As a classical school, music is important to us – a “muse” whose presence and inspiration we trace throughout history as both source and soundtrack for so much of humanity’s existence.
Likewise, as a Christian school seeking to train students to worship God, we resonate with Martin Luther’s claim that, next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world for such a purpose.
All year, our Secondary staff and students have been considering classical music and its variety, ideas, melodies, and study through four different Lyceum messages (1, 2, 3, 4) written and presented by Humanities teacher Ginny Owens.
As part of this study, choir director Heidi Hornung selected and led our Secondary Choir in rehearsals of a chorale (a musical composition consisting of or resembling a harmonized version of a simple, stately hymn tune) written by Johann Sebastian Bach. Here’s how it turned out (from last week’s Spring Schola Cantorum performance):
In addition to the night’s musical offerings (clips of which you can watch at our Petra Academy Vimeo channel), we displayed art created by students in our Secondary Houses in consideration of Christ’s death and resurrection. The pieces were beautiful and thoughtful reflections to help prepare us for Good Friday and Easter later this week.
Turns out that art, as with all created gifts, is for God’s sake, not its own – which means it’s for the sake and blessing of others, too. That means that Christian artists, students and adults, should offer God (and their neighbor) the best works of art possible. Skill, craftsmanship, beauty, clarity, balance, and other timeless elements are to be studied and practiced to produce an almost endless variety of quality artistic works…It’s all about imitating Him, our Father, as beloved children.”
Giving of ourselves on behalf of others – this is what we at Petra seek to do through music and art, because this is what God has done for us through Jesus. Reminding us of this Gospel truth in audio and visual forms is the highest calling that music and art – musicians and artists – can fulfill.
A “dramaturg” is someone whose expertise is in the literary composition and thematic elements of a play. This person works closely with the director to help in understanding the context and the major themes of the play, ensuring that the director’s vision doesn’t lose any of the author’s intention. Here is some dramaturgical insight from Humanities teacher, Ginny Owens, who teaches A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of our 8th grade curriculum:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an easy play to enjoy: between the young lovers striving for satisfactory marriages, the fairies who intervene (benevolently intended, though comically enacted), the hilarious play-within-a-play, and the play’s smart and self-conscious pivot between fantasy and reality, it offers just about everything we look for in a good comedy. Its title derives from a common legend that a young woman could dream, on midsummer’s night, of the man she would marry.
While the collision between the human world and the fairy world offers whimsy unique in the Shakespearean canon, its treatment of love – its struggles, its power, its danger, its elusiveness, its changeability – is a tale told time and time again. Because really, at its core, this play examines love, specifically why we love.
Shakespeare alerts us to this focus in the opening scene, where characters talk of marriage, love, and the moon, known for its nightly transformations, its inconstant phases, and its mythical ability to inspire lunacy. And so this play, funny and innocent at first glance, is after something deeper: it explores the fickleness of the human heart, how easily our hearts are led by what we see, how easily our love is directed by physical attraction.
Human love is, after all, vulnerable. We think that because it’s love, it’s supposed to be firm, and of course no one enters into love expecting his or her heart to change. And yet Shakespeare pulls back the veil and lets us see how prone to change our affections truly can be. The play’s fascination with the line between fantasy and reality (maximized by the uproariously obtuse Mechanicals) comes to a point in Theseus’ insightful line, “The madman, the poet, and the lover are of imagination all compact,” because they all see what isn’t there, but act as if what they see is real. Love sometimes makes no sense, but is it supposed to? Without this capacity, how would married love weather the decades following the glow of youthful beauty?
And so the play’s fascination with dream constantly forces us to ask what is real. How do we know? Can we trust our senses? Is love anchored in the eyes or, as Helena suggests, in the mind? The play’s interest in the moon’s changeability seems to suggest that love that alters each night can’t possibly be real – even if what is perceived through the eyes and thought to be beautifully attractive inspires seemingly eternal love.
Of course, this kind of intermittently committed affection might recall to us the fair-weather relationships that can so often characterize high school relationships – hence the setting of our play, Athens Academy, a space that brilliantly illuminates the tenuousness of the romantic affection and loyalty we see in Shakespeare’s characters. High schoolers that are avidly messaging each other and “into each other” in September, when the year is fresh and spirits are high, might have cooled by December, and suddenly what was once attractive is commonplace or even undesired.
