St. Michael’s endures on Wilmington’s East Side

Lynette Harvey reads to a pre-K classroom at St. Michael’s School in Wilmington. Photo by Ron Dubick 

By Michael Bradley
Special to Delaware Business Times

During the fall of 2017, a person in Hawaii sent an email to Lucinda Ross asking if there were any records of his grandfather, who had been adopted in 1910 out of St. Michael’s School in Wilmington.

Believe it or not, there were.

“We had a record of a baby being found on the street by the police and brought to St. Michael’s,” Ross said.

Since 1890, when it began as a safe haven for young children who played in the street during the day while their parents worked to its current iteration, which serves children ages 8 weeks to 5 years, St. Michael’s has been a stalwart presence on the East Side of Wilmington.

That the school maintains records from 1910 speaks to the school’s status as a community fixture. In keeping with its original mission of serving the working poor, St. Michael’s provides a network of services designed to help families thrive in tough circumstances.

“We have a culture here of really caring about kids and their families,” said Ross, now in her second
year at St. Michael’s.

Ross noted that two-thirds of the students at St. Michael’s live below the poverty level and rely on the state’s purchase-of-care system to handle their tuition. She said that 85 percent of the 150 students are African American and that the faculty has a similar level of diversity.

Executive Director Lucinda Ross cuddles a 4-month-old named Parker.

“St. Michael’s mission is to give its children the very best start possible,” said Susan Sherk, president of the school’s Board of Trustees. “The school has a faculty and staff devoted to the mission, and we believe that what we are doing makes a difference for every child, especially those who come from less fortunate circumstances.”

The St. Michael’s facility stands out in its location and serves as a haven for its students and their families. The playground is more suburban in personality, and the building is modern and warm.

Some alumni have returned to work for the school. One of them, Ashlinn Lorenzana, is St. Michael’s family and community outreach coordinator. She has worked there eight years, and her 4-month old daughter, Harper, attends as well.

“We’re tight-knit,” she said. “We have a lot of different cultures here, and because we are so tight, we work well together. We have teachers from Egypt, West Africa and South America, and students who come from the same areas. We are serving those children every day.”

The biggest challenges for St. Michael’s are promotion and fundraising.

“People who know St. Michael’s know St. Michael’s, and those who don’t, don’t,” Ross said, referring to St. Michael’s all-or-nothing profile in the city. The school remains reliant on state funding, which does not cover operating costs. So it must work to build relationships with foundations and corporate partners capable of providing necessary resources.

“So much of the corporate money has narrowed,” admitted Sherk, who has been affiliated with the school for 15 years. “Delaware used to be a wonderful place for support of nonprofits, but since 2008, that has narrowed. We are always looking for foundations and families who are interested in helping the nonprofit area.”

St. Michael’s remains loosely affiliated with the Episcopal Church and reports good relationships with the Sts. Andrew and Matthew community and the Christ Church Christiana Hundred, both of which of are located in Wilmington and which support the school.

Ross has a long-term goal of expanding the school’s enrollment to 168 over the next few years and is also hoping to make St. Michael’s a Reggio Emilia center. That would employ the Reggio Emilia student-based curriculum that features experiential learning and a relationship-driven environment. She also wants to expand the services for students’ families, which now range from support for everyday needs to providing help in choosing the right kindergarten for their children.

“The first few months I was here, I realized this was a big job,” Ross said. “It’s the biggest job I’ve ever had. But there is a chance here for us to make a big difference.”

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