“You have to sacrifice yourself to the college gods.”
This quote comes from this article in the September 17, 2018, issue of The Bozeman Daily Chronicle. In it, the writer interviewed local high school students describing the pressure they felt to prepare for post-secondary education. The quote was the students’ solution, as well as The Chronicle’s above-the-fold headline.
No question: success requires sacrifice. But do the “college gods” (whoever and wherever they are) really hold that kind of power for a student’s ultimate success? If so, how did we let that happen? And if not, why do nearly all the students interviewed for the article believe they do?
This coming May, Petra Academy will graduate 11 seniors with a class ACT average of 25.7 (3.5 points higher than the composite score of 22.2 of all Montana AA schools). More importantly (and in line with our Portrait of a Graduate), we are working to see them graduate with virtue and mature character, a solid faith and sound reason, masterful eloquence, vision and skills of a competent and passionate culture-maker, literacy through broad and deep reading, and an aesthetic wisdom about the world in which they live.
Most will go to college; some will take a year off to work; none will sacrifice themselves to the “college gods,” because they know good grades and resumes (both of which they have) only go so far. Their credentials are who they are as Christians, what they’ve learned, and how they’ve been taught to love and redeem a broken world.
But we need your financial help to continue to teach and train students in this way. Did you know:
– the average cost to educate a Petra student is only half of what it costs Montana public schools?
– our average teacher salary is 18% lower than the average Bozeman public school teacher salary? Our teachers love what they do, but we are committed to closing that gap.
– one-third of our student body (61 of 184 total students) receive some form of financial assistance?
We need to raise $30,000 by December 31, 2018, and another $100,000 by July 31, 2019, to meet our 2018-19 budget and fulfill commitments to our families, teachers, and students. As you consider your year-end giving, would you prayerfully consider a donation to Petra Academy? We’ve made it easier than ever to give!
Thanks for helping students avoid the altar of the “college gods.” And thanks in advance for considering a tax-deductible gift to Petra Academy as part of your year-end giving.
On behalf of everyone at Petra Academy, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Craig Dunham Sarah Storebo
Headmaster Chair of the Board of Directors
Highlights so far from the 2018-2019 school year:
- Enrolled 184 Pre-K through 12th-grade students
- Expanded third year of Orchestra, now up to 18 students from 6 in 2016
- Focused third year of 7th-12 grade Lyceum talks on variety, ideas, and melody in classical music
- Enrolled 20 students in Computer Science I & II who will also receive college credit from Gallatin College/Montana State University
- Celebrated with senior Hannah Kempf as she won the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s computing award
- Continued second year of math tracking (standard/advanced) for 7th-12th math classes
- Hired qualified new art teacher Krista Baziak
- Sold out both performances of second annual fall play, The Servant of Two Masters
- Hosted Shakespeare Festival with Shakespeare in the Schools’ performance of Julius Caesar
- Hosted evening Schola Cantorum concert featuring 4th-8th choir and orchestra performances
- Hired passionate new athletic director/physical education teacher Clete Seyle
- Enjoyed second year of successful JV co-ed soccer (record 11-3)
- Made first appearance in Montana Christian Athletic Association state volleyball tournament
- Fielded four levels (5th-6th, 7th-8th, JV, varsity) of girls volleyball and boys basketball teams
- Strengthened relationships among the grades within our 7th-12th-grade house system
- Continued monthly (Pre-K through 6th) and quarterly (7th through 12th) recitations
- Launched monthly “Follow-Up Fridays” for parents to connect with Headmaster and Board Chair
- Scheduled record facility rental use to share our campus with the Bozeman community
- Served as a leader in our local Christian community, modeling healthy relationships that transcend denominational lines of families from over 35 churches in the Gallatin Valley
- Served as a leading school within the Association of Classical and Christian Schools nationally, and specifically within the northwest
- Exceeded $25,000 Spell-a-thon goal by raising $25,924 in operational/capital funds
- Launched new gym and sports field banner sponsorship program (10 banners so far at $1,300 each; space still available – call 406-582-8165 if interested in advertising your business)
- Led invigorating staff training with a corporate reading/discussion of The Liberal Arts Tradition
We appreciate your support of Petra Academy. If you haven’t yet (or haven’t recently), we hope you’ll stop by for a tour, recitation, concert, play, or game!