Oberon’s vindictive prank on Titania unwittingly reveals the potential shallowness of young love: how easily young people can assign their love based on appearance and then abandon previously supposedly stalwart affection and relocate that affection onto a new recipient, how easily their loyalty can shift, and with it their “undying affection,” based on what – or whom – they see. And Shakespeare does not allow us to blame just the magical intervention for this altered affection: we must remember that prior to the action’s start, Demetrius and Helena had been a couple; he had pursued her just as ardently as he is now pursuing Hermia.
But lest we think that Shakespeare is indicting only adolescent love, we must realize that the only character who seems to see most clearly through the love-sight-transformation is Bottom, the most ridiculously myopic, fatuous character on the stage. Perhaps the truth is plain, but adults just aren’t often very good at recognizing it. Because this is what Shakespeare is good at: taking plain truth about the human condition and packaging it so that it can’t be ignored. That’s why we still read him and bring his plays to life on countless stages across the globe (ha ha) 400 years later.
Shakespeare’s work is relatably powerful because it pinpoints irreducible elements of humanity that characterize life, no matter the century or country in which one lives. People are the same, really, whether they lived in the 1590s or the 1900s or the 2000s. (And this play was funny and relatable in 1595 even without social media, Tinder, The Bachelor – how much more now?). We like to think that we outgrow the shallowness of stereotypical teenage love, but Shakespeare seems to suggest otherwise.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the adults are as willing as the young people to accept the rapidly transformed love that concludes the action. The question is, are we?
(Purchase tickets now for one of four performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., March 28-30, and also on that Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m.)
Since the dawn of its existence, theater has been a communal event – born of a community, brought to life by members of the community, and participated in by the entire community.
The last element of participation is a vital one, and one in which we may all partake. Not all of us were cut out to be actors, directors, stage managers, or set designers, but when it comes to theater, we all have a part to play! This part is the part of the audience, without which even the grandest of Shakespeare’s plays are nothing but a group of splendidly dressed, crazy men who ardently believe that they are someone else, delivering their lines to empty space. The audience is one of the most vital elements of any theater production because without the playgoers, the play itself is meaningless. Without the audience who would hear the story waiting to be told?
To be the audience means to enter into the stories, the passions, and the lives unfolding on the stage. The audience rejoices and weeps with the characters and becomes acquainted with the tenderest feelings of these scripted souls. On that stage, fantasy and reality meet and become one, and it is there that we learn to know ourselves better than before with the aid of the villains, heroes, and star-crossed lovers of the play. Theater is a place of give and take; the audience gives the characters purpose, and the characters teach the audience to reflect upon their own actions and hearts.
Our upcoming show, Le Noir d’Arthur, is just like any other play. It is written about the legendary King Arthur and his knights and, like other plays, it has a lesson to teach. It exists to keep the legend alive while giving life to the characters and the stories of the knights of the Round Table. But it also invites the audience to sympathize with and see themselves reflected in the characters, which we hope you’ll do by joining us this Friday and Saturday night at 7 pm for the theatrical debut of Le Noir d’Arthur!
All reserved seating is sold out and general admission tickets are going fast. Buy your tickets now!
This year’s fall show – Le Noir d’Arthur – is a film noir adaptation of the Arthurian legends – Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory and Idylls of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson – our 11th grade students read. Humanities teacher Sam Koenen, having taught the story multiple times, observed that Arthurian legend would make great film noir, as all the thematic ingredients are there: an obsessive quest/case, femme fatales on both sides of the law, and a group of men who come together for a common cause but end up turning on each other. Someone just had to write it.
Enter Elsa Bentz, a current senior and a student in the class in which Mr. Koenen made his observation (not to mention an aficionado of all things 1940s). Over the summer, Elsa and I wrote the script for Le Noir d’Arthur, going through several drafts and revisions before submitting a finished copy to Mr. Dunham and Mr. Koenen for approval. Because the source material and thematic mood is very different from any other show that we have produced before, let me give you some background as you consider joining us for Le Noir d’Arthur.
Historically, film noir is considered an aesthetic type of film originally made in the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s. The term was coined by French film critics to describe a film that was bleak, dark, or cynical both in style and thematic mood. Many of the American-made films after World War II fit this description, capitalizing on the tension and distrust that followed the war. Source material included hard-boiled detective novels of the 1930s and ‘40s, with Raymond Chandler’s stories about Philip Marlowe becoming archetypes of the genre.
