COLORADO SPRINGS. Visitors to four of the campuses in the Unified Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Colorado Springs may feel as if they’ve stepped back in time. Students are reading from printed books, collecting science data using a pencil and paper, and there isn’t a computer in many of the classrooms. The change to a classical education model for these schools wasn’t about joining the growing movement towards this type of education. Instead it was about returning to the roots of Catholic education and a commitment to deepening the knowledge of each student.
St. Peter School in Monument began shifting to a classical model last year, while Divine Redeemer School and Corpus Christi School both began the transition this year. St. Katharine Drexel School in Highlands Ranch has been classical since its inception and now currently offers pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade.
Sheila Whalen, superintendent of the Unified Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Colorado Springs, said the drift away from classical education happened gradually in Catholic schools as lay teachers replaced clergy in the classrooms over the last 50 years. But as the Colorado Springs schools began looking at how to best serve their students, returning to the classical model seemed best.
“We view education as more than just preparing a person for a particular job,” Whalen said. “But as our society became more industrialized, instead of education enriching the lives of the student, it became more focused on giving the skills that were useful.”
Early in our country’s history all education was classically based. But Whalen said as our society began to industrialize, two things happened in education. First, it was decided that education should be accessible to all children. Second, it was believed that average students would struggle with the classical approach and instead needed to be prepared for specific jobs.
Corpus Christi School has brought a classical approach to most of their classes and subjects this year. While this is the first year that the school’s veteran teachers are using a classical approach, the teachers have embraced the switch and are seeing their students thrive.
Barb Maloney, first grade teacher at Corpus Christi, said she feels classical education makes it easier for her to assess her students since the model moves slower and delves deeper into the subject matter. Her first graders are in charge of teaching the rest of the students the “manner of the week,” which said has empowered them to feel like leaders in the school.
Corpus Christi Principal Annaelise Degenhart said the beauty of classical education is how all of the subjects tie together. This month the sixth graders have been reading Robin Hood. In an effort to help them understand archery better, the PE teacher gave an archery lesson for the middle school students, which helped parts of the Robin Hood story come alive for them.
While St. Peter School is phasing in the classical model more slowly, principal Debbie Brook said over the summer they removed their computer lab and now parents sometimes question them when technology is used during the school day.
“Obviously technology has a benefit in modern society, but our students have so much of that in their lives,” she said. “We’re going back to the basics, in order to rediscover education from the past.”
Brook said reviving the arts as part of the classical approach is simply going back to tradition. St. Peter now has a band and this spring the students will produce a play.
“Our students are really learning our faith,” she said. “All knowledge goes back to Christ, with the arts and historical books; our kids are relearning all of that. This tradition aspect is really important for our Catholic schools.”
Whalen said that the transition has allowed the schools to weave the Catholic faith through all they do. With a re-emphasis on the arts, she said, the students are learning that everything that is true and good and beautiful always brings them back to God.