PAWTUCKET — This month Saint Raphael Academy unveiled a complete renovation of the former media center in the White Building, the Academy’s original school building when Saints first opened its doors in 1924.
Just a few months ago, the space was outfitted with all the trappings of a 20th century library, with brown utilitarian bookcases dividing the room, print magazine displays, heavy dark furniture and dated wall color and carpeting.
Now called The Mills Family Student Center, the renovated space encourages collaborative learning between students and faculty using technology to access information.
The renovations were made possible with a generous donation from Richard and Demi Mills, both former students in the 1980s. Since then, they have remained aware of what Saint Raphael Academy does for the community and wanted to find a way to make a difference in the current students’ lives.
“We were just feeling appreciative and grateful [for our good fortune] and realizing that it wasn’t always that way,” said Demi, who recalled tougher financial times in the past. “We just wanted to remember where we came from.”
They met on SRA’s campus their freshmen year in 1985 and started dating in their junior year of high school. While Demi left Saints and went to another school, Rich graduated with the Class of 1989. But the couple stayed together and later married. Both of their brothers are also Saints graduates, in addition to Rich’s sister-in-law.
“I just feel our family wouldn’t be our family without Saints,” said Rich, who is a Cumberland native.
“It’s a very important place for us,” he continued, “I feel like Saints took an interest in me as a person and fostered my growth and helped me come out of my shell. [Saints] was really important in who I became.” While a student, he took an anatomy course that sparked an interest in science. That path led him to an eventual doctorate of veterinary medicine and a successful career in the veterinary field.
The Mills Family Student Center has been open to classes since the beginning of the school year, and faculty have been encouraged to make use of the new learning space. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Amanda Picardi, a mathematics teacher at Saints, enjoys the change of scenery instead of a traditional classroom setting. “The students are able to spread out, get comfortable and work together. It allows me to see how the students interact with one another and gives me the opportunity to individually help students while they are working on group work. I have chosen not to give direct instruction but enjoy the students’ ability to learn together.” she said.
The Mills have only seen pictures of the finished student center, but they are pleased with the outcome and are hoping that it inspires students to come up with great ideas through collaboration.
An official dedication event for The Mills Family Student Center will be held April 1, 2022.