Cinematically, many of the films were influenced by German expressionism from the 1910s and ‘20s, including the use of gloomy gray colors, bleak city scapes, and dimly lit interiors. Stories typically revolved around a disillusioned male protagonist who is characterized by a pessimistic, gloomy, or melancholy disposition due to a past mistake, regret, or grudge. He would come into contact with a femme fatale, who would then lead him into a deepening web of deceit or trickery that would ultimately lead to their downfall. Thus, film noir was a counter-balance to the popular (but unrealistic) musical genre of films that solved every “problem like Maria” with a song.
The real question for us in writing the show was, how do we take a bleak, pessimistic film style from the ‘40s and a medieval legend about common human failures and turn it into a quality production? At Petra, our staff and students read books that point us toward truth – the truth of Christ and the truth of living in a fallen world – and our goal is to tell stories onstage that do the same thing for the audience and the actors. This play is no different, but the hard truth of Arthurian legend and film noir is that the unredeemed world is bleak and full of sin, no matter how hard we fight it. But that doesn’t make the fighting any easier or any less important; on the contrary, it makes it even more so!
In our plays, we don’t glorify sinful attitudes, behaviors, or actions onstage, so we do our best to balance the tension of maintaining integrity to the source material and play style with putting on a production Petra families will want to attend. Some aspects – like the presence of tobacco and alcohol (both of which are just props) or the death of several characters – may be off-putting to some, but to keep from glorifying these elements of the story, we’ve made specific directorial choices so the audience knows what is happening without exploiting it, much the way film noir masters Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles did. While these aspects of the show are hardly the primary focus of the play, we felt it important to make sure families are aware of them in order to make decisions about younger students attending.
Our drama program continues to grow with each passing year, and this show represents two big firsts:
1) It’s our first-ever fall play. By adding a second show to the school year, more students get to be a part of what we’re doing during a different time (and sports season) of the year than our spring show.
2) It’s our first (but hopefully not last!) show created in-house by/for Petra, as it was written and co-directed by one of our very own students. This has been one of my goals as a drama director/teacher from the beginning.
One of the joys of summer (apart from the school year ending, of course) is the opportunity to walk back through the past nine months and thank God for His blessings, for they are many.
Academically, we saw students at every level work hard, embracing the curricular challenges presented within each new grade and seeking to understand what our teachers so passionately attempted to present and inculcate. Our new Upper School Lyceum presentations from faculty contributed to the weekly intellectual stimulation, as did the many Grammar School field trips and educational festivals highlighting different aspects of our world. We witnessed the manifestation of fruit from our academic endeavors at each Recitation (Grammar and Upper School), by the expression of creative projects hanging on the walls, in the conversations and discussions engaged in in the classrooms (and, I’m told, at dinner tables everywhere), and through our Upper School Thesis presentations – all culminating in our Senior Commencement at the end of the year, in which we graduated 10 students we loved very much.
Artistically, we witnessed the deeper establishment of our music program with our new 4th-6th grade Orchestra joining our dynamic 4th-8th grade Choir for two wonderful Schola Cantorum concerts. We studied many and varied forms of visual art, and learned some of the history of each along the way. We dedicated a full two days to our Upper School Shakespeare Festival, extending our love for the Bard down into our Grammar school in partnership with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks and their Montana Shakes! week-long program in which over 40 of our 3rd-6th graders participated. Our Upper School students participated in our first-ever Film Festival and studied three stunning films from Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Decalogue project. And, we took a big step in our Drama program, producing a custom version of the theatrical favorite, Meet Me in St. Louis, complete with rousing song and dance numbers performed in front of record attendance numbers – our first foray into the wonderful world of the onstage musical.
Athletically, it was a banner year of spirit and accomplishment: we saw continued improvement at all four levels of our volleyball program, turned in our best JV basketball record to date of 10-3, and won our third state championship in five years in Ultimate Frisbee. Most importantly, we saw the beginnings of an actual fan base – of students K-12 (and their families) attending and cheering on our Griffin teams because they were our own. Our new line of Griffin Gear helped unify our look, and Spirit Days and our new Contio Spiritus pep rallies each month gave expression to our newly-cultivated school spirit.
Of course, if we’re talking spirit, there were our traditional feasts for Reformation/All Saints’ Day, Advent, and Easter, as well as yet another beautiful morning for Field Day, all of which added to the fun. We installed the first elements of our new Grammar playground (with more still to come), our 3rd-6th graders took history on parade, our 7th-12th graders learned about etiquette (and looked great doing so) at Protocol, and we loved hosting our elders for Grandparents’ Day. Finally, our Upper School house system competed – athletically, dramatically, academically, and musically – throughout the year, and we were all reminded of – maybe even surprised by! – the unity fostered by the houses when we retired them for summer at our year-end closing awards ceremony, where we celebrated each other’s accomplishments and cried a tear or two at a powerful slide show summarizing 2016-17.
