In recent months, we’ve offered a few posts here in our Scholar’s Forum having to do with the impact and opportunity of Petra Academy’s particular brand of classical Christian education.
In January, we introduced you to Petra senior Valerie Lewis and the significant impact that her time at Petra has had on her life (Educational Freedom). In February, I recounted a conversation with a mom weary of the cultural tension she felt in sending her kids to a classical Christian school (Preaching What We Need to Hear).
THE GOALS OF EDUCATION One question we always ask parents (current and prospective) during enrollment season is, “What are your education goals for your kids?” Barna posed a similar question and received familiar answers:
When it comes to what they consider to be the goals or ultimate purpose of education, parents of both current ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International) students and prospective students want more for their children than a list of accomplishments or path to wealth. Parents clearly think of schools as meeting a complex range of student and family needs. Of course, that includes academic subjects. It also includes other ways of developing and nurturing children.
Barna asked these parents to choose the top five purposes of education. For both groups of parents, the most selected goal of education is to instill strong principles and values (current: 69%, prospective: 53%).”
While it may seem there are differences between prospective and current parents’ views, they are not so much qualitative as quantitative ones; both sets of parents want similar things, but the ordering and value of their priorities is not the same. For instance:
Prospective parents are more focused on objectives related to personal achievement and social skills like ‘practical life skills’ (51% compared to 31%), ‘increased opportunities in life’ (45% compared to 29%), and a ‘fulfilling career’ (38% compared to 22%). On the other hand, parents of current students place a higher priority on spiritual goals and a lower value on personal achievement…In addition to instilling strong principles and values, a majority of parents of current students place a high priority on five goals that include ‘love for God and other people’ (65% compared to 33%), the ‘ability to apply their knowledge’ (referred to as wisdom) (60% compared to 47%), ‘faithfulness and obedience to God’ (54% compared to 21%) and ‘leadership skills’ (52% compared to 46%).
Some parents may be vocal about STEM, sports, or AP electives. And some may care about these things. But, we should not take our eyes off what they really want the most.”
WHAT PARENTS WANT WHEN CHOOSING A SCHOOL It’s no surprise that what Barna learned about what parents most want when choosing a school had to do with safety and staff:
Most parents are looking for a school that aligns with their general ideas about education—what a school should do. However, parents’ specific priorities when it comes to choosing a school seem to reveal another side to what they value in an education—what a school should be like.
Safety’s first. Next come quality teachers, academic excellence, and character development. Barna asked parents to rate 23 characteristics of a school from ‘essential’ to ‘nice to have’ to ‘not necessary.'”
Safety is at the top. This could be physical (building security). But, these days, it’s often the safety of their child’s feelings within the community…And genuine love cares for the souls of the students; it’s not simply a synonym for niceness. Parents can perceive the genuine love of a school as they interact with it.
There’s no substitute for good teachers. If your school values caring teachers who are accessible, it will be noticed.”
Regardless of whether you’re a current or prospective Petra parent, do these findings resonate with you? Are these some of the reasons you’re at Petra…or are thinking about being so? I’d love to hear your thoughts and interact with you if you’d care to email me.
In my next post, I’ll share some revealing findings from a survey conducted among our 7th-12th graders just before Spring Break. I think you’ll find it encouraging from a student point of view.
In my previous post, I introduced the findings of our recent parent survey and summarized the answers to the first three questions. In transitioning to the last two questions of the survey, I’ll mention that many of the suggestions shared below are either ones that coincide with our already-known list of desired improvements, or are examples of the variety of opinion within the Petra community concerning them.
I have grouped the points and quotations along similar themes for the purpose of consideration.
After School Several parents mentioned their desire for an after-school program of some sort, to “open up doors for parents who work full-time to have their children attend the school,” by providing “enrichment activities for kids to attend at Petra.”
Athletics One parent asked for more athletics offerings, mentioning specifically, “soccer, track, and baseball,” while another suggested “cross-country, track and field, and wrestling.” This second parent also suggested that Petra “build a swim/indoor track center.”
