St. Regis School announces new adventure in classical learning to begin in August

School families listen to Fr. Sean McCaffrey say the opening prayer at the Feb. 8 meeting announcing a new academic track – Classical education. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — The parents sitting in the pews of St. John Francis Regis Church Feb. 8 appeared curious and a little uncertain as they waited for an announcement from Father Sean McCaffery, pastor of St. Regis, and Robin Sowders, school principal. Sporadic talk ceased when they entered the church; parents were suddenly alert. What was happening?

Fr. McCaffery began the meeting with a prayer, asking God to help the children of St. Regis, “grow in knowledge, wisdom and holiness.”

School parent, Michelle Burdick, recounted the shock of learning a few years ago that Archbishop O’Hara High School was to close. She recalled the anger and tears of parents and students, and the concern that St. Regis would also close. With a son and two daughters attending St. Regis, she was worried. Burdick credited Fr. McCaffery with reassuring St. Regis families that their school would not close.

And it remained open. However, over the next few years, enrollment dropped to 133 students. Fewer students meant less tuition coming in, but the same amount of expenses going out. Parishioners had been generous, but Father Sean and Sowders felt that something had to be done to bring new life to the school.

Over the past few years, St. Charles Borromeo School had been experiencing a similar drop in enrollment. Last spring principal Ann Lachowitzer and parish pastor Father Don Farnan announced that the school would be changing its academic track to a classical liberal arts curriculum. Intrigued, St. Regis leaders and teachers began doing their homework, researching classical curricula, including Latin, Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric.

The announcement took place at the Feb. 8 meeting. Following a slide show introducing Classical Liberal Arts Education to the parents, Sowders offered several examples of ways the classical curriculum could be integrated at the middle school level. She later explained that they “wanted to convey that we will not have unrealistic expectations for the students. This is a learning process and we will add changes in a scaffolded manner. While some subjects will lend to a natural overhaul of curriculum, other subjects like Latin will … be integrated over time so that the intensity will increase with the number of years the students have taken it.” She added that the classical curriculum addresses many areas for St. Regis’ academic growth.

A handout further explained why the classical philosophy is being adopted. “A classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching them ‘subjects’ … Liberal Arts train the mind to navigate complex problems. … It is the purpose of St. Regis School to provide a true education which will satisfy this universal hunger of youth for purpose, identity and a firm grounding in faith. We choose a classical education as the most fitting tool for this timeless labor of forming the minds and hearts of the next generation of saints.”
In August 2018, St. Regis School will be reborn as a classical education school with a new name, chosen by students, alumni and community members. The name Regis is expected to be part of the new name.

As an example of the new curriculum: Students will be reading more primary sources for history, and in English classes, reading historical novels to tie in with history classes. “All the classes are very much intertwined. What they’re reading in English should correspond to what they’re learning in history and should be able to carry over to the virtues they’re learning about in religion … very integrated.”

A current St. Regis School program, STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Art and Math) will continue under the new curriculum. Sowders said, “With the support of Mike and Millie Brown and the encouragement and support of our parishioners, especially Deacon Ken Albers, we have been able to build a beautiful start to a STREAM program this year.  Our teachers are working towards Google Level 1 Certification, students in grade K-8 have explored a new project based learning lesson each month, and students in 6-8 grades have begun STREAM classes on Thursdays where parishioners and community volunteers coach a 5-week course in the areas of science, technology, religion, engineering, arts, or mathematics.  Students signed up for the class of their choice and will have a new opportunity to do so for their next round of classes.”

Sowders also announced that the school had received a $120,000 grant for STREAM education. “With the grant … we will be able to expand this program, purchase new technology, and fund a new science series. With the help of the Browns, our goal is to ensure that all 8th grade students are high school algebra ready by the time they graduate.”

Fr. McCaffery said that several area parishes and community groups are interested in the classical model and expressed willingness to partner with St. Regis in its new learning adventure.

Sowders continued, “We were recently informed that we will be the recipients of ACE Scholarships. These scholarships are designated primarily for new families. The scholarship will follow eligible students through their 8th grade year and possibly through high school.”

The ACE website states that ACE Scholarships is a non-profit organization that raises money from generous donors and then awards financial scholarships to students from low-income families so they can attend the school of their choice. ACE Scholarships work with low-income families from a variety of different circumstances across numerous states.

And the new name? The voting process for the new name began Feb. 12. Voters were to be given three suggestions to choose from. Community members, alumni, and students are encouraged to vote.

Sowders said later that Father Sean and she were overwhelmed with the positive response that night.  “Everyone said, ‘I think this will be great!’ Parents and parishioners seem to be eager and excited for our future. The biggest question was, ‘What will the new name be?!’ We are thrilled to be starting this new adventure and can’t wait to see the impact in the lives of our students.”

Stay tuned!

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Sunday
October 21, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph