For Michael Thomasian, the Archdiocese of Washington Distinguished Principal of the Year, the Brookland neighborhood of Washington is more than just the location where he goes to work at St. Anthony Catholic School in the morning. It is also where he and his wife got married, where they began their family of four kids, where they grocery shop, where they attend Mass, and where they have made friends “with people in all walks of life and all ages,” Thomasian said.

The Principal of the Year began teaching at St. Anthony in 2000 after graduating from Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He was participating in a two-year AmeriCorps program that placed him as a teacher at St. Anthony while he earned a master’s degree in teaching at Trinity Washington University. His wife, Jessica, was another teacher in that program, who taught at St. Frances de Sales School in Washington, which is now closed.

In 2004, the two Catholic educators got married at St. Anthony, and decided to include students from both of their schools in the ceremony. They had students serve as the ring bearer, as a reader, as a violinist, and as liturgical dancers. Afterward, prior to attending their wedding reception at the Franciscan Monastery, they had a smaller reception in the school with the students.

They have lived in Brookland ever since, and Thomasian said he thinks being a part of the neighborhood and the parish where he serves is important, because people want to see that “you are one of them.”

St. Anthony is a part of the Consortium of Catholic Academies, a network of four Catholic schools in Washington that reach out to underserved communities. As a part of this effort, the school welcomes many students who receive the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, which provides children from low-income families in Washington with funds to attend private schools in the city.

Part of his mission as principal of St. Anthony, Thomasian said, is to make it the neighborhood school for all children. By living close to school, Thomasian thinks kids will be able to “have a strong sense of belonging” as well as have more opportunity to participate in school events.

“Being a part of a community is important for all people, especially young people,” said Thomasian. “Everyone is stretched so thin,” he added, noting how many people commute long distances for work or school. By attending a neighborhood school, “…you can walk to school, you go to activities, have a place to call home,” he said.

When he became principal in 2011, Thomasian said he decided he would “have to be creative in how to bring the neighborhood in.”

Since then, he has worked on improving the school’s “curb appeal” by planting trees, starting a vegetable garden that the students help out with, improving the outdoor play area, and moving the main entrance to make it more accessible, among other projects.

Thomasian also focuses on a lot of development and marketing work, such as running the school’s website and Facebook page, and raising money for scholarships or improvements to the school. The school has also started hosting monthly open houses, and held a Breakfast with Santa that drew in 300 people, many of whom had never been to the church or school before.

Thomasian’s hard work in creating a welcoming neighborhood school is just one example of how he lives out the school’s mission to “prepare its students for lives of leadership and service rooted in an encounter with Jesus Christ.” To further emulate this mission, every year on Holy Thursday, Thomasian washes the feet of 12 eighth grade students, just as Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.

“It is one of the most special things I do each year,” he said.

Under Thomasian’s leadership, St. Anthony has seen an increase in enrollment, and in the past three years, the school has had about 30 baptisms for students who have decided to become Catholic.

The Brookland neighborhood itself is developing rapidly, and Thomasian said he has seen a big change since he began living there. He recalled how when he moved in it was a mixed income neighborhood, without many restaurants. Now, it is becoming a trendy place to live, he said, but that won’t change the mission of the school.

“We are doing everything we can to welcome new families, both those who go to church and those who are not church-going yet,” said Thomasian.