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Rural School Embraces Classical Education, Catholic Identity

St Marys Digital Archive

Catholic News Agency - published on 02/04/14

“The purpose of education ultimately is to get to heaven, and we feel this is the best route for us to do that.”

A Catholic grade school on Colorado's eastern plains is working to adopt a classical curriculum, in the hopes of revitalizing the school community and providing a well-rounded formation for its students.

“We decided we needed to re-explore our Catholic roots in education,” said Joseph Skerjanec, principal of St. Anthony Catholic School in Sterling, Colo.

“We've always distinguished ourselves by our faith, but also academically, we thought this was the best thing: to get back to the Catholic intellectual tradition,” he explained to CNA Jan. 30.

“The purpose of education ultimately is to get to heaven, and we feel this is the best route for us to do that.”

After serving the families of northeastern Colorado for 95 years, St. Anthony's nearly had to close this academic year, but was saved through a successful fundraising campaign.

Skerjanec, together with the faculty and the parish, realized that embracing a classical curriculum might help the school to continue to serve students into the future, by offering “virtue education … and exposing our kids to those people who we need to be modeling our lives after.”

Classical, or liberal arts, education is meant to help students learn how to think, giving them the tools of learning rather than merely teaching them “subjects.” The foundation of classical education is a set of three methods of learning subjects, called the trivium – grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Skerjanec noted that there is a trend of Catholic schools “moving toward classical education … I think you'll find a lot of schools doing this.”

He added that Andrew Seeley, a professor at Thomas Aquinas College in California and director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, has trained the school's staff in the methods of teaching classically.

“The students themselves love it, and I do too. It's been a wonderful experience, very rejuvenating … in a lot of ways it's not new; it's just rediscovering who we are.”

The principal explained that “we spend a lot of our teachers' meetings exploring writings, documents about it, then talking about how it can be implemented,” and “it's been very good for us.”

“It's slowly being implemented,” he noted. “We decided to start with social studies and literature, because that's where a lot of the 'meat' of classical education exists.”

St. Anthony's was introduced to classical education after the son of parish deacon Ron Michieli returned from a classical college and started leading groups in the community. This inspired Deacon Michieli to share the idea with St. Anthony's pastor and with Skerjanec.

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