Communication One parent mentioned that, “sometimes communication on certain things is confusing,” citing as an example the feasts and the parents’ role in them (“some parents thought they could join their children for feasts”). However, this parent was “happy to see that the dress code was clarified this year to include more details on PreK,” specifically that it is okay for them not to wear belts, and that velcro gym shoes are OK.
One parent urged us to “remind teachers that NOT all parents have computer access and to please follow up beyond STI.” This parent also mentioned that “a little flexibility in communication/schedule outside of 8am to 5pm (though not late like 10pm) would help.”
Another parent encouraged us to, “Always improve communication (and you have been), and be as flexible as you can be with parents.”
Academics One parent made this plea: “Please maintain and continue to improve Petra’s high academic standards.” However, different parents had different perspectives how to do this.
One parent called for “enlarging the library and book collection and place more emphasis on integrating the library into the curriculum in all subjects, as too much is being lost, the original great works are being forgotten and replaced by diluted or adulterated online/contemporary hogwash masquerading as literature.” This parent also suggested “minimizing/eliminating computer-based learning whenever possible.”
Coming from the opposite perspective, one parent wrote, “The classic curriculum was developed over 125 years ago. Back then children did not start school until age seven or eight. We now have pushed early academics for the last 15 years with less then ideal results. I would like to see the administration be more academic regarding the current research and adjust accordingly. I would only recommend Petra to a few of our friends, not all. Many modern parents are looking for a school that embraces not only the spiritual and Christian aspects of the Classic curriculum, but embracing the importance of understanding the outdoor environment and spending time learning in nature. God made this amazing earth and we believe learning should incorporate a reverence and understanding of the natural world as well as the spiritual realm.”
Still another parent asked for “more gifted/accelerated programs especially in math, science and literature” and an “increased Science Technology Engineering and Math subjects both in class or after school, teaching keyboard in an earlier grade.” A second parent mentioned that, “I love that they are now using online resources (e.g., Chalkable). I would like to see more things online like sign ups for field trips, school parties, etc.”
Several parents asked for more musical offerings for students to strengthen the music program. “It would be nice to be able to continue with the violin or have an option for students to continue with the violin after 3rd grade. The 3rd grade has been studying for 3 years it would be a shame to see it stop.”
Finally, one parent mentioned that “It would be great to see some AP courses offered through the school if possible, rather than having the students have to carve time out of their very full schedule to try to do some on their own.” This parent also wanted to put in a elective plug, saying, “Shop class for an elective would be great!”
Help for Students Several parents asked that we “provide extra help for students with special needs or in developing necessary skills (speech therapy, special education on reading and math, and/or tutoring).” Elaborating on this point, one set of parents wrote, “We feel that there has been a set curriculum with a set of expected standards and when a child is unable to maintain this standard on their own, the responsibility falls to the parents to provide the extra help themselves or to fund it completely on their own…Please understand this is our viewpoint and we appreciate the Board asking for suggestions. We hope you have found our suggestions helpful and we would be happy to discuss our experience at Petra further.”
Fundraising While one parent appreciated our “minimal amount of fundraisers,” another was critical of “soliciting money and support as a student body to fund tuition that 60% of parents are unable or unwilling to provide,” citing it as a “poor management of resources. The money raised by a student body needs to benefit every student body; not just those who receive a scholarship.”
Security Comments pertaining to school security were not prevalent, but there were a few. One parent voiced a desire to install “keypads, a security guard, etc.”
Trans-denominational I wanted to mention these three different perspectives concerning this area of our school:
“We really enjoy the feasts, however the Reformation Day/All Saints Day Feast should be rethought, as celebrating Reformation Day for your Catholic and/or Orthodox students is difficult.”
“I would love to have the administration consider other Christian churches when developing the calendar. I know that the Orthodox Church is the only Church that does not celebrate Easter/Pascha at the same time and it would be nice if we could attend Grandparent’s Day, but this year it falls on our Great and Holy Friday.”
