Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Spokane’s Trinity School: solid, imposing – and family
Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the Dec. 4, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)
The two-story brick building with basement that is Trinity School in Spokane is solid and imposing.
From the outside it gives no indication of what’s taking place inside. The school hummed with lessons and activities on a recent afternoon. From the younger children in educare in the basement to the seventh and eighth grade classes on the second floor, students were busy learning all manner of material.
For instance: the first graders were drawing pictures of what is needed to go into a house, and the seventh and eighth graders were sharing biographies of well-known people such as Blessed Mother Teresa.
Megan Marson, Trinity’s coach and student-volunteer from Gonzaga University, was in the gym, planning her next round of sports activities. The kitchen was clean and quiet, since lunch was long since over.
The school draws students from two parishes: St. Anthony, located right next door, and St. Joseph, at 1503 W. Dean. The two schools combined their student bodies in 1969, and the former Holy Ghost-St. Anthony School building became Trinity School.
Built in 1905, St. Joseph School was the older of the two. By the 1960s, though, St. Joseph faced declining enrollment in a building that needed major repairs. That’s when the decision was made to join St. Anthony, a school built in 1928.
St. Joseph School was operated by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary until 1921. Then it was served by the Sisters of Notre Dame until the 1960s. Over at St. Anthony, four Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration originally staffed the school.
When it became Trinity School, the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary joined forces for a new experiment in education. According to the school history, the Montessori method was used to teach kindergarten and the rest of the school was ungraded. History is silent as to how that experiment turned out. Holy Names Sisters continue to be involved at Trinity.
The student body at Trinity numbers 145 young people in K-8, impressive numbers for a school that nearly closed in 1991. When educare numbers are added, the population increases to 175.
In 1987, student numbers declined so much that the seventh and eighth grades were discontinued. The slide continued until 1992. With the combined leadership and “extreme dedication” of principal Michael Trudeau and committed parents, the decline reversed. The two discontinued classes were restored in 1995 and 1996.
Trinity School is located in one of the poorest areas of Spokane. The student body reflects that economic fact. “Our mission is to be here for the poor,” Trudeau said. Some of the students are well-acquainted with poverty, and once in a while, are even homeless. Occasionally the only meal some students receive is the school’s hot lunch. “But they’re very happy,” said Trudeau. “They live very much in the moment and are grateful just to have attention paid to them.”
Like all Catholic schools, uniforms are the dress du jour. “We even require them at our Christmas program and at our school Masses,” Trudeau said. Uniforms are a way of leveling out economic differences, especially at a school with a population like that of Trinity.
Seven people teach at Trinity, six work in the preschool and educare, and there are three other staff members: secretary Terri Martin, bookkeeper Bev Babcock, and Kathy Halstead, “a wonderful cook,” Trudeau said. Like the other Catholic schools in the diocese, parents are very involved in helping, not only with fund-raisers but with all other kinds of projects. “Our parents are really involved,” Trudeau said. “It’s really great.”
Even though she’s not yet 30, fourth grade teacher Stacie Neely has the most seniority of anyone on the staff. She began work at the school as a volunteer when she was 16. Even though she was never a Trinity student, she sees herself as having grown up at the school.
She loves working there – “we’re a close-knit family and everyone knows everyone,” she said.
Kathi Cook, a former Trinity student who attended all eight grades at the school, is also a teacher at the school. She was teaching at St. Mary School in Spokane Valley when the opening at Trinity came up. Prior to that time, she had taught at St. Francis Assisi and St. Francis Xavier schools.
One of the major differences between Cook’s student days and her teaching days is that Religious Sisters were the teachers back then. But otherwise, Cook sees little difference. “We were respectful then, and the kids are respectful now,” she said.
Talking to Trinity parents is to talk to enthusiastic, highly-dedicated school boosters. They love their school and praise it highly. They talk about how their children “blossomed” after starting school there.
“It was a good fit for my daughter,” said Marietta McKelvey. Her daughter, Rayme, is in the sixth grade. “There’s diversity which is good and it’s nice being in a Catholic environment,” said Marietta.
Shawn Lusarreta said much the same, describing Trinity as “one of the smaller schools, and not real fancy... a diamond in the rough.” Her daughter, Caitlin, is in the seventh grade.
For Lusarreta, the diamond shines brightly. “The kids seem to have respect for the school, for the teachers and for each other,” she said. She added that the school “is not so caught up in frills. It gives kids a good, basic education. There’s an air of cooperation; it’s a wonderful environment.”
One of the contributing factors is the TEAMS program, in which the older students guide and assist young students in some kind of project, such as making placemats for the VA Hospital or sending cards to shut-ins. “Some are service and some are fun,” said Trudeau. Sometimes it’s nothing more than playing games.
The benefits of the TEAMS are at least threefold. The older students practice leadership skills and set good examples; all students learn teamwork. Third, the students get to know each other. Secretary Martin commented on how the younger students will often run up to older students on the playground to give them a hug. She said students needn’t have been in the school very long before they have a “whole classroom of friends.”
The school has an arrangement with Gonzaga Preparatory School for music for the upper grades, and there are music classes in the building for all the students. There is a computer room where students learn technology and there is an artfully-arranged, inviting library. The school has a full range of sports, too, assisted by Gonzaga University.
Words like “community” and “family” come up often in conversations about the school. That is evident coming into the building. A small entryway holds photo cases with pictures of the school family: eighth grade graduation classes, rubber chicken contest winners, and children honored as students of the month honors, to name a few.
Families want their children to do well. Trinity students do. Many of them enter honors programs when they get to ninth grade and beyond.
“We want to see that our kids have the skills to go out and become productive citizens,” Trudeau said, “based on firm moral beliefs found in Gospel values. The unique family atmosphere we have here helps them do that.”
• St. Joseph School was one of a very few Catholic schools in the Spokane Diocese to have a high school.