A bevy of staff members, teachers, parents, alumni and friends is working to take Notre Dame to its ‘highest destiny.’
The past couple of years have seen a real uptick in overall philanthropy in this country. For example, total donations from individuals, foundations and corporations in the U.S. rose in 2015 to over $373 billion, a 10-percent increase over 2013, which is helping to get things back to levels of giving not seen since before the Great Recession.
Studies show that more of these philanthropic donations have been channeled toward education than to any other sector of American society, with the exception of religion. And that has been the case since before the U.S. was a nation. The country’s first college, which was donor supported, was created in 1636—nearly as early as some of America’s first permanent towns.
The first “public” schools in the U.S., which were actually funded by private investors and donors looking to make the New World more desirable for emigrants, opened in 1640.
From the 17th century to 2017, from preschool through university, individual donations have been behind many of America’s best educational innovations and institutions. And Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is no different.
Take Brad and Jill Seitzinger, parents of an 8th grader and 11th grader at Notre Dame.
“We’ve been part of NDPMA for going on 11 years now,” said Jill Seitzinger. “And we couldn’t be happier. We started in the lower division and now we have a student in both the middle and upper divisions.”
She said that Notre Dame “is a phenomenal school and everyone here truly lives the mission,” she said. “Both our children are thriving not only academically, but as good Christian people and upright citizens. We are very happy with Notre Dame.”
Anyone connected to fundraising in a professional capacity will tell you that happy “customers” don’t always make generous donors. But for the Seitzingers, it just makes sense to ensure that what their kids have experienced is available for other students coming up “through the ranks.”
Brad and Jill have been generous supporters of the school over the years, and as Notre Dame looks for more growth in the future, they’ve taken steps to help ensure that future.
“I feel very proud to be a part of any next phase that helps the school accomplish its mission and grow,” said Brad Seitzinger. “I’ve always believed that you live a life by what you earn, and you make a life by what you give. We feel blessed in our lives and want to be a part of giving back and helping this school to continue to grow and succeed in the way it has since it was founded.”
To grow is to ‘advance’
Since the school was founded in 1994, Notre Dame’s advancement office has been both a tireless and critical part of school operations. In fact, if not for advancement, tuition at Notre Dame would be much higher than it is currently.
While the primary role of advancement is to “advance” the mission of the school, i.e., with God, to “form Christian people, upright citizens and academic scholars,” it does so by providing not only important fundraising services, it also helps Notre Dame with marketing, alumni relations, special events, public relations and school communications.
Gregory Simon, who is in the advancement office as director of the school’s Notre Dame Fund, was one of the first teachers on campus when the school first opened. He also has served as director of admissions, so he’s had a pretty good view of the many aspects of NDPMA — and its many needs.
“I moved over to advancement because I thought I could help,” he said. “Despite the cost of tuition, a school of this quality is a very expensive proposition. If I could do a little to help keep class sizes down, increase pay and training for teachers, increase the amount available for scholarships and financial aid, help bolster funding for the arts, athletics, and activities, then my move to the advancement office would be worth it.”
Simon also said he works in advancement because of how much he loved Harper Woods Notre Dame, which closed in 2005. “As an alum of that school, when I saw it close, it broke my heart. And I will never let that happen to another Notre Dame or Marist school if I can do something to help.”
NDPMA, on the other hand, has been witness to a very healthy growth over the years. And, it’s precisely because of this kind of growth that the school now faces a real need to expand the school’s footprint.
According to Andy Guest, NDPMA’s interim president, the need for more space is indeed real.
Our vision is that we continue to grow the school — not necessarily in number of students — but in the quality of our academic, arts and athletic programs, our facilities, teacher compensation, teacher training, and in financial aid that we are able to offer families,” he said. “In September, we broke ground on a six-classroom addition to our lower division at a cost of $1.1 million dollars. This will round out the number of sections per grade and provide space for our special sections such as art, language and reading in the lower division.”
“Also, we’d like to provide more space for our world-class robotics team, so that more kids can learn and excel in science, technology and engineering,” he said. “Plus, we’re looking to build a bona fide art studio, so students can expand and grow their creativity.”
He also said the school has been discussing a greenhouse so that the upper division can introduce botanical sciences to its environmental science curriculum. And in NDPMA’s master plan, according to Guest, the school’s board has identified the need for more athletic space in the form of another gymnasium as well as an athletic stadium with its own integrated track and field.
Lots of plans = lots of hard work
Robynn James is Notre Dame’s senior philanthropy officer and works out of the school’s advancement office. She says her job in seeking out larger donations to help affect some of the school’s big plans is a true labor of love.
“This doesn’t feel like hard work to me at all because in my role I get to reach out and spend time with some great and generous people every day,” she said. “When we get together and I tell them about how our school is nearing its capacity, and that students are lacking collaboration space and teachers sometimes need to move from one classroom to another with carts, the parents and alumni understand how important these plans are to the life of the school.
“Beyond that, the additional art studio, robotics lab and greenhouse are exciting additions that everyone clearly understands will enhance the educational experience of the students,” she added. “Since our community is made up of generous, faith-filled people, I have found that their natural impulse is to help the school.”
Guest said there are many more things that he and the board of trustees would like to do to help the school advance, but they know that they have to take it one project at a time.
“The important thing is we need to expand in a way that is financially responsible,” said Guest, who also serves as Notre Dame’s executive vice president and director of advancement. “Solid, prudent management is the key to success. And, as stewards of our mission, it is our responsibility as parents, alum parents, grandparents, board members, alumni and friends to make sure that we are doing everything we can to ensure that Notre Dame, our Catholic school, reaches its highest destiny.”
If the Seitzingers are any indication, Notre Dame’s destiny and future are in good hands.
“Originally we had a friend who referred us to take a look at the school, which at that time for us, was the lower division,” recalled Brad Seitzinger. “We did appreciate the Christian focus and the school’s overall emphasis on academics and citizenship. And we’ve been very happy the last 11 years having our kids come up through this great institution, and we’re pleased to be able help pave the way for many more students in years to come.”
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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 www.ndpma.org.