Immaculata's Annual Angel Safari 5k and Fun Run – October 20, 2018

We are very excited for our 2018 Angel Safari 5K & Kids’ Fun Run at the Louisville Zoo coming this October 20th! This is our primary fundraiser that benefits the entire school.

What is the Angel Safari?

Sponsored by Immaculata Classical Academy, the Angel Safari is an annual run and family event at the Zoo. Our set-up crew arrives at 6AM and the event must be complete by 11AM. It's a whirlwind and tons of fun! Last year we had 350 participants and raised over $75,000. 

Why is the Angel Safari important for Immaculata?

Despite cutting costs wherever possible, tuition covers only about half of our operating cost. The Angel Safari is critical in helping us balance our budget and continue to offer high-quality affordable education to families.


The Fun Run is a short loop around the Zoo path and open to all children (not just Immaculata students!) ages 12 and younger. Parents are welcome to accompany their children. Youth who wish to register in the 5K race instead of the Kids’ Run are welcome to do so. THE FUN RUN EVENT WILL NOT BE TIMED. Prizes will be awarded for first place male and female winning runners as well as those who raise the most money from sponsors.


We’d like as many runners as possible! Registration is available online through the Immaculata website. (Look for the red button on the home page!) Online registering requires a $3 fee assessed by the website. Adults may register as a timed runner for $35 or may purchase a general attendance ticket to support and cheer on the runners for $15. All registered kid or adult runners and general ticket holders also receive free admission to the zoo for the entire day of the race. Children under the age of 3 are free for our event.

Registration is also available on the day of the event but day-of registers will not be guaranteed a t-shirt. Credit cards are not accepted.

Catholic News Agency: How this classical Catholic school welcomes children with Down syndrome

by Courtney Grogan

Louisville, Ky., Feb 2, 2018 / 03:47 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Students with Down syndrome study Latin and logic alongside their classmates at Immaculata Classical Academy, a Catholic school in Louisville, Ky., that integrates students with special needs into each of their pre-K through 12 classrooms.

The school emphasizes “education of the heart,” along with an educational philosophy tailored to the abilities of each student. About 15 percent of students at Immaculata have special needs.

“When you look at these students with Down syndrome in a classical setting, it is truly what a classical education is all about -- what it truly means to be human,” the school’s founder, Michael Michalak, told CNA.

“You can't learn compassion in a book,” Michalak explained.  He said the students at Immaculata are gaining “the ability to give of yourself to help others” through mutual mentoring constantly taking place in the classrooms.  

Michalek founded the academy along with his wife, Penny, in 2010. The couple saw a need for a Catholic school in which students like their daughter, Elena, who has Down syndrome, would not be segregated from their siblings. They wanted to keep their children together without compromising educational quality or spiritual formation.

"A classical education is, I think, the best education for a child with special needs because it is an education in everything that is beautiful, true, and good. It is perfect for these children,” Penny told CNA.

The school’s course schedule is configured so that students can move up or down grade levels by subject at each class hour, according to individual needs. “A second-grader might go to third grade math class and a child with Down syndrome in second grade might go over to first grade or might stay in 2nd grade,” Michael Michalak explained. “Nobody is looking around and saying, 'Oh, they are going to special classroom.’ They are just going where they need to be.”

"In the midst of all of this we are not leaving students behind,” Penny added, “We keep our high academic standards while integrating students with special needs.”

Since its founding, the independent Catholic school has grown to a student body of 160. Other Catholic schools across the country have begun looking to Immaculata as a model, the Michalaks say.

"Whenever anyone visits our school, they always say, ‘Oh my goodness the joy of this place!’” Penny told CNA.

The couple attributes the school’s sense of joy to the Holy Spirit and “the joy of belonging.” “Inclusion is more of a buzzword these days, but it is true that we all want to belong and we all want to be loved,” said Michael Michalek.

"Prayer is the air that we breathe. We start the day with prayer. Every class starts with a prayer and ends in a prayer,” said Penny, who entrusted the school to our Our Lady at the school’s founding with St. Maximilian Kolbe as its patron.

"Our whole philosophy is to teach every child as if we were teaching the Christ child, so that is how we handle each and every student," Penny continued.


A developing religious community, the Sisters of the Fiat, also teach at Immaculata. The sisters take an additional vow to serve those with with special needs, along with the traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The school’s founders say they are aware of their unique witness and role in a world where many children with Down syndrome are aborted. The estimated termination rate for children prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States is 67 percent; 77 percent in France; and Denmark, 98 percent, according to CBS News.

At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, students from Immaculata Classical Academy hold signs that read, “Abortion is not the cure for Down syndrome." The students are united in mission as “a pro-life school” and pray together for an end to abortion for their brothers and sisters with Down syndrome around the world, Michalak said.

The Michalaks have also adopted three children with Down syndrome.

Michael sees the founding of a school like Immaculata as the natural Catholic response at a moment in history when children with Down syndrome are especially at risk.

"Look at what the Catholic Church has done throughout history: We see orphans; we build orphanages. We see sick people; we build hospitals. It is in this particular time and place that we saw the need to take the lead on this and to start a school that incorporates the whole family.”