Administratively, we celebrated our freedom to educate students the way we do during School Choice Week, welcomed dozens of school leaders from other parts of Montana interested in what we were doing, and secured another five-year accreditation from our accrediting body of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. We improved systems (most significantly being online registration), welcomed new Board members, and attempted to lead humbly and with care for each and every student and family. We sought to own our shortcomings and failures, asked forgiveness and took responsibility for what we could or needed to, and worked to view issues as opportunities to get better. Most importantly, we sought God’s Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, and remain ever-grateful for what we discern to be His gracious response to us.
Thanks be to God…for 2016-17, and for everything.
Just three more days until the curtain opens on Petra’s production of Meet Me in St. Louis and the critics* are loving it! One reviewer wrote:
Meet Me in St. Louis is filled with some of the best actors. These actors take you right into the Smiths’ living room in 1904…The cast has been so great from the first day to the day of performance. This play is filled with great dancers and singers…
Indeed, she (more or less) hit the nail on the head: the cast has been hard at work for the past two months crafting a brilliant performance that highlights more than just the superb acting talents of our students, but their dance and singing abilities as well.
Another reviewer was impressed by the ambitiousness of the production and the amount of work that the student actors put into a performance. I was especially happy to read what this particular reviewer attributed to being part of the students’ success:
Meet Me in St. Louis is a great opportunity for the secondary kids to learn what goes into performing. Performing in a play is a lot [of work], but these students have great attitudes and perseverance.
This year’s production includes more than just student actors, though; the set construction, costuming, stage management, and running lights and sound has been and is handled largely by students. We even have student choreography and piano accompaniment provided by our kids.
Yet another reviewer was surprised to hear how many seats were still open and wrote:
Meet Me in St. Louis is a musical [treat] that expresses laughter, sorrow, and romance. With all the hard work the students have put in – from just beginning to memorize their lines, to putting on an amazing performance – this is a play that the whole family will enjoy…If you and your family are looking for a fun and exciting night at Petra Academy, I highly encourage this play…
So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets today to come see Meet Me in St. Louis! Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7 p.m., with an additional Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.
(*Critical reviews supplied by fifth graders Anya Bentz and Auna Flohr, and third grader Ava Flohr, all of whom have seen the majority of the rehearsal process from the first weeks and still want to come watch the show. Thanks, ladies!)
Perhaps you read the news last month of the demise of the Pioneer Cabin Tree, the great Sequoia “tunnel tree” in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 90 miles east of Sacramento. When I read the story, I found myself wondering why the tree’s collapse seemed so surprising to so many: take a tree and cut out two-thirds of its trunk, and what does one expect will happen when high rains and floodwaters come?
We shouldn’t miss the metaphor as it relates to education. Up until the end of the 19th century, the “trunk” of an American student’s tutelage was the teaching of humility and character, logic and reason, writing and rhetoric – all with a particular moral end in mind. This was the education of our first Presidents and many of those who laid and built upon the early foundations of our nation.
Today, however, our school systems have reduced learning to a pragmatic pursuit of a job. Progressives like John Dewey and others essentially cut out the heart of true education – of “paideia,” the raising and enculturation of a moral and ethical civilization – opting instead for a gutted tourist stop along the way to employment.
Aristotle criticizes the education of the Spartans precisely because their education was directed only toward ‘necessary and useful things,’ with little regard for what is ‘noble.’ In this light, it is notable that although historians grant the Spartans the respect they are due for their martial discipline, the same historians also note that the Spartans left no philosophical, literary, or political legacy, unlike their Athenian rivals.
Here we have a paradox: In making utility the chief goal of education, we sacrifice much of its usefulness. A merely utilitarian education is largely ineffectual precisely because it does not seek to make a student good, or at least to teach him what is good, or even to provide him with those principles that guide good behavior – all of which qualities are essential aspects of true utility. (p. 80)
What’s a solution? Edmondson references Plato:
Plato explains that the central thrust of education must be to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue because ‘virtue…would be a certain health, beauty, and good condition of the soul’; without an education directed to the soul, the student will be left with ‘vice’ which is a ‘sickness, ugliness and weakness’ of the soul. (p. 82)
When was the last time “the central thrust of education to cultivate intellectual and moral virtue” was the discussion at the local, state, or national levels concerning our country’s education departments? When was the last time truth, goodness, and beauty (instead of just how our student(s) did on the latest test) was the topic at our own kitchen tables?
