Why is St. Mark's modifying its education plan?
Much of what is happening in education today is feeding data to children, followed by tests. This method of education does not form the whole person or nurture the child’s love of knowledge. It is a system that often shuts down the child’s love of learning. They become bored or frustrated.
The goal of a classical education is to awaken wonder, and inquisitiveness in each child. A classical curriculum respects the child’s natural curiosity, and encourages it to grow, which creates a joyful atmosphere of learning.
Mindful of these benefits, a group of parents from St. Mark’s parish and school approached the pastor in 2010, requesting that he consider a shift to a classical curriculum. These parents were generally happy with the education offered by St. Mark’s, but challenged us to do better. Their grass-roots effort took shape over the next several years. In 2017, a committee of parents, teachers and staff was formed to explore the possibilities. Today, classical education is in the midst of a resurgence in popularity, especially among parochial and private schools, and we are convinced that the pedagogical framework it offers will allow us to grow in excellence.
What is Catholic Classical Education?
In broad terms, Catholic Classical Education emphasizes the pursuit of the good, the true and the beautiful. It is aligned with child development (and the tools for teaching offered through Catholic IDEALS), recognizing that younger students have minds ready to absorb information.
Catholic Classical Education offers an integrated approach to learning. By showing children the interrelationships between ideas, they learn not merely what to think but how to think. In this way, a classical curriculum encourages creativity, exploration and inquisitiveness across all subject areas, and creates a sense of wonder in the child. It will work hand-in-hand with Top 20 principles for human development to encourage the growth of virtue in each child.
A classical approach to education is divided into three stages of learning. The Grammar Stage (typically grades K-5) is a time when students gain a foundational knowledge of each subject. These are the building blocks for future learning. In grades 6-8, students move to the Logic Stage, where information within each particular subject is organized, and there is a focus on analyzing and understanding the relationships within the content learned. This is where critical thinking skills are honed. Finally, in the Rhetoric Stage (grades 9-12) students focus more intensively on the written and oral expression of opinion, based on what has been learned.
How will this work with Catholic IDEALS and Top 20 Training?
We believe our teachers are uniquely prepared to successfully implement a Catholic Classical Education model and curriculum. Their IDEALS training complements the goals of our classical approach by providing them with strategies to keep each student creatively engaged in the adventure of learning, recognizing and celebrating their differences.
Our mission is to prepare each student to live a fully human life, at the service of others and with eyes set on eternity. A St. Mark’s education is focused on the whole child. Our Top 20 training initiative prepares teachers to help students to grow in virtue, within the integrated curriculum offered through the classical approach.
What practical modifications will I see?
Several positive changes to our curriculum have already been implemented.
Fourth grade teacher Patrick Bowlin is leading the transition to our new Singapore Math curriculum, for grades K-5. Singapore focuses on problem solving and a conceptual understanding of math. It is effective because children are led to understand the material in a deeper way, which reaches beyond test taking.
We have also transitioned to a new K-8 religion curriculum, called “The Spirit of Truth,” from Sophia Institute Press. Our teachers who reviewed the curriculum found it to be lively and engaging, with a depth of focus that will allow our students to grow in their love for Christ and apply their faith to daily life.
One of the important aspects of a classical education is learning through written and spoken language, and learning a foreign language helps to develop these skills. Many schools using a classical curriculum also introduce aspects of Latin instruction. This is because Latin forms the basis for approximately 60% of the words in the English language, so a study of Latin increases a student’s aptitude for language study of any kind and increases the student’s English vocabulary, grammar and writing skills.
We are very blessed that our new Spanish teacher also has experience in teaching Latin. We are in the process of developing a plan to begin to introduce the study of Latin, in addition to Spanish, in coming years.
We continue to believe that technology has an important role to play in the classroom. Our focus, across all subjects, is on equipping students with the ability to order things correctly. This means that we do not view technology as an end in itself, but rather see it as a tool placed at the service of man (and God). Our effort is to humanize technology, so that it becomes a means of helping our students to further their education and grow in virtue. We are committed to preparing students for the modern world, and there is a growing body of evidence that today’s tech industry is seeking employees with a liberal arts background paired with technical training, because they are able to think broadly enough to find solutions to problems.
St. Mark’s is already a school that lives out our Catholic identity, and we will continue to do that through weekly Mass, the sacrament of confession, daily prayer and the content of our religion classes and Ignite programs.
When will the transition to a classical curriculum happen?
We have completed the initial phase in our plan of transition. Our new principal, Edgar Alfonzo, was hired in June, and we have hired several excellent teachers who are excited about moving toward a Catholic Classical Education curriculum.
Dr. Edgar Alfonzo, our Principal, recently completed a national training program offered by the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, preparing him to lead our transition process. He will be bringing those ideas and practical tools to our teaching staff and school advisory council throughout the school year.
We expect the complete process of transition to a Catholic Classical Education model to take three to five years. We are developing a detailed roadmap for that process. Look for updates coming in the spring of 2019.
There are a number of books, articles and videos that can help you learn more about Catholic Classical Education:
An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents (Christopher Perrin, 2004).
Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping the Nation (Capital Research Center, 2015).
John Senior and the Restoration of Realism (Fr. Francis Bethel, OSB, 2016).