125 years old and counting

St. Vincent Elementary School celebrates its 125th anniversary this year and the school is still healthy, happy and spry despite its advanced age.

A number of special events are planned to commemorate the anniversary, including a major celebration at the school on May 5 and a Heritage Carnival in October.

Current school principal Susan Roffman hasn't been around for the entire 125 years of the school's existence, but she has been at the school since 1981 when she started as a seventh-grade teacher. She wasn't around when what was known as St. Vincent Academy was built on the corner of Union and Howard streets in 1888, but she knows about the school history and has seen many transitions and changes, including the introduction of an eighth-grade class, the re-introduction of kindergarten, the switch to an all-lay faculty and a complete renovation of the school grounds.

The last of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary retired in 1986, and today the school has a faculty of all lay teachers. It has also expanded its programs to include art, music, computer science and, what Roffman calls, "all areas of academics and fine arts."

Renovation of the original building was completed in 2005 and now houses not only the kindergarten, but also the school library, music center, art room, tutoring rooms and a chapel. "It has been brought back to its glory," says Roffman.

Today's St. Vincent Elementary School is academic and social home to 277 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. While the students are still taught traditional school subjects, including cursive handwriting, St. Vincent has maintained and possibly kept ahead of technology trends. Roffman recalls that the school's first computer lab was set up in 1990 with donated IBM computers. Those are long gone, but the lab is still being used with much more modern technology.

The school also has a fully equipped science lab that will soon be expanded with the help of a Major Impact Grant from the Petaluma Educational Foundation.

Roffman says the changes and added technology are important, but they are not the main reason St. Vincent Elementary School is unique.

"We are special because of our families and our children," she says. "In some cases we have third and even fourth-generation students here. Our families are very committed to the school. We also have a great faculty, Everyone is here because they want to be at the school."

Kindergarten teacher DeAnn Sarlatte is definitely one of those teachers who wants to be at St. Vincent. "I love it here," she says. "It really doesn't feel like work."

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