MAGNOLIA — Ten years after graduating from the diocese’s newest high school, St. Thomas More Prep, Sara Spencer Passon is back, this time as a social studies teacher. She is the first graduate to teach at her alma mater, and she believes this is where she is supposed to be.
“I like the small atmosphere,” she said last week between classes. “It just feels like there’s a closeness. Everybody genuinely seems to care about everybody else’s well-being, which is something I don’t think you always see in a lot of larger schools.”
Passon, 27, arrived at St. Thomas More as a sophomore after spending her freshman year at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden. Having gone to Holy Cross School, she was used to Catholic education and the closeness that existed there. The opening of St. Thomas More provided an opportunity for her to experience that again.
“I was just too used to the private aspect and your teachers knowing you by name and all that. Going into CR, which is such a huge school, it was overwhelming for me. I was much happier coming here,” she said.
Of course, the school where she works is not the same as the one where she studied. She said her class had about 17 students when the school opened and another 30 or so freshmen. The building itself was much smaller, with a classroom pod and a gymnasium. The students ate lunch in a trailer attached to the building.
As a student, Passon played volleyball and basketball, and was involved in the drama program, chorus, Key Club and student government. With such a small enrollment, students had no choice but to be busy.
“It was like everybody had to be involved in everything in order to make it work,” she said.
These days, she has a family to keep her busy. Gabriel, her 10-month-old son, takes up most of the free time of Passon and her husband, J.R. When she can, she likes to go to the gym and play volleyball, as well as hang out with friends, shop and go to the beach.
There were a few familiar faces when she got the job at St. Thomas More. The principal, Father James Lentini, taught Passon at Holy Cross before he entered the priesthood, and Diane Baaden, a math instructor and dean of studies, taught her in high school.
“I remember Sara as a young lady who put forth a great deal of effort into her class work,” Baaden said. “Sara brings to St. Thomas More her life experiences. The students are seeing one of many graduates of St. Thomas More who are successful as adults.”
Today, the student body numbers 235, and the physical plant and educational opportunities have grown. But St. Thomas More retains the atmosphere and closeness of a small school, Passon said.
“I do like the religious component because it kind of goes through all the different academic areas in one way or another.”
Passon earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wilmington University, and that’s one of the subjects she is teaching this year, along with world history and economics.
St. Thomas More is actually her second alma mater where she has taught, as she spent three years at Holy Cross, teaching a year of pre-kindergarten and two of fourth and fifth grades. She spent her first year in education at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown as a preschool teacher.
She said she believes she was destined to be a teacher. Her father bought her a chalkboard, which was in the garage of her Dover home.
“I just sat there and taught my sister whether she wanted to listen to me or not.”
St. Thomas More grad returns to teach at alma mater