The fear, grief and uproar of COVID-19 have brought an unexpected blessing to Christian education.
A difference in pandemic practices has created what Roland DeRenzo, superintendent of Christian schools in Colorado Springs, calls “a wave of enthusiasm for recruiting season.”
Parents noticed that the typical pandemic shift between live classroom instruction and distance learning did not appear to be happening in faith-based schools.
And the families loved it, DeRenzo said.
“The parents were so hungry and excited and had an intensity to put the students back in their seats,” he said.
Like many private religious schools, Colorado Springs Christian schools have remained open after mandatory closures were lifted last spring, while respecting public health practices, such as installing air filtration systems and l intensification of cleaning.
The Colorado Springs and Woodland Park campuses saw enrollment growth of 7% this semester, DeRenzo said, with a total of 1,100 students. This is approaching the records the 50-year-old school saw in the 1980s, he said.
The fact that Christian schools have not hesitated to teach each subject through a biblical and faith-based lens – amid public debates about gender identity and the critical teaching of racial theory – has also reinforced interest, think the heads of religious schools.
“People will call and ask about history and civics, and we say we haven’t changed our basic knowledge curriculum, which incorporates world and American history and permeates Catholicism everywhere,” said Superintendent Sheila Whalen, who oversees the seven schools in the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs.
Some families lost their jobs during the pandemic and took their children away, Whalen said, but enrollment this semester reflects a net gain of 38 students, for a total of 1,308 students in preschool through eighth.
Two schools in the diocese are introducing a classic Catholic curriculum this year, said Whalen, who asks students to dissect and analyze the original text, such as the Declaration of Independence.
“It comes down to providing a richer experience for students,” she said.
Colorado Springs Christian schools “do not shy away from the history of the United States,” DeRenzo said. “We present the whole story, the flaws, the successes, because when we teach, we teach with two cardinal truths: forgiveness and redemption.
“If you don’t have one, you end up with dominance or elimination, and that’s what we see in our culture today.”
Principal Jennifer Sutherland attributes a 30% increase in enrollment this semester at the University School in Colorado Springs to the “public school climate.”
She cites parental dissatisfaction not only with teaching gender identity in mainstream schools, but also overcrowded classrooms and education based on standardized tests as reasons for the ‘big leap’. among the students of his school. Families also like that the school does not require masks, Sutherland added.
The non-denominational Christian school has been operating in the western part of town for 16 years and this semester has 60 new students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
And interest hasn’t slowed, Sutherland said, with inquiries about the school increasing by 80%.
“Just this week, we received four requests from families wanting to start now and seven families interested in the second semester,” she said.
The school is one of the pioneers of hybrid education according to the university model, in which students attend classes three days a week and take home classes two days a week.
When it comes to gender identity, Christian schools follow biblical views.
“We are very frank in saying that in Catholic education we are based on Christian anthropologies, and within that we believe that God created every person male and female, and you were either born a man or a woman, and that’s how you identify, ”Whalen said.
Colorado Springs Christian schools also start from the benchmark of biologically male or female people, DeRenzo said.
“When people come here, they understand that this is the perspective through which we will be teaching, and working with their children,” said DeRenzo. “Our philosophical foundation begins with the family first, not with the institution.”
Parental involvement has been a traditional cornerstone of Christian education, as parents are seen as the primary educators of their children, school leaders say.
There is no talk of condoms in local Catholic schools.
Parents in college receive sex-related biology classes they can talk about at home when the kids are ready, Whalen said.
The material is based on the teachings of Pope John Paul II and speaks of “the dignity of the human person and body,” she said. “It explores who we are as children of God, how we show respect for one another, and the reasons for sexual morality.”
Families who pay for their children to attend Christian schools in Colorado Springs embrace denominational teachings, DeRenzo said, and look to the school to “strengthen what the family wants to do.”
