By Jessica Easthope
Five-year-old Michael Martinez loves to explore, get his hands dirty and use his imagination.
His dad, Anthony says his school embraces his individuality and celebrates his achievements. That part may not surprise you, but the part that may – Michael’s never met his teacher or his classmates in-person.
“He’s getting this one on one that he wouldn’t get in class and that is paramount to anything else and I’ve seen really excel,” Anthony Martinez said.
Michael attends St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Online Academy, a completely virtual Kindergarten through eighth grade school for kids all over the country.
During the pandemic, the Diocese of Brooklyn launched the program for students who were mandated to stay home, but when the administration realized families needed this far beyond then – it was made a permanent school.
“Students are really immersing themselves in the content of their classes and we’ve been blessed with a really good faculty and those two ingredients really spells a good start to the academic year,” said principal, Stephen Haessler.
In the first year of the distance learning program, there were 2,400 students enrolled. This year, in-person learning is back and there are still around 160 students. Social Studies teacher Jennifer Centeno says now everyone in her class is there because they want to be, not because they need to be.
“The students in our school want a different type of learning and each child has their own learning needs and we’ve been able to accommodate those and they flourish better in an online platform,” Jennifer said.
And Michael seems to like it too.
“I have fun in school, I love it so much,” he said.
For the Martinez family and so many others, this is long-term.
“Last year, he didn’t know how to read at all and at the end of the year, he was reading books. So when you have a winning recipe, why change the recipe,” said Anthony.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Online Academy is here for good and enrollment is growing every day. Families along with students are learning to adapt and build a different kind of connection.
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Online Academy is still accepting new students. Families looking to enroll or for more information about tuition and financial aid can go to stacoa.org