Later this week, re-enrollment opens exclusively for current Petra families. Obviously, we would love for 100% of our student body to re-enroll for next year. What will be your family’s parameters for deciding whether to return in 2017-18? Here are four I sometimes hear from parents, along with a few thoughts for rumination:
1) Grades. One consideration may be whether a student is making A’s (straight or otherwise), but let’s avoid setting up that idol – in our kids’ hearts or in our own – as a goal for their education. So many student issues (now and later) stem from a preoccupation with grades, and I find that nine times out of ten, when a student is so preoccupied, it is because her parents are as well. Grades can be a motivator, sure, as well as a means to evaluate some degree of mastery, yes, but (to paraphrase Mark 8:36), “…what does it profit a student to gain straight A’s and forfeit his soul?” After all, in the words of author Walker Percy, “You can get all A’s and still flunk life.”
2) Workload. Another consideration is workload. As a parent, none of us enjoys seeing our kids struggle, but nothing teaches students perseverance and work ethic more than having to get over a high bar (and Petra’s is one of the highest at every grade). If there is an epidemic in 21st-century parenting, it is giving into the temptation and tendency to intervene rather than coach, to teach to avoid struggle rather than lean into and work through it. And yet, those who trust the process and persevere (even and at times with tears) eventually join the ranks of those who take great satisfaction in having worked hard to accomplish something great. To graduate from Petra is not easy, but I have yet to meet an alumnus who regrets having done the work to do so.
3) Impact on family life. A third re-enrollment consideration is the impact on family life, for as I tell interested parents on our Tours on Thursdays, if we’re not being impacted at home, something’s wrong. Classical Christian education is not something to be compartmentalized and left at school over the weekend. It comes home with our students on a daily basis in the form of questions and answers about what is true, good, and beautiful; it makes observations about our lifestyles and calls into question our liturgies. Because so few of us were raised with classical Christian education as children ourselves, it pushes us as parents to humbly learn alongside our students all the things we were never taught, reinforcing or retarding a love of learning in our students, depending on our attitudes.
4) Cost. A final consideration is financial: can we afford to send our student(s) to Petra? Petra is not cheap (though I’m also told by parents with private education experience elsewhere that Petra is a “steal,” particularly in a place like Bozeman), and while we in Montana have a choice of where to send our kids to school, we certainly do not have financial incentive to choose apart from the “free” government school system we all support with our tax dollars (I wrote about this at some length here). Sometimes it’s hard not to just give in and give up our kids to a school that we’re already paying for, telling ourselves we’ll deal with whatever comes up morally, emotionally, or spiritually with our student(s), all the while hoping for the best academically.
But perhaps a better question is this: can we afford not to send our student(s) to Petra? Where else in Bozeman are elementary, middle school, and high school students intentionally and unapologetically taught virtue and character by learning the basics of language (ancient and modern), reading the greatest books of literature, searching the lessons and ideas of history and philosophy, engaging in the mysteries of the sciences and mathematics, training in logical thinking and rhetorical expression, and participating in athletics and the making of art (dramatic, visual, or musical) – and all with and from a classical Christian worldview modeled and delivered by a caring faculty and staff?
When re-enrollment opens later this week, I hope you’ll give thought to these four considerations. Make no mistake: we want your family excited about the benefits of classical Christian education and back at Petra next year. We also want you to rest assured that, after 21 years, we know who we are and want to be as a school, and this identity – this trunk of our tree – is one we have no intention of hollowing out. Our mission:
We invite you to join us as part of it again next year.
Teachers usually encourage students to prepare thoroughly for final exams so that when students arrive to class on exam day, they are ready to demonstrate their full knowledge of course material. However, this year’s seniors in Rhetoric 2 were told they could not prepare for their final exam. Instead, they showed up to class on exam day, chose a topic from a previously uncirculated list, had 45 minutes to write out a full argument fleshing out their position and supporting reasons, and then were graded on oral deliveries of these speed arguments along with their content.
All of the seniors passed with flying colors – a testament to their consistent growth as thinkers, writers, and speakers over the last two years as they have been challenged in humanities, rhetoric, and other aspects of academic life at Petra. This week, we share with you the three most stellar arguments, ending with senior Maddie Dunham.
Are comic books literature? On what level should we interact with them? Should we engage them as we do work of literature by authors like Steinbeck, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth?
In our culture today, media and entertainment co-rule as king. Gone are the days when most of the population would pick up a book and take quiet time to read it. Now, many kids, teenagers, and adults constantly turn on their devices such as an ipad or laptop or phone and spend hours on games, Netflix, social media, etcetera. We live in a world that is based on entertainment.