“We continue to regularly have discussions at home about doctrinal differences that surface in upper school class discussions (which is a great opportunity, but can cause frustration)…This year it seems to be primarily with classmates. I am wondering if some more direction can be given to the students about how to discuss issues that they differ on (usually secondary doctrines) or if more intentional focus can be directed toward primary doctrines.”
Homework Concerning our homework load, one parent with students in both elementary and secondary noted that, “Homework load can be difficult to manage at times, often magnified by the number of children we have working on the various tasks assigned. It is difficult to assess if they are just being inefficient and distracted with their time or if the combined assignments are more than they can manage well after a full day of school. Fatigue and distraction is often a clear contributing factor to inefficiency.”
A different elementary parent mentioned that, “We have heard that the homework load increases and is quite substantial. We are not there yet, but do feel that it is a concern as we move along.” A parent with a secondary student mentioned that, “The homework load seems to be either somewhat light some days and then super heavy others, specifically in the Humanities.” Finally, one parent stated that, “We would like better (more thorough) explanations about the homework policies.”
Community Several parents expressed a desire to encounter more of the Petra parent community: “The school has a wonderful community and our son is certainly fitting into it, but the larger parent community is one I’d like to be closer to somehow.” One parent confessed that “It has been difficult getting to know other parents of children in the same grades as our kids.,” and another one said, “I would like to see a more streamlined process for communicating with the teachers/school about volunteer needs in the classroom. It is easy to find out about lunch/recess volunteer needs, but not ways we can help in the classrooms.”
Concerning December (which is always a busy month), one parent suggested that, “It might possibly be better schedule-wise if the Christmas Feast occurs in the 2nd to last week before Christmas break. That last week is already so full of activity, donating time and food, etc., that the donations and requests for the feast feel a bit overwhelming at that time frame.”
With regard to the parent and teacher relationships, one parent shared that she “would appreciate occasional times throughout the year (maybe once in the fall and once in the spring) to get to know the parents and teachers. The back to school night in the fall is too busy to actually get to know or talk to the teachers and Moms-in-Prayer happens while many parents are at work during the day. I wouldn’t want to add anything else to the teachers’ already full plates, but I would like to get to know them better and don’t feel like there is any convenient time to do that.” And another parent: “I think Parent Teacher Conferences should be mandatory in the spring and not just optional, as it is so beneficial.”
One parent wrote that, “As Petra is asking us (parents) to help sell the Petra experience to the Bozeman community, it would be a great help if some of the administration could help out and provide a warmer welcome to visiting parents and students. Please don’t misunderstand that our staff is not warm; I just mean that they can be very academic at times. Petra is a choice and we need to let parents and students know why they should make the choice to chose Petra over anything else.”
Re-Enrollment “We’re a little nervous about the May 15 deadline for full financial commitment in the enrollment process. (We want to re-enroll both of our children; however, we are still thinking through the best path for one of them and praying we come to a thoughtful decision by that time.)”
Other General Suggestions
– 3-4 different parents communicated a desire for a multiple siblings discount
– the sound at recitations (“could be a bit better but that’s not too big of a deal”)
– a car pool or bus to Belgrade
– more freedom in seating at lunch
– a store of uniform clothing that could be restocked from during the year
– consideration of a lunch program some day (even if it started small or was only one day a week)
– continued ways to promote occasional interaction between the upper classmen and grade schoolers (“I liked hearing how they mingled at the last feast and think it would be valuable to encourage the role model connection”)
– more focus on planner usage; i.e. writing down what the assignment is, perhaps even the topic and not just “Study” or “page 123”
– more field trips and downhill skiing
– service projects and recitations performed at nursing homes
– board meeting times (“we would like to come, but the 3:45 time just does not work for our job scheduling”)
At our board meeting on Tuesday (as well as in my post next week), I’ll begin to address many of these topics and issues. Thank you for your honest feedback!
“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” Johannes Kepler
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve asked you, our Petra families, for feedback as to how you think we’re doing. If you’ve been at Petra for multiple years, you’ve seen a version of the survey questions before:
1. Based on your experience with Petra Academy during the current school year, how likely are you to recommend Petra to a friend or associate?
