According the The National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools developed by the Center for Catholic School Effectiveness, School of Education, Loyola University, one of the “marks” of a Catholic School is Academic Excellence.
The Standard for Academic Excellence states:
“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops affirms the message of the Congregation on Catholic Education that intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian go forward hand in hand. Rooted in the mission of the Church, the Catholic school brings faith, culture and life together in harmony. In 2005, the bishops noted that “young people of the third millennium must be a source of energy and leadership in our Church and our nation. And, therefore, we must provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education” (Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary School is in the Third Millennium, 2005).
The essential elements of “an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program” mandate curricular experiences—including co-curricular and extra-curricular activities—which are rigorous, relevant, research-based, and infused with Catholic faith and traditions.”
What can we take from this and how do we strive to live this out at the High School of St. Thomas More?
“...intellectual development of the person and growth as a Christian”
At the High School of St. Thomas More, it is our Mission to assist our parents in forming students morally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually to become the person God made them to be. This mission seeks to form the whole student and not just the mind from an intellectual development, but how that intellectual development then affects their moral and spiritual aspects of their humanity. We start with this in seeking to form the whole student in giving them a foundation built on truth that seeks to grow the intellectual mind of the student so that they can take that truth with them in growing morally and spiritually. What is this foundation of truth? It is Christ who is the Truth, who gives meaning to our students’ lives by knowing that is in Him they find purpose and direction. By seeking to provide a firm foundation of intellectual development of our students rooted in the Truth of Christ, they can then grow in becoming the person God made them to be.
“...provide young people with an academically rigorous and doctrinally sound program of education”
What does this foundation of intellectual development rooted in the Truth of Christ look like? It is a program that is “academically rigorous and doctrinally sound.” Let’s look at two of the specific substandards of Academic Excellence that focus on classroom instruction.
“7.6 Classroom instruction is designed to engage and motivate all students, addressing the diverse needs and capabilities of each student, and accommodating students with special needs as fully as possible.”
Teachers at St. Thomas More are committed to our students and recognize the various needs and capabilities of each student in recognizing their strengths and weaknesses in seeking ways to build student capability and learning. Because STM is a model of the Church, we have a diverse body of students and so our teachers strive to meet each of those students’ needs in engaging and motivating students in taking ownership for their own learning and to engage them in critical thinking of the content and topic that is being discussed in how it points back to the Truth, etc.
“7.5 Classroom instruction is designed to intentionally address the affective dimensions of learning, such as intellectual and social dispositions, relationship building, and habits of mind.”
As discussed already, our intellectual development of our students in Academics is founded on the pursuit of Truth that seeks to form the whole person and not just intellectually. This formation flows from intellectual growth to then seeing how it impacts the students socially in being aware of the world around them and how they play a part in the building of God’s Kingdom, building relationships that help others grow to become the person God made them to be, and building those habits, which we call virtues. Many of our classes seek ways to engage students in learning a base knowledge and foundation of the content to then see how that affects the “real world” and how wecan apply that to our own lives. For example with the recent President Election our students in various classes were able to use their intellectual understanding of politics, society, etc. rooted in their Catholic Faith to discuss the election issues related to it. In challenging students and addressing those variety of needs, our teachers strive to help our students form those academic and intellectual virtues of perseverance, dedication, understanding, wisdom, art - ability to make things, science - ability to make conclusions, and prudence.
What is the result of this?
Our students perform at very high academic levels and are well prepared for college. Our ACT scores are well above state and national averages and are well above the college and career readiness scores. In 2014, we were honored to be named a Blue Ribbon School, which recognizes academic excellence in schools. We will be eligible for this nomination in 2019 and hope to build on what was “started” years ago. With a little over a month until the 2017-18 school year starts, our teachers are already starting to plan lessons that will build and grow on our students intellectual growth in challenging them to grow in their learning and virtue. We hope to build on this strong foundation of Academic Excellence at STM to continue to provide the strong intellectual development that is a sign and mark of a strong Catholic School. We must always remember that this intellectual development is always rooted in Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.