St. Jerome Academy in Maryland has become an inspiration to schools that want to offer thoroughly Catholic education. The K-8 parish school was fighting to stay alive in 2009 when a group of parents and parishioners proposed a return to a classical liberal arts curriculum. With the encouragement of Fr. James M. Stack and Principal Mary Pat Donoghue, a volunteer curriculum team, which included professors from local Catholic universities, developed a detailed plan to guide the transition. Now in the fifth year of its enthusiastic renewal, St. Jerome’s has reached full enrollment, with waiting lists in several grades.
The Educational Plan of St. Jerome Academy, a 120-page document, gives a comprehensive picture of one possible approach to Catholic classical liberal arts education at the K-8 level. Already a handful of diocesan and independent Catholic elementary schools have benefited by adopting this plan, under an agreement with St. Jerome Academy.
Below we share the plan’s Vision Statement and its list of 15 assessment questions that provide excellent guidance for faculty discussions and individual reflection.
St. Jerome Academy educates children in the truest and fullest sense by giving them the necessary tools of learning and by fostering wonder and love for all that is genuinely true, good, and beautiful. We emphasize classical learning because we want our students to read well, speak well, and think well and ultimately because truth and beauty are good in themselves and desirable for their own sake. We seek to incorporate our students into the wisdom of two thousand years of Catholic thought, history, culture, and arts so that they might understand themselves and their world in the light of the truth and acquire the character to live happy and integrated lives in the service of God and others. Education in this deep and comprehensive sense extends beyond the classroom and is more than just the acquisition of skills. It encompasses the whole of one’s life. For this reason, St. Jerome’s seeks to involve families ever more deeply in the life of the school and in the education of their children.
The Educational Plan goes on to state: Curriculum, pedagogical methods, and all the details of the school‘s life should therefore be constantly assessed both in light of the conviction that knowledge and love of truth, beauty, and goodness are ends in themselves and in light of the twofold goal of the Vision Statement. Every activity, program, policy, method, or proposal should be tested by the following criteria, which follow from this vision, though not all are equally applicable to each of these facets of the school‘s life.
1. Is it beautiful?
2. Are we doing this because it is inherently good, or as a means to an end? If the latter, what end?
3. Does it encourage the student to think of education itself as a high and noble enterprise, or does it cheapen education?
4. Is it excellent? Does it demand the best students and teachers have to offer, and hold them to the highest standard they are capable of achieving? Or does it give in to the gravitational pull of mediocrity? Is excellence the highest standard, or is excellence subordinate to lower standards such as convenience, popularity, or marketing considerations (i.e., consumer appeal)?
5. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of God and the splendor of His creation?
6. Does it encourage reverence for the mystery of the human person and respect for the student‘s own human dignity?
7. Does it encourage him to desire truth, to understand such virtues as courage, modesty, prudence, and moderation and to cultivate these within himself?
8. Does it help the student to see what difference God makes to all the facets of the world, or does it make God‘s existence seem irrelevant, trivial, small or private?
9. Does it assist in passing on the received wisdom of the Christian tradition, or does it create obstacles to reception of the tradition?
10. Does it encourage real searching and thinking? Does it provoke the student to ask “why?” Does it stir up a desire for understanding?
11. Does it encourage conversation between and across generations or does it hinder it?
12. Does it help to develop to the fullest extent what is uniquely human in the student: the powers of attending, deliberating, questioning, calculating, remembering, and loving?
13. Does it encourage the student to become patient, to take time, and if necessary, to start over in order to achieve excellence, or does it subordinate excellence to speed, ease, and efficiency?
14. Does it encourage the student to value rigor and discipline?
15. Does it deepen the role of the family in the life of the school and the role of education in the life of the family, or does it erect a barrier between family and school?