St. Patrick School looked much different when Connie Leckenby and Nikki Kevic were hired as teachers in 2010. With fewer than 80 students enrolled at that time, the school featured combined grades and didn’t have many of the special classes and extracurricular activities it does today, such as daily band and Lego robotics.
While the school has changed, Connie and Nikki say the deep sense of community they discovered at St. Patrick School a decade ago remains the same. “I had never [before] been part of something that had such a beautiful heart,” Nikki explains.
As these teachers wrap up their 10th year at the school, they can look back with pride at being part of a period of tremendous growth in Parnell and look forward to continuing to help the school flourish in the future, come what may.
Connie Leckenby: 10 Years of Personal and Professional Growth
Connie has taught 2nd grade throughout her tenure at St. Patrick School although the class was originally combined with 1st grade.
“I had just come out of teaching 50 kids in a 1/2 grade split,” she says. That was her student teaching assignment at a school which had two regular teachers leading the classroom. After graduating from Saginaw Valley State University, Connie began looking for her first full-time position. She remembers, “I hadn’t actually been thinking about teaching in Catholic schools.”
However, a former teacher suggested that it may be a good option, and Connie submitted an application to St. Patrick School. She says being hired led her back to her roots, noting she attended a small Catholic elementary school and graduated 8th grade as one of nine students in her class.
Today, Connie teaches a dedicated 2nd grade classroom where she strives to create an inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds and learning abilities. “I just love the sense of community,” she says. “You feel like you’re part of a big family.”
As the second grade teacher, Connie has the honor and responsibility of preparing her students to begin receiving two sacraments: Reconciliation and the Eucharist. She says, hands down, her favorite moment of every year is when students make their First Reconciliation.
“They go in so nervous, and they come out with these bright smiles on their faces,” she shares. “That is by far the most rewarding day of the year.”
During the past ten years, her own family has grown as well. Connie and her husband have gone from newlyweds to the parents of three children. Their oldest daughter will be a 2nd grader in Connie’s classroom next year. What that year will look like could depend on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, but no matter what happens, this veteran educator is ready to rise to the occasion.
Nikki Kevic: Decade of Faith and Flexibility
While Connie arrived at St. Patrick School has a new educator, Nikki had spent 16 years teaching in California before coming to Parnell. In 2007, her family made the move to the mitten state, but the subsequent economic recession made teaching jobs scarce. However, her name did get added to the roster as a substitute teacher at St. Patrick School.
Then, literally weeks before the start of the 2010 school year, a vacancy opened in the 7/8 grade classroom. Nikki was hired for the position and signed her contract just two days before school started.
“My favorite feeling was the very first time I walked up to the doors, with my own key to the school,” Nikki remembers. “I turned the key in the lock and, after not having a real job for three years, I entered knowing I had found a home.” She says she still gets that feeling today whenever she enters the school – the feeling of being home.
As the school grew, Nikki’s teaching responsibilities changed. After two years in the 7/8 classroom, she moved to the 5/6 classroom. By 2014, St. Patrick School had switched to a middle school model in which students moved from their homeroom to other rooms for each subjects. Nikki initially was the 5/6 homeroom teacher and taught religion to that class as well as English language arts and social studies to all middle school students.
Today, there are no longer split grades at St. Patrick School, and Nikki shares middle school teaching responsibilities with Erica Albert, Traci West and Lynette Gasper. She is the 7th grade homeroom teacher and teaches 7th grade religion as well as English language arts for grades 6-8 and social studies for grade 8. What’s more, she serves as advisor to the St. Patrick School Student Leadership Council.
Nikki says teaching can be a challenge, and she is very much aware that her actions in the classroom can play a significant role in shaping the lives of students. However, it’s also extremely rewarding, especially since every day gives her the opportunity to live out her faith in a meaningful way.
For 10 years, St. Patrick School has been fortunate to have these women guiding students in faith and knowledge. Through their work, children in Parnell aren’t only learning reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also discovering how to know God, to love God and to serve all.