First JK(4)-12 ‘lifers’ head to college


Notre Dame to graduate first students who’ve attended the school since junior-kindergarten; families will commemorate lifers in special ceremony on May 9 outside the Grimaldi Center.

Notre Dame’s lower division, which educates children from junior-kindergarten through fifth grade, officially opened in Waterford in 2003, joining the school's already existing middle and upper divisions. It was a rather bold move by NDPMA administrators at the time because the closing of Catholic elementary schools in southeast Michigan was becoming frighteningly commonplace.

But, Notre Dame’s lower division has flourished ever since, even more so after moving to its current location on Giddings Road in Pontiac.

Now, Notre Dame is set to send the first students to have attended Notre Dame from junior-kindergarten (4 yr. old) through 12th grade to college after graduation ceremonies next month.

Colloquially known around campus as “lifers,” Alexandria Garland, Zachary Atkins, Benjamin Lytle and Bryce Baringer will walk across the Notre Dame stage on May 21 and receive a Notre Dame diploma — a diploma that for them will signal 14 years of a Marist/Notre Dame education that no doubt has prepared them well for college and for life.

We are family

“The NDPMA ‘family’ has given me a place to be able to grow academically, athletically, spiritually and as a young man,” said Baringer, who is planning to begin his pursuit of a secondary education degree in history from the University of Illinois in the fall. “It has been amazing to attend a school for all these years — and especially a school where ‘it’s cool to be smart.’” 

He says his interest in teaching as a career actually began in Notre Dame’s lower division.

“My passion for history and teaching was ignited by my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Paul Frank,” Baringer said. “And, it would be an honor to someday return to ND Prep as a history teacher and give back to the NDPMA family and community.” 

For Alexandria Garland, she said the journey to high school graduation also involved a special sense of community and family at Notre Dame. 

“For a student at NDPMA, teachers become like family,” she said. “After all, we're with them for sometimes more than eight hours a day.” 

She said it was especially true during her time in the lower division. “I made many treasured memories there. My days in first grade are kept really close to my heart. My first-grade teacher always woke the class up for the morning with dances from the Wiggles TV show. It became our routine, and we always ended up energized for the rest of the day.”

Garland, who plans to study art in college, has narrowed her search to three post-secondary institutions: DePaul University in Chicago, Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. 

“These colleges pinpoint my interest in design, which is a field I am passionate about,” she said. “Ever since entering into Notre Dame, my fascination with art has grown tenfold, and after experimenting with painting, drawing, and 2D art, I've decided that it's something I wish to explore as a career. As a result, I'm heading toward a major in graphic design.”

High-flying efforts and recollections

Diana Atkins, current principal of Notre Dame’s lower division, says she’s been a witness to the NDPMA “lifers” at Notre Dame from their very beginnings.

“Since 2003, I have had the pleasure of observing these four students as they moved through the lower division and then transitioned into middle and upper school,” Atkins said. “Whether it was a sporting event, monthly Masses, or project presentations, they’ve always put their best efforts forward.” 

For lifer Ben Lytle, he is looking forward to applying his own best efforts to a career in aviation when he begins college this fall at the renowned College of Aviation at Western Michigan University. In the interim, he is planning to complete his certification for a private pilot license over the upcoming summer months.

"My hope is to be hired as a commercial airline pilot right out of college, flying freight first and then getting hired to fly passengers," Lytle said. "I would like to do that for 10+ years and then focus on getting into the business world while also flying on the side."

Lytle said a couple of memories over the years at Notre Dame stand out for him.

“One of my favorite recollections from the lower division was coming in second place in Mr. Franks geography bee,” he said. “From the middle division, it was being at the Kalahari Waterpark in Ohio for our sixth-grade trip when a tornado ripped through the area forcing everyone at the park to take shelter in a basement. At Notre Dame Prep, of course, it was winning the Irish Games a few weeks ago.”

Lytle said Notre Dame has had a tremendous impact on his life both inside of the school and outside in his everyday life. "I think that the school has molded me into the person that truly defines the mission of the school, to be good Christian person, upright citizen and an academic scholar."

Zach Atkins said his career goals and life goals also have been shaped by his 14 years at NDPMA.

“Attending Notre Dame has affected me as a student by pushing myself hard to reach my goals,” he said. “It offered me high-level classes to keep myself challenged to rise above many of my peers in other schools. As a person, it has shaped me into a becoming a good Christian person, upright citizen and academic scholar, just as our mission statement promises.”

Atkins plans to attend Michigan State University in the fall to study engineering, which he hopes will lead to a career in automotive engineering.

Perfect embodiment of a Notre Dame student

Baringer, who received a scholarship to play football at the University of Illinois, said Notre Dame's mission also had deep resonance for him.

“I began hearing the mission statement when I wasn’t yet four years old,” he said. “I learned to recite it while in the lower division and began to personally apply it to how I conducted myself as a student while in NDPMA’s middle division. But it is while attending the school’s upper division where I was encouraged to truly ‘live’ this mission.”

He said he’s received a world-class education and, with the help of NDP’s campus ministry, he’s also grown spiritually as a person. 

“It’s been the NDPMA family of teachers, counselors, coaches, support staff, administration and parents who have nurtured me to become who I am today: an NDPMA lifer!” 

Principal Atkins is excited about seeing these four lifers graduate in May. She thinks they represent the perfect embodiment of a Notre Dame student.

“And, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Bryce, Alex, Ben and Zach as they move on to attend college,” she said. “I am very proud of their educational success here at Notre Dame and wish them well in their future life endeavors.”

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy

Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." The Marist Fathers and Brothers sponsor NDPMA's Catholic identity and manages its educational program. Notre Dame is accredited by the National Association of Independent Schools, the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at