Nine months ago, Cyril Cruz, then the second grade teacher at Holy Innocents School, knew almost nothing about the Catholic classical liberal arts tradition. Today, she’s a first year principal overseeing a remarkable renewal at the low-income school in Long Beach, California:
I’ve been teaching here for six years and in that time, we’ve noticed a decline in performance on standardized tests and, overall, a lack of progression in academics. We’ve participated in a variety of professional development through the Archdiocese focused on Common Core standards, really trying to narrow down what our problems were. And after going through all of that, despite the best efforts of our dedicated teaching staff, and still seeing a decline, we realized that we really needed to take a different approach.
We decided that we needed to go back to our roots and really reevaluate what Catholic education is and how to best share that with our families and students, and how to ingrain in them that love for our Lord through school, through our curriculum. And that led us to examining what our curriculum really was. We realized that our curriculum was really segmented, really skills-based, and even while trying to focus on those skills, we were not hitting the mark.
In March, Fr. Peter Irving, Pastor of Holy Innocents, arranged to have our Institute present an introductory workshop to the faculty in order to simply explore the possibility of a new vision for the school. The majority of the staff were excited by what they learned, including Gary Page, an eight-year veteran teacher and former small business owner:
What I like about the Catholic classical liberal arts approach is that it sees the Catholic worldview as all-encompassing. In other words, it’s not just something that’s compartmentalized into religion class, but it really is the most coherent way to explain reality itself. And the purpose of education is to help our children be able to grasp what reality is, what truth is, and to be able to know how to live according to that truth in their lives. That’s what we call growing in wisdom and virtue.
Following the positive reaction of his teachers, Fr. Irving arranged for a return visit from the Institute in May for a two-day teacher training workshop and the entire faculty attended either the National Catholic Classical Schools Conference or the Spirit and Craft of Teaching in the Catholic Liberal Arts Tradition. The results of the shift, after just a few months, have been palpable. Cruz continues:
It’s been amazing to see the teachers just light up and become themselves the life-long learners we encourage our students to be. Because this curriculum has a foundation in Christ, everything is just lining up. So whether it’s in religion, literature, history, math, or nature studies, our students are seeing the true purpose of things – and that there is a higher purpose as well. And they love it. And it’s amazing to see the teachers be able to make these natural connections that in modern education would be cut down to just basic skills. You can see that learning is really happening with our students.
After just one quarter, the majority of our classes and subjects are above 50% in SGP [Student Growth Percentile], which is amazing. We’ve never had that in our school before. The writing of our students is improving, the literature that’s being discussed, the Socratic seminars that are taking place, the conversations that are happening out on the playground… I’ve never seen the school come alive in such a beautiful way. It truly is amazing. Parents are jumping on board. We are seeing the fruits even within the home. Family culture is being brought back to life with this reclaiming of this education. And it’s just December!
Thanks to our work with similar schools for more than a decade, we are in a unique position to assist schools all over the country, just like we did with Holy Innocents.
In 2010, when St. Jerome Academy began their well-chronicled transition to Catholic classical liberal arts, they were able to turn to the Institute for inspiration, community, and concrete guidance at our Academic Retreat for Teachers. In turn, schools like St. John Bosco in Rochester, New York, and Our Lady of Lourdes in Denver, Colorado, were able to connect with and gain from the wisdom of St. Jerome’s at our National Catholic Classical Schools Conference.
Today, St. Jerome Academy is at maximum enrollment (366) and plans are underway to expand. St. John Bosco School, with a starting enrollment of 26 in 2008, now serves 169 students, including those enrolled in their recently founded high school, Chesterton Academy. And Our Lady of Lourdes, also back at full enrollment (262), opened a second campus this year in order to meet the continually growing demand.
As I’ve mentioned previously, this is a very different narrative from the one that has dominated Catholic education headlines for decades. Decline and consolidation are no longer the only sound bites. Growth and joy have once again taken hold. And while growth is often what gets people talking, the even greater benefit is the joy that immediately infuses both students and teachers.
We are receiving new requests on a weekly basis. Unfortunately in the midst of this dramatic renewal, we are struggling to meet demand. The narrative is changing, and we are doing a lot with a little. Please help us serve an even greater number of Catholic teachers, students, and families in 2019 by donating today.