The classical curriculum of Chesterton Academy — a 2014 School of Excellence on The Cardinal Newman Society’s Catholic Education Honor Roll — has captivated the attention of parents and educators, leading to an influx of new schools adopting the curriculum across the country. This fall, the Chesterton Academy model will be implemented at three new locations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
“The classical model is appealing for the simple reason that truth, beauty and goodness are appealing, and these three things are missing from too many schools today,” Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society and co-founder of Chesterton Academy, told the Newman Society. “Our formula is an integrated classical curriculum infused with the Catholic faith and a very pro-family philosophy.”
Chesterton Academy in Edina, Minn., opened in 2008 and was named to the Catholic Education Honor Roll in 2012. The Academy has grown from 10 students to 150 students today. “When we started the school, our goal was to set a new standard by following an old standard,” said Ahlquist.
Members of Chesterton Academy’s community have access to “daily Mass, regular confession and spiritual direction,” and the Academy “requires the entire faculty to take an Oath of Fidelity to the Magisterium.” The curriculum is designed to embrace a traditional, classical education, featuring “a well-designed core of literature, history, math and science, we have four years of philosophy, four years of theology, two years of Latin, four years of choir, four years of studio art, one year of speech and three years of drama.” Many courses also integrate a special focus on the works of G.K. Chesterton.
And the Academy is already seeing success with this approach, Ahlquist shared. “In just a few years, we’ve had three National Merit scholars, four semi-finalists and seven young men starting seminary. God has indeed blessed our humble efforts.”
A great deal of Catholic families responded to the Chesterton Academy model, and communities interested in starting schools based on the Chesterton curriculum began to approach the Academy. As demand for the curriculum grew, the American Chesterton Society and Chesterton Academy formed the Chesterton Schools Network which offers “consulting services, templates for evaluating interest and operating a school and the Chesterton Academy curriculum framework.”
Through the Network, school founders are provided with “a blueprint for marketing, hiring and evaluating faculty, resource acquisition, scheduling and assessing state requirements.”
Ahlquist told the Newman Society that each Chesterton Academy school operates independently. A license to integrate the Chesterton curriculum is purchased by each school and variations of the curriculum are allowed, “recognizing that each school has particular needs and it is not necessarily a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model.” Each summer, representatives from Network schools meet “to exchange valuable experiences and information,” as well as “spiritual edification and encouragement.”
“This is a grassroots, bottom-up movement, and not something inflicted from above,” said Ahlquist. “In every case, they came to us: a core group of families who were drawn to our model and our curriculum.”
Five schools across the United States and one school in Italy are members of the Chesterton Schools Network: Chesterton Academy of Buffalo in N.Y., Chesterton Academy of the Holy Family in Downer’s Grove, Ill., Chesterton Academy of Omaha in Neb., Chesterton Academy of Rochester at St. John Bosco Schools in N.Y., St. Thomas Aquinas School in Warren, Mass., and Scuola Libera Gilbert Keith Chesterton in San Benedetto del Tronto, Italy.
The three new locations set to open are: Iron Mountain Academy in Iron Mountain, Mich., Chesterton Academy of Milwaukee in Brookfield, Wis., and Regina Chesterton Academy of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Philadelphia. These schools will provide students with a unique classical education “track” based on the Chesterton curriculum. The Network is also working with groups looking to open new schools in Oregon and California.
“As the Chesterton School Network expands, we look forward to new schools joining us in our efforts to recognize excellence in Catholic education,” said the Newman Society’s Dr. Jamie Arthur, senior fellow and manager of the Catholic Education Honor Roll.
“We have seen a rise in the number of schools seeking to restore more traditional approaches that focus on the liberal arts and the Great Books, suggesting a rejection of what has constituted ‘education’ over the last century and a desire to return to a classical integrated curriculum found in the Chesterton Academy Model,” said Arthur. “As a School of Excellence, the Academy has demonstrated that the Catholic faith is integral to its program and provides ‘a central reality from which all academic disciplines flow and derive their meaning.”
“The success of the schools,” Ahlquist concluded, “is that a group of like-minded people have come together because they realize that there is nothing more important than the souls of our children.”
Catholic Education Daily is an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.