At last week’s Schola Cantorum concert, I thanked those younger students not yet in one of our programs for the good attention they showed their older siblings who were performing. “If you want to show someone you love them,” I said, “you listen to them.” I was surprised by how many parents came up to me afterward to voice their approval of that sentiment.
Now that we have four Petra basketball teams competing each week, I’d like to offer a corollary for the court: “If you want to show someone you love them, you cheer for them and watch them play.”
If you’ve been to a game, you may have seen me occasionally ask students (ours or others) to refrain from grabbing a basketball at halftime or between games to head out on the court to shoot. My goal in doing this is not to be mean, but to encourage students to respect and support team members who have put in the hard work to wear the uniform.
As we pursue excellence in the classroom, I want to see us do the same in our competitions and the way we think about what a Petra athletic event is and should be. I want to raise the profile of what it takes to participate in athletics and honor the effort of those who give themselves to a sport in addition to their studies.
Our uber-informal Bozeman culture, coupled with an overly child-centric American parenting view, can work against us in terms of teaching kids delayed gratification and the value of earning a spot on a team. Setting aside the court (or sports field) for those who have fulfilled the requirements to be there is a small push back against the entitlement mentality that teaches kids they can do what they want by just showing up.
Thank you for teaching and helping your young ones understand that, on game days, the court is reserved for the athletes playing the games. One day, your aspiring athlete will get his or her turn, and we will show them we love them by being there to cheer for them and watch them play.
After last month’s Elementary Recitation, an uncle of one of our students found me afterward in the Atrium. After brief introductions (and with his niece’s not-quite-school-aged sibling riding on his shoulders), he told me how much he enjoyed seeing our young students recite what they were learning and how impressed he was with our school.
“When I think of my own schooling years, I shake my head,” he said, doing exactly what he described. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “But I see the progress of humanity here.”
I recently thought about his observation while reading two books. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure is a succinct analysis of three “untruths” running rampant on many college campuses today:
– the untruth of fragility (what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker)
– the untruth of emotional reasoning (always trust your feelings)
– the untruth of “us versus them” (life is a battle between good people and evil people)
The authors examine how these untruths have played out at universities in the past five years, leading to campuses and students increasingly marked by intimidation, violence, witch hunts, polarization, anxiety, and depression. Some of this, they say, is due to paranoid parenting and a decline of child’s play at younger ages; some has to do with a “bureaucracy of safetyism” and an unhealthy pursuit of justice without proper proportionality. Whatever the combination, the result is all too familiar:
In 2017, 58% of college students said it is ‘important to be part of a campus community where I am not exposed to intolerant and offensive ideas.’ This statement was endorsed by 63% of very liberal students, but it’s a view that is not confined to the left; almost half of very conservative students (45%) endorsed that statement, too. (pgs. 48-49)
After a multitude of case studies and insights to convincingly illustrate their points, the authors offer practical suggestions for kids, universities, and societies to try to deal with and address the untruths. They recommend letting kids take more risks, as well as learn the basics of cognitive behavioral therapy so they can rightly deal with poor self-esteem; they call colleges and universities to endorse the Chicago Statement on free speech and academic freedom and to establish a practice of not responding to public outrage when pressure hits the fan; they suggest societies hold social media companies’ feet to the flames by tweaking algorithms to contribute less to echo chambering and lessen the negative effects of device use.
