Most schools today are geared toward college and career-readiness. These schools aren’t forming children to be saints, say classical education advocates.
A fourth-grader raises her hand to answer a question at Christ the King School in Irondequoit, N.Y., in this 2011 photo. (CNS photo/Mike Crupi, Catholic Courier) (July 18, 2014)
Three years ago, Sacred Heart Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan was a failing school. It was down to 69 students in the entire K-12 program, employed only six teachers, and was a financial “drain on the parish,” according to the school’s provost, Zach Good.
This fall, however, the school—which is 100 years old and was formerly known as Sacred Heart of Jesus School—will be approaching an enrollment of 300 students (with new families continuing to inquire about enrollment), and the financial situation has greatly improved, as have the school’s intellectual and spiritual cultures, said Good.
What changed in just three years? The administration, with the approval and ongoing support of the pastor and bishop, switched to a classical Catholic liberal arts curriculum. In fact, the administration has changed 90 percent of the school’s curriculum.
“Every year we freely embody our vision, it gets easier,” said Good. “There’s not much room for regret.” The vision to restore the school to the classical Catholic liberal arts tradition has become a reality thanks to a positive working relationship with the local homeschooling community, refusal of government funding and traditional teacher training, and the guidance of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, an organization dedicated to the renewal of Catholic education.
Sacred Heart Academy offers two programs to students. The first consists of a fulltime program through 10th grade, including a Montessori Pre-K program for three-to-six-year-olds. As part of this, the school offered their first full-time 9th grade year last year, and this fall, will offer it for 10th grade. The other program is a classical enrichment program for homeschoolers offered to part-time 2nd through 12th-grade students. In the classical enrichment program, students meet two times a week on campus, and complete the rest of their course work at home. Good said by the time the students in the classical enrichment program get to high school, the course work they are doing looks a lot like a college curriculum. Students in both programs take Latin, classical literature, mathematics, and sacred music, among other offerings. According to Good, the school is committed to both programs for the long haul.
The financial pressure the school has put on the parish has lessened, thanks not only to increased enrollment, but more successful fundraising. In past years, the annual auction typically raised around $30,000 for the school each year. Last year, the auction netted $215,000. “There has been a 10-fold increase in donations since the change has been made,” Good said. “It’s easier to ask when we have and articulate a substantial philosophy, and they can see the cultural change.”
One selling point of the curriculum Sacred Heart offers is that students are being more fully formed, said Good. Although he and the rest of the administration are skeptical of standardized test scores, he said state standardized test scores in reading, writing, and math have improved significantly at most grade levels. Two students earned perfect scores on the National Latin Exam, and other students have done well on Advanced Placement (AP) exams. “The students are better writers, more articulate speakers, deeper readers. Parents have remarked that dinner table conversations have improved,” Good said.
Many of the enrichment program’s graduates are discerning vocations to the religious life, and eighth grade students have scored as proficient or above average on the Assessment of Children/Youth Religious Education (ACRE), which measures students’ knowledge of the Catholic faith.
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