While the current situation has challenged schools to find creative ways to teach and engage their students, the two Colorado Chesterton Academy high schools have found themselves in a unique position. The pandemic arrived just as Our Lady of Victory was enjoying its second semester and St. John Paul II in Windsor was just a few months away from its inaugural class. Nonetheless, both are set to begin or resume in-school learning in the Fall and are working harder than ever to fulfill the mission of the schools.
A dream come true
The long-awaited Catholic high school in the Fort Collins area has hired its first headmaster, Blaise Hockel, and faculty to begin the school year in August.
“Our main priority was to get a headmaster. We felt people were still in in doubt about the start of the school – since this has been in the works for a very long time – but I think that’s going to start to change now that we have a headmaster and a faculty,” said David Whitworth, Interim Executive Director of the Chesterton Academy of St. John Paul II. “The hiring committee found Blaise, and we fell in love with him. He came with great recommendations and has done a great job at advancing the hiring process for the faculty as soon as he was hired.”
Hockel, who has a Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction and significant experience in classical education, will be the “spiritual and intellectual head of the school,” aided by his deep faith and love for classical education.
“This school is the fulfillment of the promise long awaited by the community, and my hope and goal is to fulfill that promise in every way, to make it something which genuinely is the center of Catholic culture and Catholic education for the persons of northern Colorado, so that we can see a spiritual boon and a great development in our love of Christ,” Hockel said.
The school, beginning with grades 9 and 10, has a plan for an integrated curriculum in which the incoming sophomore class will have the opportunity to receive all the components of a full education of the classical model in three years. This approach will help them secure a strong foundation in the humanities and prepare them well for their senior year and college.
“I think it’s important for people to know that this isn’t something that is simply being thrown together; it’s being very intentionally and considerably put together,” Hockel assured. “This will allow [incoming sophomores] to receive the same caliber of education, but … suited to their individual needs.”
The new faculty and staff includes Steven Lewis, who will be teaching humanities and has a background in missionary work and media evangelization, besides his training in philosophy, theology and music; Colette Ohotnicky, who will teach math, science and Latin, and has Master of Arts in Environmental Arts and Humanities; and Elizabeth Yeh, with a strong professional background, will serve as the new Executive Director.
Furthermore, the high school will be offering a deal to inaugural families: tuition for their students and any other siblings that enroll in the future will be kept at $6,000 to honor their role as a founding family.
“The first thing that the community should know is that we are an extremely dedicated group of people. The board that is working with my school is easily the most engaged and most supportive board that I have ever seen,” Hockel said. “They are going beyond any normal expectation for someone in their position, and they are all extremely well-thought, well-spoken and intelligent individuals who are working toward the longevity and fulfillment of the school’s mission.”
A fruitful year
Further to the south, the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Victory successfully finalized its inaugural year at the St. Louis Parish in Englewood with a class of 15 students.
For Garrett Cichowitz, Lead Teacher and Program manager of the school, the authentic relationships that the students formed were a fruitful result of the first year.
“Our students are very close, and I think that has to do not only with the classroom, with getting to be together for seven hours a day, but also with getting to be a part so many unique events that we have throughout the year,” he said.
While public activities were cancelled due to the pandemic, the students were still able to enjoy the Cultura Vitae community events to cultivate a culture of life; small concerts, in which the students shared their musical talents; weekly formation events through the fine arts, speakers and activities, such as seeing the Monet exhibition at the Denver Art Museum and going to the Colorado Symphony; prayer in front of Planned Parenthood; and making a small pilgrimage in partnership with Creatio.
“All of this is a big piece of what we mean when we talk about wanting to be an authentically Catholic school,” Cichowitz said.
Another aspect that Cichowitz believes sets a Catholic education apart is the goal to make saints and help students grow in virtue and holiness, which he has certainly witnessed during the first school year.
“We saw real growth in [this aspect]… in the sense that, as the students were put in situations where more was demanded of them and they were held accountable, they responded to the invitations of grace from our faculty and from God; they chose to be vulnerable; they chose relationship and to take ownership of their experience,” he said. “My hope is to continue to build on that, that we come into this next year stronger, continuing to grow the level of professionalism and excellence that we’re able to offer, but most importantly that we’re continuing to cultivate an authentic Catholic culture.”
The faculty at Our Lady of Victory is formed by Christina Praetzel, math and science teacher; Justin Jensen, fine arts teacher; Patrick O’Brien, Latin teacher; and Dr. Michael Kilcoyne, music director; all of whom have contributed greatly to the mission of the school during this first year. They will be joined by Alex Crane, the school’s new theology and history teacher.
“[High school] is a time when young people begin asking the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do I want to be?’ And it’s a time where they start to take ownership of their identity and their faith. I think the family is foundational to that,” Cichowitz said. “It begins with mom and dad, and our school exists to support that the parents are the first educators. We are here to provide an environment where students are going to be surrounded by like-minded families who value the same things… That provides an invaluable catalyst for what parents are trying to accomplish in the home.”