This idea of entertainment is not just centered around screens, however. Magazines and modern books and activities have all been designed for the sole purpose of human enjoyment. And in catering to enjoyment, they have lost beauty and the standard rules that art and books must have. This brings us to a specific question. Since there are other forms of entertainment besides digital ones, do we classify comic books in the category of only entertainment? And if we do, does it fulfill the rules that are inherent to the world of literature, as they are books after all?
In this short presentation, I argue that they should not be considered literature. For this paper, I will argue that literature has specific characteristics that comic books simply do not align to.
Literature is beautiful in form, contains meaning below the surface of the story, and leaves the reader with a desire to contemplate and reflect on what they just read. First, I will explain a bit of how comic books are a part of our society and history and then explain why they do not fall under the category of literature.
As was stated in my introduction, our world lives on entertainment. Everyday, we constantly check our facebooks or emails, turn on our pop music, and binge watch Netflix for a few hours or so. We have become a generation that has not only lost the ability to communicate well with others, but to understand what the great arts and people of the past have given us to study. Books have turned from great works like The Space Trilogy or Lord of the Rings or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, to cringe-worthy books such as Fifty Shades of Grey or The Twilight Series or Divergent. These books were not written with beauty or meaning, they are only in existence to entertain its readers. This is an abuse of what it means to write books and good literature. Comic books also come into play here with its purpose of entertaining and bringing enjoyment to the reader.
So to begin, we must understand what literature is.
First, literature is beautiful in form. There have always been certain characteristics specific to the form of art we label books under. It must have structure, the storyline must make sense, there must be a heightened plot at some point in order to break up the monotony of a simple story. But there is a difference between books and literature. While some books may be considered literature, not all books can be. Literature is beautiful, not just through what is being said, but the way it is said. A good author will know how to use just the right word in order to make their sentence sound good, thus leading to good paragraphs and chapters, and eventually, a whole book. Comic books do fall under several rules regarding structure, but it’s mostly full of dialogue (sometimes crass or harsh) and doesn’t set a very beautiful picture of what occurs inside. So comic books fail when it comes to beautiful form or content.
Secondly, literature contains meaning that goes beyond the surface. For many good works of literature, they need to be read more than once in order for their full meaning to be conveyed. Some works of literature could probably never be fully explained. And this is beautiful because it contains mystery that so many books lack today. For example, if a person were to take a look at The Divine Comedy by Dante, they would know simply by the beauty and extravagance of the language that it would take years and maybe even a lifetime for someone to extract all the hidden meaning and connections inside the story. This is such an important role that literature has, to keep its readers constantly invested in the story and for its readers to ponder what it is they read. So many books today, including teen series and comic books, are very shallow and lead to no such type of contemplation or beauty.
Thirdly, and as was partially mentioned earlier, a main goal of literature is to leave its readers with the desire to understand it and ponder it. This comes not only from investigating the form, but the meaning that is hidden inside. Literature also teaches about history and politics of certain eras, virtues and what goodness looks likes, literature should teach rather than solely entertain.
Many people might argue that it is important for a person to just relax and be entertained sometimes. But not only does this misuse the capabilities we, as human beings, have to be able to understand great works of literature, it is a waste of the very valuable and limited time we have on this earth. Some people may also argue that comic books do have storylines and truth to them. I am not denying that comic books do not contain truth. Even if the superhero triumphs over the evil scientist, it’s not enough to convict a person of the beauty of such goodness.
Because we have defined literature and explained how changed our culture has become, we should be able to recognize by now that comic books do not fall under such a category. They are entertaining and may contain some redemptive themes, but they fall short of what our definition of literature is. Literature is beautiful in form, contains meaning below the surface of the story, and leaves the reader with a desire to contemplate and reflect on what they just read. So, please enjoy your comic books, if you have some. I don’t, but you don’t want to know how much time I spend on Netflix. But we must also understand that we have the capability and time and resources to read greater things that should not only entertain and bring us joy, but should cause us to reflect and grow us into the persons we are becoming.
Have you met Gabi McDermott, one of the ten seniors in our Petra Academy class of 2017?
Two weeks after Gabi enrolled at Petra four years ago, her older brother died tragically and unexpectedly. Todd Hicks – my predecessor as Headmaster (and now much-beloved guest teacher and mentor following his bout with brain cancer) – walked through the grief with Gabi and her family, but it was not easy due to the sadness of the situation and complications with Todd’s health.
