Hearts and Minds
Notre Dame High School provides students with the values and knowledge they need to become well-rounded adults
by Phil Gianficaro

Seven years have passed since Thomas John Yake earned a diploma from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J.

But he’s carried it with him every day since. Not the sheepskin, mind you, but the first-class education, social and spiritual growth and foundation for success it instilled in him.

“The lessons I learned at Notre Dame continue to serve me today,” Yake says. “The academics, the extracurricular activities, the campus ministry—they’ve all helped me develop into the person I am today. My experience at Notre Dame has given me the tools to succeed. I can’t imagine having attended high school anywhere else.”

Now 25, Yake has applied lessons learned at Notre Dame to climb life’s ladder. He’s earned a B.A. in economics and history from William & Mary College, a master’s degree in secondary education from Arizona State University, and is working toward a Ph.D. in economics and education at Columbia University.

Yake also spent two years working for Teach for America, a nonprofit that aims to eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach for two or more years in low-income communities throughout the United States.

“We were taught about the importance of helping others in campus ministry at Notre Dame,” Yake says. “It wasn’t a doctrinal faith … but a practical faith that showed it can unite us and how to use it to reach out to others. Notre Dame shaped my way of thinking.”

Yake’s success story is but one of thousands of Notre Dame graduates. Today, 55 years after its founding, the Catholic, co-educational, college preparatory school is guided by the same unwavering principals: a focus on addressing the student as a whole, integrated with the values of the Roman Catholic faith.

“The education at Notre Dame is about all the facets that go into making a young person ready for the world,” says Brenda Riley, who taught English at the school for 15 years before becoming director of communications in 1996. “Students who attend Notre Dame find their niche and are able to grow and take the gifts they have and develop them. Sometimes they learn about gifts they didn’t know they already had. They also learn to give to others through the Christian Service Program in which all students participate.

“At Notre Dame, there is something for everyone. One of our longtime staff members says that when you graduate from Notre Dame, you get a diploma for the mind, body and soul.”

The challenging curriculum at Notre Dame offers boys and girls in grades 9 through 12 a variety of subjects designed to provide a rigorous academic experience in a student-friendly setting; the teacher-to-student ratio is 14:1. About 99 percent of Notre Dame graduates are placed in competitive colleges and universities, and students achieve an 81 percent pass rate for college-level advanced placement courses.

Notre Dame students can choose from more than 50 clubs and organizations, 53 athletic teams and a renowned performing-arts program. The school features a 1,200-seat theater; gymnasium; dining hall; standard classrooms; offices; computer and science labs; school store (The Leprechaun Shop); a state-of-the-art track; wrestling room; cross country path; weight room; turf football field with stands; tennis courts; various outdoor playing fields; media center/library; chapel; campus ministry; guidance department; and courtyard.

“The teachers at Notre Dame are dedicated to having all students succeed,” Yake says. “They put the time and effort in to teach and make class fun. They make the kids want to be challenged. They treat students like young adults. They make you want to learn. Half the school is involved in extracurricular activities or sports. It’s just an awesome place to build friendships and grow.

“Notre Dame was where I learned about leadership. I was involved in a lot of clubs and in student government there. That experience gave me the reassurance and confidence that we can all be leaders. Teachers and administrators encouraged us. When someone had an idea, we were never told it was a bad idea. And even if that idea failed, the faculty showed us how to grow from that failure.”

Leah-Michelle Nebbia certainly thrived under the encouragement and guidance of her teachers at Notre Dame. The 2007 graduate spent four years working on the student newspaper and in her senior year did an internship with Riley in the communications office. There she participated in many public-relations-specific tasks, including writing promotional radio spots for events at the school and updating its website.

“It’s not something you are normally exposed to in middle and high school,” she says. “Notre Dame offered me the ability to work with the newspaper and the internship, where I got hands-on experience working with my supervisor. It was a great experience and great exposure to the field.”

She feels it not only helped her to get into American University in Washington D.C.—where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public communications and minors in marketing and economics—but it also prepared her for the career she has today, as a consultant for a global PR agency.

Nebbia speaks highly of the teachers and administrators of Notre Dame, who provided a role model for her ambitions, and who led the select Peer Leadership Program in which Nebbia participated.

“I would say the school was looking out for everyone’s needs individually. … They look for young leaders—individuals who want these opportunities—and they are nurtured in that role.”

Notre Dame students are athletes who act, mathematicians who debate and human-rights advocates who paint. There are no classifications, no limits to the potential for learning more about their faith, their world and themselves.

Another Notre Dame graduate, C.J. DeMille, sensed those qualities at Notre Dame from the moment he walked on campus—years before he earned his diploma in 2012.

“I spent my childhood at Notre Dame because my mother is a physical education teacher there,” DeMille says. “But I can tell you that even if she didn’t work there, I still would have gone there. My four years there were incredible. I grew so much as a person. Looking back, if I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have the integrity I have or think the way I do. I am so glad.”

Like Yake, DeMille carries his diploma with him, as he applies lessons learned at Notre Dame in college. A freshman theology major at St. Joseph’s University, DeMille’s career path was charted at Notre Dame, where his experience with campus ministry, its ministers and the school’s chaplain helped him explore religion on a deeper level.

“It was at Notre Dame where I understood what I wanted to do with my life,” says DeMille, who two weeks after high school graduation visited Uganda with the Invisible Children organization to raise awareness and promote and protect the human rights of Ugandan children being killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army. “Notre Dame taught me, and it teaches all of its students, to care about the world.”
Notre Dame High School
601 Lawrence Road
Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
Phone: 609-882-7900
Fax: 609-882-5723
Website: www.ndnj.org