Lourdes School debuts classical education model to rave reviews
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Nissa Lapoint/DCR
This school year, Our Lady of Lourdes School in Denver is taking a new approach to education in hopes to reinvigorate its classrooms and encourage its students to seek the higher good.
Declining enrollment prompted the archdiocesan school to begin the first in a three-year phased switch to classical education, a model that has its roots in ancient Greece and Rome and challenges students to pursue the truth while cultivating virtue.
In the first several weeks of school, Principal Rosemary Anderson said the model is already paying-off in students’ desire to learn.
"The kids love it. They are so excited about learning," Anderson said. "This kind of education really does teach kids how to think. It's like going to the gym for your brain."
The model seeks to teach children about the Catholic faith and its relation to each subject studied. Students learn in three phases—grammar, logic and rhetoric, each taught in a way that corresponds to a child's developing brain.
Its goal is to instruct students how to think, write, read and communicate the truth and equip them for a successful life on earth and to reach heaven. It's a model that's a natural fit for Catholic education, said Richard Thompson, superintendent of Catholic schools.
"The Catholic worldview is integrated into curriculum throughout our schools,” he said. “Each school exists for formation of the whole child, seeking to form them in moral and academic excellence. Classical education is one path to the mission and outcome shared by all of our schools.”
As with any education model, he added, there are advantages and disadvantages and such models are not necessarily appropriate or effective for every demographic.
“That is why we carefully pilot various models throughout the archdiocese, meeting the call of the bishops to engage in prudent innovation,” he said.
"The classical education piece is more of an amplification of our roots," he added. "It's who we are. It builds on and helps focus on the Catholic intellectual tradition that has been part of schools for hundreds of years."
The model furthers the mission of Catholic schools to educate the whole child, he said. It avoids the modern model of education that has become more functionalized and less about teaching children critical thinking.
"One of the things that’s appealing about it is it's the way education used to be,” Thompson said.
The archdiocese supported the school's change and gave them a $10,000 grant to begin. Anderson researched the model and relied on an advisory committee to guide the school. More support came from the school's pastor, Msgr. Peter Nguyen, and also from Auxiliary Bishop James Conley who attended meetings to share his gratitude for being classically educated.
After presenting the idea to parents and faculty, their response was enthusiastic, Anderson said.
Ann Marie Reilly and her husband transferred three of their children to Our Lady of Lourdes because of its strong Catholic culture. They grew even more eager when they learned about the school's switch to classical education, a model they believe will surround their children with beauty and truth while equipping them to defend their faith. She's pleased about her children learning Latin and reading wholesome literature.
"We're really excited to have our kids go back and read good quality literature that may handle difficult subjects but is not titillating," she said. "We believe in preparing our kids for life but not exposing them to life."
The school also hired new teachers to begin the change.
Vanessa Brink was hired to teach fourth grade. She's found the model is more beneficial to teachers and students.
"I was looking for a classical school because it makes learning so much more enjoyable," she said.
Latin teacher Jonah Lippert was also hired to teach many of the classes up to four times a week. To the fourth-grade class last week, he gave a lesson on verb conjugation. Many students enthusiastically raised their hands to answer questions about word meanings.
"It prepares you to think really well," he said, "and it has a way of enriching and enlivening the knowledge you have."
This year the English program was revamped and students will be taught Latin. Over the next two school years, social studies, science and math will be adjusted to fit the classical model.
All the subjects will be integrated to give the students a whole education. For example, students may read the book of Genesis in history class to discover the historical perspective of the book. Later in religion class, students will revisit it to discuss its theological aspects, Anderson said.
"We try to not compartmentalize subjects as much and really show how they are interrelated," she said. "They're here to get a whole person education and formation."
The model may challenge students but research shows classically educated students score better on standardized tests, she said.
Ultimately, the school wants the new model to help students seek the true, the good and the beautiful in every subject while forming the students to be future Catholic leaders in the world and to attain heaven.
"We want Catholic leaders," Anderson said. "I don't want my kids to graduate from here and never step into a church again. I want their faith to be so much a part of their thinking that it goes hand in hand."