When I first met Gabi last fall, she told me gently but plainly that it was going to be hard for her to trust me as Petra’s new Headmaster, since Mr. Hicks (as well as then-Operations Manager Hope Sukut) had cared for her so well. As with any student, I knew it would take time, but I especially didn’t want to let Gabi down in her final two years at Petra.
Thankfully, God has been faithful to us both. Academically, Gabi is having a good year in her studies, working on her senior thesis, which argues for continued use of drones in the American military so long as they are used alongside humans and not fully automated. Athletically, Gabi was our lone senior on the varsity volleyball team, showing much improvement in ability and encouragement of others. Personally, she has grown and matured in how she relates to her friends, her family, and our faculty, as well as in her love for the Lord.
I wanted you to see this photo of Gabi with her parents, Tim and Martha, as her smile is a beautiful testimony of what God has done in her life here at Petra as a student, athlete, and young woman.
Petra Academy, now in our 21st year in Bozeman, is the only K4-12th grade classical Christian school in the Gallatin Valley. With a student body of 212 students, Petra has experienced steady growth of 7-10% every year for the past five years. Parents, in addition to funding their local government school by paying their taxes, make further sacrifices in order to send their students and partner with us in preparing students to live purposeful, godly lives.
And the students? Here’s the typical refrain (particularly of alumni): “Petra is hard, but I love(d) it.”
Ian Laird is one such alumnus. Graduating from Petra last spring, Ian enrolled as a freshman at Baylor University in Waco, TX, this fall, studying Computer Science and beginning to learn cryptography and data sorting methods in his spare time for possible future specialization.
“I have really been enjoying Baylor,” he writes. “While I really like that there are more than seven other people in my class,” he continues, “I do miss the pointed discussions we would have in Humanities. I cannot think of any very deep classes I have been involved in so far, and my Freshman English class is super easy.”
Ian says he’s taking full advantage of the time freed up by his preparation at Petra to pursue more extra-curricular activities and to try to get ahead in his Computer Science classes at Baylor.
Deepening Our Influence
What happens at Petra has made a difference for Gabi and Ian – personally, spiritually, academically. Below is a list of ways we’re working to make a difference for more Petra students. Just this year, we:
– added orchestra for 4th-6th graders so students who have taken violin with us in the previous three grades can continue their musical study as an alternate option to choir;
– added Lyceum (7th-12th grades) to facilitate deeper thinking and application of Humanities material via communal lecture by faculty and student discussion;
– added our first-ever dual enrollment course (Computer Science I) in conjunction with Gallatin College/Montana State University, by which students can earn credit from us as and earn transferable college credit for the same class (and at a fraction of the cost) as well. 100% of our 10th graders signed up for this dual enrollment course this first year;
– added Computer Science II (11th grade), Drama IV (11th-12th grades), and additional secondary math instructors to better accommodate students who need and want more challenge or help in mathematics.
In addition, we continue to:
– refine one of the best classical Christian curricula in the country;
– expand our new elementary playground (we cut the ribbon on Phase One in November);
– deepen our 7th-12th grade house system to develop a community of students encouraged to love God completely, love others well, and love themselves rightly;
– plan our new Summer Scholae Camps (June 12-16 and 19-23, 2017) for kids ages 7-12 in the Bozeman community this summer (details to come by Spring Break 2017).
Finally, we are daily striving to be:
– a good neighbor to the city of Bozeman by making our space available for rent to various community organizations (athletic, Christian, and other). People love our facility!
– a leader in our local Christian community by modeling healthy transdenominational relationships in our school of families from over 40 churches in the Gallatin Valley;
– and a leader in Christian education statewide as well as nationally, serving as a resource to new start-up schools, working to stay current on pending legislation and school choice initiatives as part of the Montana Federation of Independent Schools, and contributing content to the Association of Classical and Christian Schools’ journal, The Classical Difference.
Help Us Meet the Need
As is the case with all private education, some families are just not able to pay full tuition without some kind of scholarship assistance. While our policy is that no family pays less than 50% of tuition, over 30 current families (49 total students) would not be here without the $93,500 we have provided in scholarship allocation.
We’ve just completed our first of three major fundraisers this year: our elementary school Spell-a-thon exceeded our goal of $20,000 and yielded $24,291.83! Later this winter, we’ll ask for personal and business sponsorships for our annual play – Meet Me in St. Louis, which will run March 2-4, 2017 – with the goal of raising $45,000.
