Bishop Machebeuf High School to launch new integrated curriculum

New model aims to foster academic excellence and robust spiritual formation

Aaron Lambert

Important changes are coming to Bishop Machebeuf High School; changes that will secure the 62-year-old institution as a staple of Catholic education for years to come.

Beginning in the fall 2020 academic year, Bishop Machebeuf will be launching a new, integrated curriculum that takes elements of classical education and fuses them with the traditional college-prep curriculum for a more robust and intentional Catholic educational experience.

In the fall of 2017, Bishop Machebeuf High School added a classical track to its academic offerings as a way to diversify its curriculum and attract families seeking a classical education for their kids. The response from parents and students in the track has been very positive, and it set the stage for the new integrated curriculum, which is a positive step in a new direction for the school.

“The sustainability of the mission of our Catholic schools is contingent on our ability to be fully committed to ongoing and continuous improvement,” said Elias Moo, Superintendent of Catholic Schools. “This is the archdiocese’s manifested commitment to ensuring that Bishop Machebeuf High School continues to push the bar of excellence for all students.”

Beginning in the fall 2020 academic year, Bishop Machebeuf High School will launch a new integrated curriculum that fuses elements of their classical program with the traditional college-prep curriculum. (Photos by Andrew Wright)

The new curriculum is designed for students of all learning types and emphasizes the critical skills of reading, writing, speaking and logic. Next year all students will experience an integrated English and Social Studies class through an Integrated Humanities Seminar. While the graduation requirements for students already at BMHS will not change, current students will have the opportunity to take Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, and American Society and Government electives, which will be required for all incoming freshman over their four years at BMHS. The full breadth of the new curricular scope and sequence will be implemented with the class of 2024.

“What we’re trying to do is create a really strong Catholic liberal arts program that provides a well-rounded, holistic formation that helps students develop the intellectual habits or dispositions that they need to be ready for college, career, or whatever their next step is and, more importantly, enables them to know how to challenge and confront the influences of secularism and moral relativism around them that they may be freed to come to know, love and serve God as faithful disciples of Jesus,” Moo said.

The pursuit of truth

Even deeper than the practical applications of the new curriculum, however, is a renewed focus on the spiritual applications of seeking answers to the deeper questions of what it means to be human – the pursuit of which is the very thing that separates Catholic schools from other educational institutions.

“This approach is a beautiful rediscovery of the heritage of the Church and its focus on the human person,” said Kelsey Wicks, who teaches Theology at Bishop Machebeuf. “I am thrilled to know that my students will be engaging the questions of overarching meaning and importance in such a dynamic way throughout the curriculum.

“Today, more than ever, there is a crisis of meaning in our culture. We are fundamentally unsure of what it is to be human,” Wicks continued. “Even the name ‘Integrated Humanities’ suggest what this shift is about –– bequeathing to our students the surpassing gift of knowing what it means to be human, a truth only realized when Christ is the center of all our studies.”

This new integrated approach also seeks to instill in students the desire to not simply gain knowledge, but to understand how to continue the act of learning throughout their lives.

When you allow students to pursue the highest goods, the lower goods like test scores and college admittance come more easily.”

“The integrated humanities curriculum aims to foster the desire for learning that is inherent in all students,” said Bridget Rector, Associate Director of the Classical Program at Machebeuf. “My experience teaching in the program has convinced me that this kind of integrated, seminar-based class helps to strip away some of the layers that have been put in place to convince students that they should learn and instead asks them to see this for themselves.

“What high school student doesn’t have strong ideas about the meaning of justice?” Rector continued. “What teenager doesn’t want to share his or her thoughts on what a fulfilling and faithful life looks like? What Catholic doesn’t have questions about whether you can both pursue material goods and serve God? So how do we give them the means to investigate these questions? We provide them with books and teachers who are also engaged in an ongoing pursuit of Truth; we provide them with space and time to develop as readers, writers, and thinkers; and we provide them with the tools that are necessary to continue deepening and strengthening their understanding.