His wife adds, “When you are doing something that you feel called by God to do, it is a vocation, it is a mission, it is a can you not be full of joy when you know that this is the will of God. It is very rewarding."

The Record: Immaculata Classical Academy educates all of ‘God’s children’

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Stephanie Rhodes, a 13-year-old diagnosed with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Elena Michalak, a 9-year-old with Down syndrome, kept pace with their third-grade classmates during choir at Immaculata Classical Academy Oct. 19.

Their classroom — where typical needs and special needs children work and learn together — was the concept upon which
Immaculata was founded in 2010. The independent Catholic school, which grew out of the founders’ Penny and Mike Michalak’s  homeschool, was recognized by the Arch-

diocese of Louisville as a Catholic school last year.

It’s mission is to educate all of God’s children, regardless of their abilities. 

Children like Stephanie and Elena make up 15 to 20 percent of the school’s student body — 162 students in preschool through high school. The school also serves children who have been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and severe mental delays, among others. And they are all integrated into regular classes.

Co-founder Penny Michalak said the school’s academic standards remain “very high,” even though it serves special needs children. The goal, she said, is to challenge all the students. 

Challenging them, she said, is a simple matter of scheduling at Immaculata: The entire school studies the same subject at the same time of day. 

If a child is struggling in a particular subject, whether they have special needs or not, they can easily move down a grade in that subject and work at their own pace, explained Justin Fout, Immaculata’s principal. 

Dalphne Rhodes, the mother of 13-year-old Stephanie, said the school  is working for her children. 

Stephanie’s brothers attend Immaculata, too. Charles is an eighth-grader diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and attention deficit disorder and Chad is a fourth-grader diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. The three enrolled at Immaculata this school year.

“They’ve done an amazing job with Stephanie. I couldn’t be happier,” Rhodes said. “She’s breaking down myths and doing the things people said she couldn’t do.”

Stephanie entered Immaculata at a fourth-grade level, but is already doing mathematics beyond that grade level, said Rhodes, adding that the alignment of the class schedule is “genius.” 

“You don’t want your child with special needs to be put aside, you want them in an environment with other kids,” said Rhodes. Stephanie is “excited” to go to school. “There’s been a shift in her” since starting Immaculata. Her sons, too, are settling in and advancing well, she said. Rhodes calls Immaculata an “answer to prayers.”   

Ray Klein, said his 12-year-old son Nicholas, who has Down syndrome, is very delayed academically, but was welcomed into Immaculata this year. 

Nicholas is battling leukemia and missed all of the last school year due to his illness. He is enrolled in the second-grade at Immaculata this year and is already showing signs of progress.

“He’s excited about learning and being a part of a community. He loves going to school,” said Klein in an interview Oct. 20. “Immaculata is a huge part of his recovery.”

Immaculata’s mission to educate special needs children is “real and sincere,” said Klein. “It’s a ministry they express through education.”

Fout said his “hope and prayer is that other schools will take up the Immaculata method” of teaching special and typical needs students in the same classroom. He said it doesn’t take a lot to do so.

The school’s resource coordinators — Shelley Lampe and Connie Mamie — are integral to the school’s mission, he said. Mamie and Lampe assess students initially to determine their skill levels and needs. Then they develop an individual education plan to guide teachers and parents.

Lampe, who also teaches high school science and middle school math, said during an interview at the school that her days in the classroom are spent helping students “optimize” their class time. If the student is really struggling she or Mamie will work with the child individually in the resource room, she said. 

Special needs students are “very capable, but it may take them longer or they may have to repeat a grade,” said Lampe. “The hurry up and move along approach doesn’t work.” 

In fact, Mamie said, special needs children can learn anything at a slower pace. She focuses on “meeting the children where they are and taking them as far as we can.” The children she works with are always advancing, she said. They may “stall” at times, but she’s never seen them regress.

Lampe and Mamie agree that it takes a team to make the school successful. It’s like the “unity of the church working as the body of Christ. We’re not sufficient on our own,” said Mamie. 

Immaculata also has an unusual weekly schedule —a four-day school week. Students attend classes Tuesday through Friday, which has also played a role in helping them accomplish what they do, said Mamie. 

Faculty and staff meet on Mondays to discuss student progress and ways to keep helping them succeed. 

Communicating with teachers and parents is also important in learning how to better serve the students, noted Mamie.

“It takes courage and generosity to do what we do,” said Lampke, noting it’s not always easy. “It’s exhausting and you lay awake at night wondering how you can help this child.” 

All the children benefit from having special needs students in the classroom, Michalak added. The Michalaks have 16 children — some biological and some adopted — including four with Down syndrome, three of whom are adopted. The couple are concerned that abortion will eventually eliminate children like theirs. 

At Immaculata, she said, students learn that “all people are people.” The students interact well together and the typical needs students learn compassion through this interaction, she said. 

Having them together in the classroom also helps to “unlock” skills, such as communication, in special needs children. “They’re not people who should be left out. They’re God’s children,” she said.