But today – at the end of 2016 and as our second of these three major fundraisers – could I ask you to prayerfully consider helping us raise $24,209 to keep us on track in meeting our fiscal goals?
Some may be able to give $100; others may be able to give $1,000; for a few, a $5,000 gift may not be out of the question. However the Lord might guide and provide, we would be grateful for your consideration. All gifts are tax-deductible.
God is doing amazing things at Petra Academy. On behalf of students like Gabi, Ian, and others, thank you for considering a special gift to support the work of our school. Your contribution will help instill truth, goodness, and beauty in the life of our school and community for years to come.
May God’s riches in Jesus the Christ be yours this Christmas season,
PS: If you have questions or would like to speak with me personally about a question you have or a gift you would like to make, please contact me via email or at 582-8165.
PPS: Please make your check out to Petra Academy and mail it to Petra Academy, 4720 Classical Way, Bozeman, MT, 59718 by December 31. We will provide a tax receipt in January. Thank you!
Interested in how our mission applies to the youngest of our Petra Academy students? We asked K4 teacher, Joan Kempf, for her thoughts on the matter. A graduate with her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in education from the University of North Dakota, Joan has taught and consulted in early childhood education classes (including teaching children with learning disabilities) for twelve years. This is her second year at Petra.
Petra’s mission begins with the phrase, “Recognizing our need for God’s grace…” What does that look like with four-year-olds?
Since we all fall short of the glory of God, we recognize the need for God’s saving grace not only for salvation, but for everything else as well, including our social and emotional skills. Seeking to honor God through our behavior and teaching love for Jesus is our primary goal when teaching social skills to students. Many K4 students are attending school or any organized social interaction for the first time and need to learn how to play, work, and move within a group setting. It is important that students feel safe and comfortable at school so that these skills can be guided and directed throughout the day. As teachers, we seek to demonstrate grace and humility through our daily guidance and interactions with students. Some of the skills we help students achieve are:
-Separating easily from a parent
-Independence in toileting/washing
-Playing with others in a “kind” way (sharing and taking turns)
-Develop empathy for others by noticing when a classmate is frustrated or sad
-Respecting other people and their personal material
-Interacting positivity with peers (uses words vs. grabbing/pushing/hitting/kicking )
-Sit on the floor with peers without touching them with their hands or feet
-Begin to use “please” and “thank you” when talking to others
The next part of our mission states that, “Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students…” What does that look like in the K4 classroom?
The innate curiosity of young learners lends itself to provide opportunities for self-directed exploration and teacher-directed activities in the K4 classroom. Many activities during our free choice time are designed to engage students in cause and effect opportunities. Students will build with gears, tubes, blocks, Legos, and other manipulative materials. We also utilize a wide array of sensory materials (shaving cream, salt, water, sand) and incorporate playing with cars and trucks, using tweezers and magnifying glasses, and utilization of containers with different volumes to increase their awareness and understanding of science-based terms and applications.
In addition, students learn about the seasons and explore items related to the season, talk about the changes in weather and how weather effects us and the world around us. Teaching the days of creation offers the opportunity to participate in activities about heaven, earth, sea, animals, dark, light plants and trees. Students learn about various animals, reptiles, bugs, volcanoes, wind, and other science themes through literature and activities throughout the school year.
Students also participate in various fine art activities that include the utilization of a wide array of art mediums, music and movement. Students create projects that relate to weekly and monthly educational/biblical concepts being taught through:
-Painting with brushes, forks, string, marbles, etc.
-Drawing with markers, colors, white erase boards/markers
-Expressing themselves through dramatic play centers
-Singing songs and doing movement activities
-Preparing and performing recitation songs/chants
-Observing Grammar student’s recitation (K-6th grade)
Finally, preparing students to write is an important part of our K4 curriculum; in fact, most activities in all curricular areas lend themselves to developing fine motor strength and dexterity. Isolating the muscles in the hand and wrist are accomplished through activities like putting together puzzles, lacing, play dough, manipulating tweezers, peg boards, linking chains and blocks, cutting, coloring, tracing designs and letters, and sensory play.
Some of the skills developed are:
-Pencil grasp-training to use a pincer or tripod grasp (holding the writing/coloring object with the thumb and the pointer finger while resting it on the middle finger)
-Crossing the midline of the body while writing/coloring (ability to move from left to right side of body while using one hand)
-Increasing hand and finger strength
-Hand eye coordination (processing information to accomplish the tasks)
-Hand dominance (consistently using the same hand to accomplish tasks)
-Ability to copy and print letters and numbers