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During a recent tour, I learned that there’s a lot going on at the campus of St. Catherine’s School behind the brick wall on Grove Avenue. The 126-year-old Episcopal day school for girls in junior kindergarten through grade twelve is a Richmond institution, and with 100,000-square feet of renovated and expanded facilities, it’s poised to carry its reputation into the next century and beyond.
It’s hard to tell which buildings are new and which had been there since the school moved to its current location in 1917, the architects and planners on this project were that good. With a boarding program until 2008, those former dorms are now academic classrooms, but the hallways and former dorm room doors are intact, much to the delight of visiting alums who yearn to revisit their one-time home away from home.
A highlight of the tour was a visit to the new Wright Library. Gone are the days of dead silence in the library, with the addition of social zones, collaboration space, and a digital lab, complete with GoPros, green screens, and drones. There is still a quiet zone, but after surveying the students to find out how they use the campus spaces for work, group studies, and relaxation, this new space truly has something for everyone.
Another big surprise was a trip into the 72,000-square foot Kenny Sports and Fitness Center. Director of Athletics Julie Dayton, a National Lacrosse Hall of Famer, and former coach at Dartmouth College and UVA, proudly showed off the expansive weight room, equipped with machines designed especially for girls, and the 8-lane swimming pool. The hallway walls were adorned with pictures of recent alumnae who have gone on to play sports at the collegiate level. There are twenty-eigh graduates currently playing college athletics who came from St. Catherine’s forty teams in fifteen sports.
St. Catherine’s has a close relationship with its “brother school,” St. Christopher’s, conveniently located just blocks away from St. Catherine’s. Busses shuttle students in grades nine through twelve back and forth throughout the day, and St. Christopher’s houses the track and field venues, while the boys come over to St. Catherine’s for the pool.
On the academic side, girls get their starts in Chinese and Spanish at age four, and it’s no big deal to have science class take place inside the swimming pool. State-of-the-art science labs see experiments that one might think were taking place at Merck or Johnson & Johnson, not among preteen and teen girls.
The visit to the junior kindergarten (JK) building was a treat, with that day’s student leaders jumping up to greet us with firm handshakes and introductions. Utilizing principles from the reggio emilia teaching approach, the learning style is highly collaborative and exploratory. And new this fall (2017) is St. Catherine’s Early Learners program, a full-day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with aftercare available until 6 p.m.) program for girls who turn three years old by September 30, 2017.
There’s an upcoming information session to learn more about the new program for 3-year-old girls on February 9, 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. You can reserve your spot at St. Catherine’s School.
There is also an upcoming STEM event on February 11 for girls ages 4 and 5 called Girls Innovate. This free and open to the public hands-on workshop is modeled after the School’s JK – grade 12 STEM program. Spaces are limited. You can learn more and register here.