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Trinity School prepares students to be responsible community members


By Sue Orlowski, SP

Sandra Nokes treats parents and students as family.

Sandra Nokes, principal of Trinity Catholic School, builds a safe, faith-filled, loving, joyful educational environment, because she treats parents and students as her family.

Before moving to Trinity, she taught at St. Thomas More School.  She applied and was hired as Trinity’s principal in 2008.

“I believe God wanted me there.  I’m to make a difference in children’s lives,” she said.  “At Trinity, I can be an administrator, work with the child care program, be with the school children, work with curriculum and be involved with music in a mission-based educational system.”

Trinity Catholic School started in the early 1900s as two schools, St. Joseph’s School and St. Anthony’s School.  They joined together to form Trinity School in 1969.  At that time, two religious congregations operated the schools, but today it has a lay staff. 

Trinity was the first small Catholic school of the Spokane Diocese to be accredited by the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and the Western Catholic Education Association. In addition to the preschool, the school’s elementary education includes Educare, a licensed childcare program, and the Extended Care Center before- and after-school program.

The education is based on Catholic values and traditions that help students of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds develop a strong relationship with God in a safe environment, she said. 

The staff strives to enrich students’ lives and encourages them to become creative, responsible members of church and society.

“With parents as the primary educators, students, parents, teachers and staff work together to create an environment where individuals are respected, have the opportunity to achieve, accept responsibility, interact peacefully, discover the wonders of the universe and grow in the practice of their faith,” said Sandra.

Born in Spokane to an unwed, 19-year-old mother, Sandra spent eight weeks at St. Ann’s Orphanage before she was adopted by a Spokane couple, who were struggling to have children. 

Her parents always told her that she was doubly special, “because I was adopted and adopted children are special because they were chosen twice, first by God then by their parents,” she said. 

She sees her adoption as a gift because it enables her to let children know how special they are.

Sandra graduated from Eastern Washington University with a major in reading and a minor in math. She later received a master’s in reading from Whitworth University, and in 2004, her principal credentials.

She grew up attending St. Francis of Assisi parish. After she graduated from Eastern, she was hired at St. Thomas More School to teach music.

“I believe in the mission of Catholic schools because they want what is best for children, and it is a blessing to pass on the faith to others,” said Sandra.

She taught music part-time in grades K to 8 at St. Thomas More, while also teaching music part-time at St. Charles School in grades six to eight.  She was hired after a year to teach fifth grade half a day and music the second half. Other teaching areas included second grade, and later seventh and eighth grade pre-algebra and algebra. 

In 2000, she became vice-principal.

At St. Thomas More, she first worked under principal Ann Doherty, who taught her about professionalism and service. Doug Banks, who became principal in 2000 after Ann, challenged her to push beyond her comfort zone. 

“Both gave me insights into how to become a principal,” she said.

While teaching from 1991 to 2004, she had six children.  Her husband, Steven, stayed home for 10 years before returning to work as an accountant with the Spokane Catholic Diocese. 

“It was tough during this time because we lived on only one salary and a Catholic school salary at that,” said Sandra, who also gardens, bakes, cans and makes jams.  “I try to live simply so I can relate to the families and be able to support them through their rough times.”

Living simply is just part of her life.

Over the years, Sandra has said, “One does not need to have a lot of money to be happy, and I know that it is true.”

Because she had the opportunity to operate on a tight budget, she has been able to identify with many West Central and Emerson-Garfield families whose children attend the school. 

“The families come from diverse incomes, backgrounds, family structures and races.  The student population is also spiritually diverse,” Sandra said.  “Many are financially challenged so the school has programs to help families and students reach their potential.”

 Sixty-eight percent of the students receive free or reduced-rate lunches.  The school also participates in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, including a breakfast program that reimburses the school for nutritious meals. Some students also receive weekend food from the Bite-to-Go program.

“During the fall wind storm, I was worried that some students might not have enough to eat when the school was closed,” she said.  “Some families are in fragile circumstances.”

Because of the school’s diverse population, the students learn to tolerate differences.

“No students are refused admission because of an inability to pay all or part of their tuition. I meet with each family individually to determine what they can pay under their Fair Share Tuition Plan. I then draw up a contract which the parent(s) and I sign,” Sandra said. 

“The students not only learn the three R’s but also develop a sense of community. They know God loves them, people at the school will be there for them, and they can feel safe at school,” she said.  “They know they will receive unconditional love from teachers and classmates.  They also know they need to be accountable for their actions and responsibilities.” 

The school’s retention rate is high, and students receive solid academic preparation for high school, she said. 

The school has school-wide learning expectations.  One is “to become a confident and disciplined communicator.” Information on expectations and Catholic education is in the Thursday Bulletin, which families receive.

“Seeing a learning expectation on a regular basis, keeps it in the minds of the families and the students,” she said.

Students also participate in All-School Prayer on Mondays and attend Mass on Fridays. They help in Mass as choir members, altar servers, gift bearers and readers.

  “This helps them respect the Catholic Church even if they are not Catholic. It also helps them respect each other,” Sandra said.

For the end of All-School Prayer, led by rotating grades, students say a prayer Sandra wrote: “May God bless you with a yearning for learning and a heart to serve God joyfully.  God dwells in me and God loves me.”

 Sandra sees herself as a role model for students and families.

“Not only can I challenge the students but also they know they can share anything with me. They know that I will be there for them and their families to help them reach their potential and make a difference,” said Sandra.

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