“When you allow students to pursue the highest goods, the lower goods like test scores and college admittance come more easily.”

A path to success

In addition to the academic revamp, Bishop Machebeuf will also shift to a different structure of leadership. The school has been operating under interim leadership for the past year, but they’ve now begun a national search for both a president and principal, who will co-lead the oversight of the school and its operations. The president will oversee the principal and focus primarily on mission advancement, operations and finances, while the principal will act more as a chief academic officer and oversee student affairs and formation.

The school’s counseling program will also be overhauled in a way that doesn’t just support students in their academic efforts, but also seeks to address their spiritual life.

“We’re building a stronger, more robust program that will implemented next year called discernment counseling support,” Moo said. “From the first moment students walk into the school their freshman year through their last day as a senior, they will be assigned a counselor that will walk with them over the course of their time.”

Counselors will still provide guidance on what classes students need to take and assist in the college search and admissions process when the time comes, but there will be a spiritual discernment component as well. Counselors will be engaged with the students and help them to explore where the Lord might be calling them after graduation and how the Lord may want to use their gifts and charisms at the service of the Church. They will help students to develop practical plans to further explore possible vocations.

The new curriculum is designed for students of all learning types and emphasizes the skills of reading, writing, speaking and logic.

“[It will be] something that’s way beyond anything we currently have present, and we hope it will also serve as a model for what should be happening in Catholic schools,” Moo said.

Vince Palermo, whose son Noah is a junior at Bishop Machebeuf, opted to enroll Noah in the classical track when it launched in 2017. He said he’s seen the benefits of an integrated curriculum in the way the school reinforces Catholic teaching and weaves it into the education his son has received at Machebeuf.

“As a whole, he’s received a good education, and that’s something that I think is worth others being able to realize and consider from a standpoint of if you believe in your faith and you want that reinforced in your children, Machebeuf is a good place to send your kids,” Palermo said.

Alumna and parent of Machebeuf graduates Annie Schmitz McBournie (‘83) said she is excited about the new opportunities for students.

“I am thrilled to see them going in such a positive direction!” McBournie said. “I think it will positively impact the school, the community and certainly all the students attending.”

COMING UP: What parents want most from their child’s school — and how Catholic schools fulfill it

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

By Carol Nesbitt

What do parents of school aged kids want most of all from their child’s school?

Safety

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

It’s probably first and foremost to know they’re safe — not only from physical harm, violence, and drugs, but also other negative influences kids have to navigate in today’s complicated and confusing world, including cultural pressures to do what ‘feels good’ instead of what is right, just and moral.

This past year, some news media outlets questioned the safety of students in Denver’s Catholic schools because of sex abuse from decades ago. The reality is that the Church and all of the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Schools have worked diligently to ensure the safety of all students. In fact, many parents say they specifically chose Catholic schools here because they feel their children are safer than the alternatives. But the term “safe” is much broader in today’s society.

“Their physical safety, as well as the safety of their souls, is something that is always on our minds as parents,” said Kelsey Lynch, a parent of two school-aged children. She and her husband, Michael, said that knowing their children were safe in school was one of the main reasons they chose St. Mary’s Catholic School in Greeley.

“St. Mary’s has proven over and over that our children’s safety is on the forefront of their minds,” she said. “They are taking every preventative step possible to keep our children safe from the evils that are so prevalent in our world today. With open communication, facing the hard topics instead of shying away from them, and vetting all people that our kids will come in contact with, we feel a Catholic school is the safest place for our kids to receive an education.”

The safety of their children’s souls is equally as important to mom Kelsie Raddatz and her husband, Justin, who have five children. Their two oldest attend St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Loveland.

“There is truly no greater lesson to learn than to know that you are so incredibly loved by God and that God is so good. These crucial lessons aren’t allowed to be spoken in public schools,” Kelsie said.

