Returning students, teachers and families were not only greeted with bulldozers and dump trucks at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic School in Belmont – there was a noticeable new face among the more than forty new students, Greg Apkarian. Apkarian joins Assumption as its new principal after Mike Micele retired, ending his six-year stint in the principal’s chair.
In a new logo polo shirt and navy pants, Apkarian began the first day’s Morning Prayer and reflection with a nervous chuckle. After a small group of eighth graders read scriptures from the Bible, Apkarian started, “I’m not sure what comes next..” which was met with laughter from the students. He proceeded to explain the importance and significance of the uniforms the Kindergartners through eighth graders wear each day.
Apkarian should know –his three grown sons are all Marines. “Uniforms are a sign that you belong to something important. When you wear your uniform around Rockford, people know you are Catholic and they know you belong to the Assumption family,” he emphasized.
Apkarian is a thirty-five-year veteran of the public school system and has held positions ranging from teacher and coach to bus driver and special education instructor. A twenty-year Rockford resident, Apkarian returns to his Catholic roots to lead this thriving student base.
Assumption is also experiencing a big increase in enrollment with more than twenty five families enrolled in the pre-Kindergarten program and twenty new students sprinkled throughout the other grades. And, the school is launching a before- and after-care program to aid working families. This new program will give kids a safe place to do homework and have fun with their fellow classmates.
The Diocese of Grand Rapids’ Alliance of Catholic School 2012-2013 Annual Report indicates Catholic school students consistently score above the national median at all grade levels and in all content areas. And, data shows a trend of ever widening outperformance from grade to grade especially through the middle school years.
Apkarian returns to the Catholic school system after a stint at Grand Rapids-based Catholic Central in the mid-1980’s and strong Catholic upbringing through the Chicago Catholic Schools.
It wasn’t a difficult decision to join Assumption after retiring last year with Kent City. Having the ability to publicly infuse his Catholic faith into his everyday passion for education was a “no brainer”.
“I’ve always used God as a key tool in my personal toolkit,” he said. “I’m thrilled to openly talk about my reliance on the Scriptures in my every day teachings and dealings with others.”
Faith allows students to have a strong base to pull from when faced with challenging situations that may arise now or later in life. “A strong Catholic faith will give these students a solid foundation that they can use in high school and the rest of their life,” he added.
“Listen. Watch. That’s the key for me for the coming weeks. I want to make sure I listen to the teachers and families. I do have new programs and strategies to suggest but I want to make sure the timing is right and that they make sense in this environment,” Apkarian said.
One thing he will have to manage immediately is the new science lab. Already under construction with a debut in October, the lab will complement West Michigan’s expanding “Medical Mile.” With the continued growth of this geographical area, Assumption sees value in preparing students for future jobs in the science and math fields to capitalize on these booming industries.
Establishing potential partnerships with local businesses and medical facilities will also be a focus. By establishing these connections, students can apply textbook theories to real-world applications. Apkarian wants to provide that well-rounded educational offering to the Assumption students.
“Science has connection to math, history, reading and language arts. So, while we’re opening a new science lab, it will help our students with all subjects,” Apkarian said.
Assumption is also planning for its second annual theatrical production. Last year, more than 1,000 residents attended Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Jr.. With more than 75 students participating, Apkarian expects to see an increase in participation for this year’s performance, Willy Wonka, Jr.
“The Theater Club did a great job embracing students from K-8. They all came together, regardless of age, to put on top-notch show,” Apkarian said.
Assumption BVM is located at 6393 Belmont Road in Belmont. Stop by to meet Greg Apkarian and take a tour of the school. Openings in most grades are still available.