While these are needed conduits for change, if there are missing pieces from the authors’ solution, they are agency and content. This is where The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Nebraska senator Ben Sasse is to be commended, in particular the excellent chapters on education (“More School Isn’t Enough”) and reading (“Build a Bookshelf”). He writes:
I think the problem is that we already overmanage the lives of young adults rather than that we are not offering them enough bubble wrap. I take issue with the notion that young adults are incapable of making choices or acting independently. It is clearly true that they aren’t very good at it, but that is because we failed to help them learn how to seize the reins and do it themselves much earlier – in primary and middle school – and doesn’t mean that we should still be choosing and acting for them after high school.” (pg. 76)
But what specifically should students choose and act upon? Sasse understands the need for ancient wisdom to inform modern what-to-dos, invoking Dorothy Sayers, a matron saint of classical Christian education in America:
In arguably the most important essay on education written in the last century, English author Dorothy Sayers railed against the power of educational ‘specialists’ who act like the rest of us couldn’t or shouldn’t fully own our own process of learning. Education, she argued in 1948 in ‘The Lost Tools of Learning,’ is inherently about the goals of lives well lived; it is about the good, the true, and the beautiful.” (pg. 78)
Sasse then channels writings of the Greeks, Puritans, and Founding Fathers for a better way forward, elaborating on what the aforementioned transcendentals translate to:
America…was founded deliberately, by people with strong ideas about heaven and hell, about rights and responsibilities, about public and private – and about the kind of society that would promote virtuous living and serious thinking…The correctly American answer has always been for the state to stand down, for people to pursue their dreams and to seek ultimate meaning outside of politics, and for citizens to sort through their arguments and debates in a liberal, open public square by persuasion, not by either forced or prohibited speech.” (pgs. 207-208; 223-224)
To get at these strong ideas, students have to accept the challenge to read and discuss them. This is why our Petra reading list in the hands of our capable teachers is second to none when it comes to promoting virtuous living and serious thinking. And this is why our students win supposed “non-humanities” competitions and awards; if people are involved, the humanities pertain!
I don’t know all that our student’s uncle was thinking when he claimed to see “the progress of humanity” at Petra. I’m guessing he caught a glimpse of how young students learning to handle prose and poetry in a monthly recitation might, across the years, prepare those same students to stand before (and sometimes against) one another in healthy dialogue and debate as to the greater good later. Since that’s rarely done much anymore, perhaps I better understand his wistful surprise.
As the folk saying goes, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”
Surely this is what “the progress of humanity” requires…and always has.
(The following homily was given at Petra Academy’s All Saints’ Feast.)
All Saints’ Day is a holy day that the Orthodox church traces back to church father John Chrysostom in the 4th century as a recognition of saints – many of whom were martyrs – celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Parthenon at Rome to Mary and the martyrs, initiated the practice in the Catholic church in 609 A.D. before Pope Gregory III officially established the holy day on November 1 in the mid-eighth century.
Historically, Catholic churches have thought of “saints” as those officially canonized or “made” saints by the church, but in the Orthodox church, as well as in many Protestant denominations today, All Saints’ Day is celebrated as a remembrance of departed Christians from any time and place – those whom Hebrews 12:1 calls a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding the Church universal. Thus, All Saints’ Day is a day on which we honor faithful believers who have died, but also those by whom we are sitting even now.
I wonder, though, if we really believe this – that we are sitting next to saints? I know that I struggle with the idea, not so much because I know all of you but because I know me. I’m much more likely to think of myself as a sinner saved by grace than a saint who sins.
How do you think about yourself? As someone who usually messes up but miraculously gets it right every now and then? Or as someone who is loved and cherished even (and especially) when he messes up? Does it matter? I think it does.
Let me tell you a Little Mr. Dunham story.
When Little Mr. Dunham was in 7th grade, he played basketball on a really good school team. Little Mr. Dunham wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was a perfectionist and often got down on himself pretty easily if he didn’t play up to his standards. One night, after a particularly bad game, Little Mr. Dunham came home, threw his duffel bag in the corner of his room, sat down at his desk, and carved into the wood a question: “Why does Little Mr. Dunham play basketball?” And then, in the throes of true teenage angst, he carved the answer: “No apparent reason.”
Little Mr. Dunham’s coach noticed his tendency to get down on himself and made the comment to Little Mr. Dunham’s parents that he was going to die at the age of 14 from beating himself up over his perfectionistic ways. Little Mr. Dunham’s parents told him this, which made him feel even worse…until his parents told him what the coach had also said: “But he’s the smartest player I’ve ever coached.”
This was what Little Mr. Dunham needed. He knew he would never be the fastest player or the best rebounder or the top scorer, so he tried to play up to what the coach had said about him being the smartest player. Someone else loved him enough to believe in him, and that made all the difference for Little Mr. Dunham and his team for the next six years. He no longer thought of himself as a bad player who only rarely and miraculously got things right; instead, he learned (and it was a process) to think of himself as a smart player who, yes, sometimes missed the mark, but was loved and trusted by his coach and his teammates anyway.
