at the heart of our campus — every single student walks through this area. Our campus minister will tell you he does not get as much office work done, because he constantly has kids coming in. And that’s good, because campus ministry is a relational ministry.”
The Center for the Sciences is the last major initiative in the school’s five-year strategic plan, which was launched in 2018 and addressed other areas including student life, education and technology in the classroom.
>> About St. Dominic High School
St. Dominic High School’s mission is to provide a Catholic education to young men and women in grades 9 through 12, allowing them to grow in faith and knowledge as they prepare for college and their future personal and professional lives. In the Dominican tradition, the school follows four pillars of prayer, study, community and service. It is the largest co-ed archdiocesan Catholic high school in the state of Missouri.
Enrollment: 938 students
History: Founded in 1929 as Assumption (Parish) High School; In 1962, the Archdiocese of St. Louis established St. Dominic as a regional high school serving St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties.
About St. Dominic: The name honors St. Dominic Guzman, patron of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, who answered Cardinal Joseph Ritter’s call to lead the school. Longtime librarian Sister Jeanne Margaret Stoltz, OP, was the final Dominican sister to teach at St. Dominic, retiring in 2009.
Campus: 50 acres in O’Fallon
Student-teacher ratio: 20:1
After graduation: 99% of St. Dominic graduates continue to postsecondary studies