To meet the current demand for flexibility and choice in education, its school system rolled out an online platform last spring when schools had to shut down, as a “beta testing site,” with all. students and parents on board. The exclusive online curriculum continues as an option this school year, with a curriculum mirrored in classroom instruction.
“We use it for military families or other people moving, so we have students all over the country,” DeRenzo said.
Sutherland of University School said that with more choice, participation in home schooling has grown nationwide, which has also been good for his school.
“Families move around the tables and do cooperative learning,” she said. “There are pros and cons to every decision, however, parents are much more informed about the different learning options and are responsive to the needs of their individual students.”
One piece of advice DeRenzo always gives to parents: “Make sure you’re not running away from something, but you’re running towards something. “
The trend is spreading across the country
The Colorado Springs-based Association of Christian Schools International is also following what is shaping up to be a developing trend.
As of December 2020, more than a third of the 2,057 U.S. schools and 159 international schools owned by the association reported enrollment growth, according to spokesperson Caitlyn Berman.
“This could suggest an influx of students from other educational sectors, whose families have chosen Christian school over other options that would have been available to them this fall,” she said in an e- mail.
The association, which supports Christian schools and educators with materials and training programs to help children grow spiritually, academically and culturally, does not yet have enrollment statistics for this semester, Berman said.
As a further indication of the growing popularity of Christian schools, a survey of tuition and salaries for an association showed that approximately $ 453,000 in school choice dollars that mid-level schools received over the past year. he 2020-2021 school year reflects an increase of almost 50%.
“This suggests that more parents are exercising their choice and enrolling their children in Christian schools,” Berman said.
In its 44th year of operation, the Springs Baptist Academy in Colorado Springs has seen year-over-year growth over the past seven years, and this semester marks the highest enrollment on record, said the Brother Tom Tolbert, Principal, in a letter to parents.
A new independent Catholic high school, St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School, will open in Denver next fall, according to the Archdiocese of Denver.
“Ideological forces have radically altered the current state of education – and a new response of robust catholicity is required,” the Denver Catholic article said.
However, not all Christian schools have performed well.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, 42 Association of Christian Schools International schools closed, Berman said, and 17 closed last year. So far this school year, only one has closed.
In the midst of the pandemic, just a year of planning culminated in Colorado Springs’ first classical Catholic high school.
“It seems miraculous that this happened during COVID,” said principal Mark Langley, who also started classical Catholic schools in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Ohio.
The Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Walsingham opened this semester in a rented space inside St. Gabriel the Archangel Church, a stone’s throw from Liberty High School in Academy School District 20 in Briargate.
Already, more students than expected have enrolled, Langley said, with 26 students this semester and more interested in future semesters.
Colorado Springs’ Chesterton Academy is one of seven that opened as part of the network this year. It is the second network in Colorado, Littleton also having a school in Chesterton, and it became the 34th in the world.
Catholic College Preparatory High School focuses on “timeless education” using ancient texts, with technology, like cell phones and computers, left at the door.
Hot topics such as critical race theory are viewed “in light of what has come before,” Langley said.
“All of these movements may sound new, but they are rooted in philosophers and theologians of the past, who disagreed with each other,” he said.
“Many might think this is a monolithic thought education, but it really is a study in debate and disagreement.”
Students learn to stand when visitors enter the classroom. They use intellectual tools, not a calculator or smart board, to undertake 4th century BC Euclidean geometry, and the ringing of a brass bell marks the passing periods.
“We really love the classic program – we think it’s really important that our children are trained to become fully human, to learn who they are and to prepare for all aspects of life,” said said mother Karin Pokorny.
She enrolled her 9th grade son, the youngest of five, at Chesterton Academy in Colorado Springs because she considers it the best of both worlds.
“Education is about living goodness, creating beauty and knowing the truth, and that’s what makes us deeply human,” Pokorny said.
“To have this in the context of a Catholic setting, it’s a dream come true. This school was truly an answer to prayers for us.
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