In addition to its online courses, it will soon have its own fully-equipped school building
If you’re parenting a teenager with special needs and would love to provide your child with a Catholic high school education, a new school based in Michigan may be the answer to your prayers.
Veritas Christi Catholic High School is the nation’s first Catholic high school for students with special needs. Launched in Spring 2011 with online classes for grades 7-12, it will open as a brick and mortar school in Ann Arbor, MI, this fall.
Veritas Christi has teamed up with Apex Learning online service for non-religious coursework, such as math, science, English, etc., and is affiliated with the Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy, to provide students with the same theology courses taught at dozens of Catholic high schools across the country.
“Veritas Christi joins an impressive list of Catholic high schools nationwide already using JVLA’s excellent curriculum, " said Father Don Vettese, SJ, a Jesuit priest and a member of the Veritas Christi board of directors. "But Veritas Christi is the first and only Catholic high school to make it available online to kids everywhere with special needs."
The independent Catholic school was founded by Richard Nye and Chip Clearwater, who is also the principal. Under the guidance of the local bishop and loyal to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the school hopes to serve a wide range of students with special needs through both online classes and the campus experience. Acceptance is based on a series of interviews with administration and faculty. Veritas Christi’s web site says its non-discrimination policy "is the same as Jesus Christ’s."
"We do not want to over promise, we do want to provide the absolute best educational, spiritual and social experience for all of our students, " explains Nye, who says that the ultimate goal is to provide a top notch, first-class school.
For Nye, opening the doors to the school will be a dream come true. A special needs student himself through his entire academic life, he became a teacher for many years in both public and Christian schools, always wanting to open a school to serve students with learning challenges.
"My own high school guidance counselor told me not to go to college because I’d never make it—’I want to save you from embarrassment’ he said—but I worked my butt off and ended up going to graduate school and becoming a teacher myself." says Nye. "I’ve never heard someone say it out loud, but there’s an attitude out there of ‘Why? Why would we spend all this money teaching special needs kids—what are they going to contribute?’ " Our marketing manager, Bruce Crane, has compiled a long list of people who’ve had challenges and disabilities who have made incredible contributions to society. It helps convince people who may doubt our mission."
Nye says in 10 years, he wants Veritas Christi to be the national standard and model for Catholic special education with affiliates across the United States.
Currently, the school’s founders and board are raising funds so they can open their school building in Ann Arbor for the upcoming academic year. Within a few years, they plan to be funding 80-90% of the school’s operations through tuition, which will be offered on a sliding scale to help make it more affordable to families.
Veritas Christi has begun the hiring process and will be paying faculty at a level on par with public school. "We want our full-time employees to be Catholic, to be certified or have Masters degrees in special ed with at least 5-6 years of experience, and to be deeply committed to our mission," explains Nye.
Everyone loves the idea of the school and Nye says many families eagerly await its opening. He tells the story of a family with a special needs high schooler who had just moved to Michigan:
"After I spoke with them, the son really liked the idea of the school and in the car on way home, the parents were discussing that they didn’t have the tuition, and their son eventually piped up and said, "I’ve been listening to the talk and I understand you can’t afford it, but I’ll get a job and help pay half the tuition.’
That kind of response is not uncommon. "Jenny," is another student who can’t wait for the school to open (seen pictured with her father):
“It would be so cool to be in a school where you don’t have to be on guard all the time; where you’re learning alongside other kids who know what it’s like to be “different” and accept you for who you are; a school where you don’t have to put up with constant judging, taunting, dirty looks and stupid comments…”
Her father, Jake Espinsoa, agrees:
“I’m looking for a school that will be sensitive to the learning needs of my child; a school that will challenge her to be all that she can be; and where she can develop her skills in a moral, ethical, and Catholic setting."
Find out more about Veritas Christi.
Zoe Romanowsky is the lifestyle editor for Aleteia.