Faith

Photo by Andrew Wright/Denver Catholic

That’s why the Raddatzes make the financial sacrifice to send their kids to St. John’s, with the strong belief that not only will their children be physically safe, but that they will fully understand that their purpose in life is to share Jesus’ love with others through everything they do; whether it be in the classroom or on the playground, speaking to others the way they would speak to Jesus.

“Every single moment is an opportunity to see Jesus present and to serve Him as well,” Kelsie continued. “What a blessed environment for our kids to learn and practice such crucial lessons!”

The Lynches say they can’t do it alone. For their children to become the saints they are called to be, the Lynches know that they need to work in partnership with their school community.

“Our kids’ teachers and classmates get more time with our kids during the week than we do, so it’s important that the people they are surrounded by are also helping them grow into the individuals God created them to be,” Kelsey said. “Our kids are learning what it is really like to have a strong faith family and the importance of a community that stands together in prayer and action to serve each other and the world around them, in both good and trying times.”

Kate McGreevy Crisham and her husband John echo the Lynch’s in their desire to have a strong faith foundation in their children’s education. That’s why they send their kids to St. Vincent de Paul in Denver.

“We are so fortunate in Denver to be able to choose Catholic schools because they are academically excellent AND thoroughly Catholic,” Kate said.

She and her husband wanted their faith to surround their children at home and at school. “We wanted God to be a part — actually the center — of the educational process of drawing out, igniting curiosity, working with challenging concepts and, as important, failing, struggling, and building resilience,” Kate shared. “Catholic schools value that process, encourage it, and love kids through it.”

Character

Photo by Brandon Young

She said she can see Jesus incarnate on a daily basis at St. Vincent de Paul.

“I see Jesus when I see an 8th grade boy stop to high five a group of kindergarteners. When I talk to the teachers of my kids, I see Jesus in their pure interest in what is best for my child — not what I want to hear — yet their words are delivered with professionalism and yes, love.

“From the maintenance staff to the principal, hearts are aligned in the work being done to educate the whole child.”

After exploring various options for preschool for their eldest child, Christy and Scott Kline toured Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, and although there was a free public school across the street, there was no question where they would send their kids. The decision was about so much more than simply educating their child.

“We have a ‘caught caring’ award (at the school) that is multi-faceted,” Christy said “Children are recognized for doing good — not academically — but in ways that benefit society and communities as a whole. Teachers and administration are ‘looking for the good’ in the school and finding it. When you look for something, it stands out.”

She feels that by looking for the best in people, you bring out the best. Kline also believes that strong parental involvement helps keep the school as safe as possible.

“The onus is on all of us to create an open, safe, transparent culture going forward, not just in Catholic organizations, but in all organizations and activities where children are involved,” Christy said.

Academics

Photo by Brandon Young

That same responsibility is on parents to choose schools that will reinforce the values they’re working to teach their children at home. David and Kathy Silverstein have had four children in Catholic schools in Denver over the past 20 years. Although there were many options for schools, including a charter school near their home, once they stepped foot inside St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Longmont, they knew it was the ‘only choice’ for their kids. As their children transitioned into high school, the Silversteins found that Holy Family High School was another perfect fit.

“In today’s world, finding a school that excels at education, sports and extra curriculars is challenging enough, but to find a school, particularly a high school, that prioritizes kindness, morality, personal responsibility, strength of character and just plain old being a good person — that is the uniqueness of Holy Family High School,” said Kathy. “An atmosphere of respect lives within the halls, between teachers, between students. It’s expected.”

For these families and countless others, they have experienced that it is the overall commitment by Catholic schools to keep students safe, to help them truly know they are loved by God, to incorporate faith into every subject area, and to set high expectations for students which reinforces parents’ decision to choose Catholic schools for their kids.

“My greatest desire for my children is for them to know how deeply they are loved by Jesus (and us, too!) and that their whole purpose in this life is to share Jesus’ love with others through every single thing they do,” Kelsie Raddatz said. “The classrooms are such a beautiful example of Jesus’ presence!”