The first graduating class of Our Lady of Fatima poses for a photo in June 1954. Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Fatima
The first graduating class of Our Lady of Fatima poses for a photo in June 1954. Photo courtesy of Our Lady of Fatima

At the end of this school year, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic school graduated its 60th eighth-grade class. The school (3301 W. Dravus St.) also honored the anniversary at its annual fundraiser auction in March. 

Fatima began as a private, first-through-eighth grade Catholic school in 1954. Eventually, it added a kindergarten and preschool program. Now, it has 246 students and 18 staff members. 

There are older Catholic schools in Seattle, but Magnolia itself is relatively young, said development director Monica Scott.

Fatima is unique because it’s essentially a neighborhood school. The school draws directly from the parish next door, although non-Catholic students are welcome. “We’re mainly a parish school,” principal Susan Burdett said. 

Fatima is also a family tradition, with alumni’s children and even grandchildren returning to the school. Burdett, who came to Fatima in 1988, has seen the children of her former students become new pupils. “That’s pretty amazing,” she said. 

A neighborhood school

The school changed up its annual fundraiser this year to have a shorter auction, with more socializing, games and dancing. 

The evening was financially successful, raising $300,000 for Fatima, Burdett said. The money raised goes into the general operations fund, but there are also specific need-based items that people could bid on to fund. 

The auction always starts out with a fundraiser for another Catholic school in need — that’s something Burdett pioneered, Scott said: “The theory behind that being, we’re only as strong as our weakest school out there as a system.”

So far, the local Catholic school system has stayed strong and is opening schools, while Catholic schools are closing “right and left” on the East Coast. 

“The model of Catholic education is very strong, which is interesting because we’re in a very secular part of the United States,” Scott said. “But it’s a successful model for education.”

Fatima is unique among other Catholic schools for serving a small neighborhood audience. People tend to stay in Magnolia for a long time, and Scott finds herself running into Fatima alumni at the grocery store or seeing kids in their uniforms in the village. 

Fatima is part of people’s lives, she said: “We do feel like we are very much Magnolia’s Catholic school and part of this community.” 

Students who graduate from Fatima typically go on to one of the Catholic high schools in the area. Bishop Blanchet, Seattle Preparatory, Holy Names and O’Dea are common choices, Burdett said. 

Change and tradition

Culture and values have shifted here, along with the rest of the country, Burdett said. She’s excited about changes in education, like the state’s emphasis on Common Core standards; Fatima has embraced those changes, Burdett said. Some things remain the same, though, like the emphasis on parent involvement and providing a quality education. 

Part of providing that quality education means focusing on technology, Burdett said. The school has Smartboards in all of the classrooms, a Mac-based computer lab and is working on having two students per computer device.

The Catholic faith is widely incorporated into classroom curriculum. The school has a religion class, but each classroom has a dedicated religious area with a Bible and other items. The school celebrates all major Catholic holidays, such as Advent, Lent and Easter. 

“It’s part and parcel of who we are fundamentally,” Burdett said of the Catholic faith. 

The curriculum and school model is set by the Archdiocese of Seattle but follows state standards, like Common Core. Each school is very independent, though, Burdett said. 

In addition to regular courses, students at Fatima can take art, music, physical education and Spanish and can get involved in speech, sports and theater activities. Students also do philanthropic learning and service, like participating in the Penny Harvest each year. 

The speech program — which is parent-run — is very successful, Scott said: “I don’t think our kids who go on to high school have any problem with public speaking.” 

A ‘family’ atmosphere

Students are together in the same class from kindergarten through the eighth grade. A few from each grade also get together to form “families,” and the families do a project each month. It’s a good way for the kids to know someone in a different grade to wave to in the hall, Scott said. 

There’s a myth that Catholic schools are successful because they can pick and choose the children who enroll, Scott said. But, in reality, she’s seen Burdett put in long hours with students who are struggling in the classroom. Sometimes, a student will “shadow” Burdett multiple days in a week. 

“They become my best friends,” Burdett said. But the “frequent flyers” often turn out well, with the extra time and attention they get. 

Scott has seen the care and attention firsthand. Her son, a recent Fatima graduate with Type 1 diabetes, was able to have such a positive experience at Fatima that another student with diabetes is attending the school. 

As Fatima moves forward, Burdett hopes the school will continue to be faith-based, producing students who are prepared for high school and “that we would never settle for less...in terms of curriculum.” 

Burdett is most proud of the children: their energy, challenges, successes and growth. “I think we do a good job and that makes me very proud,” she said.

To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.