2. Please check all grades in which you have children enrolled for the current school year (K4-12th grade).
3. Please describe two or three things you like most about your experience at Petra this year.
4. Please describe two or three things you would like to see improved or enhanced at Petra.
5. What suggestions would you offer to teachers, administration, and board to improve the Petra community and experience for your family?
As we begin our second semester this week, I’d like to share some of your feedback, as well as write the first of a few posts in response to aspects of it. To be clear, my intent is not to define or defend anything, but to reassure you that we are reading what you have taken time to share and appreciate your participation in the conversation.
A couple of quick observations pertaining to the first two questions:
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest likelihood of “always” being willing to recommend Petra to others), our average score from 28 responses was a solid 9. This is significant in two ways: first, positive word-of-mouth is the proven way that our school has grown by a steady 10% each year over the past five years, so it’s good to see that this trend might continue; second, while parents offered suggestions, you verbalized that you generally thought of such desired enhancements as small (rather than big) things that did not cause a general reluctance to promote the school.
Additionally, of the 28 responses, we had at least two responses from every Petra grade, so no grade was without a baseline representation in the survey (kudos to our pre-Polly grades – K4, Kindergarten, Afternoon Enrichment, and 1st – for their combined total of 15 responses, our largest).
In the rest of this post, I’ll focus on your answers to question #3 and the two or three things you said you liked most about your experience at Petra this year.
Several parents noted a genuine concern for “each student as an individual,” as well as the “kind and helpful” teachers and the “close communication between the teacher, parents, and students.” “Small class size” was mentioned several times, along with the fact that parents were glad that “our children are not just another name or grade.”
Multiple parents expressed their appreciation for “the details of the school regularly outlined in The Griffin Gazette,” as well as “the increased activity on social media (Facebook, Twitter) and website.” One parent also communicated her appreciation for “the intimate classroom environment and newsletters via email,” while another mentioned that he “enjoyed receiving and reading the magazine about classical schools – a wonderful surprise.”
We were glad to hear one parent’s appreciation for “the Trivium pedagogy of grammar, logic, and rhetoric,” and another’s praise for our “demanding but do-able curriculum.” One parent mentioned our “strong curriculum and the results of the whole class progressing together,” while one Afternoon Enrichment parent stated that she was simply encouraged with her student’s “progress in writing cursive.”
One parent spoke for several when she spoke of the “loving, appropriate and effective discipline for our kids when needed.” Another parent mentioned that she was glad for a school where “everyday I can drop off my son where he is challenged, but also safe, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
Several parents communicated the sentiment that “the Feasts are a wonderful addition,” as well as that their students have “really enjoyed the increased physical education opportunities and options for electives this year.” Another parent mentioned her appreciation for our “multi-grade events such as Great Assembly, ornament exchange, and recitations,” the last of which she shared was “our favorite day of the month.” Finally, a parent said that she “loved” that our athletic offerings are expanding, while another voiced that the “student choir is wonderful and definitely a thing to look forward to for our 3rd grader.”
Even the “uniform for younger students and the Rhetoric dress code for oldest students” made it on the list of positives!
Other comments we were especially excited to read:
“Our student is LEARNING, and we like the very cheerful presence that we feel at Petra these days.”
“The teachers are excellent and give so much to the kids every day. The facility is reasonably secure (compared to other schools) and professionally run by a staff of trustworthy and dedicated people.”
“We are so thankful for the obvious care and concern for our children from all of their teachers. They are each challenged and encouraged in ways that are unique to their personalities. A heartfelt thank you to the wonderful Petra teachers!”
“We love the Christ-centered curriculum, and our children are really blossoming under the instruction of their teachers, who are fantastic. We love the community at the school. It is also very nice to be greeted by both Mr. Dunham and/or Mr. C. The kids enjoy getting to interact and say, ‘Good morning.'”
Next week, I’ll respond to your ideas for what might be improved or enhanced for our Petra community. Stay tuned, and if you haven’t yet, please take the survey!