Saving St. Anthony School from closure through a last-ditch appeal was the first hurdle. Now the Eastern-plains grade school is looking for ways to stay afloat in the long run.
After St. Anthony escaped certain death last year through a successful emergency fundraiser dubbed “St. Anthony’s miracle,” principal Joe Skerjanec shared long-term plans to adopt a classical education model to bolster the school in the years ahead.
Like other archdiocesan schools’ models founded on Catholic tradition, their mission is to educate the whole child.
“The ultimate goal is to get kids to heaven,” Skerjanec said. “Our hope is we not only make ourselves viable as a Catholic school but make it a place where kids want to send their kids.”
The school decided to emphasize classical education after successfully raising $1.06 million in pledges a year ago over its $600,000 goal. The funds, which are not being used to employ the new education model, will be used to operate the school through the next school year.
Emphasizing the school’s classical education model is how it hopes to set itself apart and raise its current enrollment from 86 students to 100 next year in preschool through eighth grade. To be viable, the school needs about 130 students enrolled, Skerjanec said.
“We decided we need to distinguish ourselves from the local school district,” he said. “All the public schools in Sterling are trying to meet the requirements of the state government. We need to focus on educating the whole child. Through this approach we’ll be incorporating the tools, resources and books that teach the virtues of our faith.”
This year the faculty began phase one of a three-year phased approached to institute what is considered the Catholic intellectual tradition.
Rather than teaching students “subjects” measured by tests, teachers will give students the tools of learning based on grammar, logic and rhetoric.
“Our curriculum doesn’t change, it’s just the tools and methods of how we are implementing that curriculum that changes,” he said.
Each class will also point toward God and teach the virtues. Math, for example, will be taught to show how God created the universe with order, Skerjanec said, and is not finite.
“We want to teach them the Catholic faith, but we aren’t doing that just in a religion class—we want to do that in every class,” he said. “We want kids to learn truth, goodness and beauty so they can live a good life.”
Our Lady of Lourdes School made a similar move to adopt classical education in 2012 after enrollment was dwindling.
Principal Rosemary Anderson visited St. Anthony faculty in August to share her implementation of the model and the results.
“This kind of education really does teach kids how to think,” she told the Denver Catholic Register in 2012. “It’s like going to the gym for your brain.”
The faculty is also receiving training from Andrew Seeley, director of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and the Circe Institute, a consulting organization for classical educators. They’ve read books about classical education including “Beauty in the Word” by Stratford Caldecott.
The response has been positive with some teachers learning about the model more quickly than others, he said.
St. Anthony is the only Catholic school on the Eastern Plains. Some students come from considerable distances—some from Holyoke and Haxtun—to make it to the school, which has a reputation for high test scores and Catholic values.
The future is still unknown but the principal remains optimistic.
“It’s all in God’s hands,” he said.