It’s true that you and I are sinners – ones who miss the mark of God’s commanded perfection. It’s also true that, if we trust in the work Jesus has done for us on the cross, we are sinners saved by grace – by a love we never deserved, but were given anyway. It is only by this undeserved love any of us can call ourselves Christians.
But God thinks of those who are Christians much more as saints who sin instead of merely sinners saved by grace. There are plenty of passages from the Psalms (among other books) that tell us this (see Psalm 16:3; 30:4; 31:23; 34:9; 37:28; 85:8; 97:10; 116:15; 132:9; 132:16; 145:10; 148:14).
It feels good and means a lot to hear God call us his saints, but I wish we were better at thinking of each other in this way. Sometimes we don’t treat each other like saints at all. We talk poorly about one another; we do mean things to one another; we think of ourselves as being better than one another.
You know where we most often see this happen at school? On the playground, in the garment rooms, in the hallways, in the gymnasium, in the bathrooms in the parking lot – places where we think no adult is watching or listening closely, but God always is.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia and so many other great books you’ll read at Petra, writes in his book, The Weight of Glory, about how he, too, wished we could see each other more as God sees us because of Jesus. Listen to what he wrote:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
We are called to see our fellow Christians the way God sees us – not just as sinners saved by grace (though we are), but also as saints who sin (because we do).
What would it look like if we thought of and spoke to and played with one another in ways that saw the good in one another rather than only the not-so-good? What if we believed – really believed – that when others sin against us and hurt our feelings, we should forgive them because they are saints who sometimes sin rather than dirty, rotten sinners saved by grace and a real pain in the neck? What if we ourselves experienced this kind of forgiveness when we hurt others but were treated as saints who sometimes sinned rather than sinners saved by grace?
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day and think about those who have gone before us, let’s remember to honor those saints we see everyday – at Petra and elsewhere. Let’s believe the best in one another, stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, and talk to and not about one another. And while we can all heartily affirm that, indeed, we are sinners saved by grace, let us also pray for courage for one another to live not just as ordinary people or mere mortals, but as saints – yes, who sin – but as saints nevertheless because of Jesus, who died on the cross to make us so.
This truth (and our unity as saints surrounding them) is what we celebrate today, just as those before us celebrated as well.
(Petra Academy’s fall play, The Servant of Two Masters, plays Friday and Saturday evening, November 9 and 10, at 7 p.m. Purchase your tickets today at our website or at our front desk, as with only two scheduled performances, they will go quickly!)
Over the past several years of teaching theatre history, I have become fascinated by commedia dell’arte, a Renaissance form of theatre popularized in Italy and toured around Europe by the first professional acting companies. It is theatre in its simplest form, both in structure and in execution.
Actors would play stock characters that are easily recognizable by their masks and improvise a story from a repertoire of stock situations. The main characters included the miserly old merchant Pantalone, the gregarious windbag Dottore, the clever servant Arlecchino, the braggadocios (and often Spanish) Capitano, and two lovers. Additionally there might be other servants or characters who would help fill out a performance. The situations they performed usually involved the two lovers meeting, falling in love, and running into an obstacle such as their parents (Pantalone and Dottore) or the arrival of another suitor (Capitano) but ultimately surmounting that obstacle with the help of a clever and mischievous servant (Arlecchino).
Another interesting fact about commedia is that actors would perform one character throughout their career and then pass it on to their children like an inheritance. This familiarity with one character enabled actors to come up with gags and comedic bits that could be inserted into any performance. And they were capable of playing their character in any given situation, which was important considering the improvised nature of each performance.
What has fascinated me most is the way these simple, improvised performances have influenced some of the greatest playwrights of Western theatre: Molière, William Shakespeare, and Pierre Beaumarchais (best known for the Figaro operas) all adapted commedia characters and plot devices for their shows. One example is the character of Don Armado from Shakespeare’s Love’s Labors Lost. He is a direct representation of the pompous and swaggering Capitano and his simple character lends a great deal to the play.
But more than that, I see the influence of commedia in modern entertainment as well. The plot of most romantic comedies follows the same simple scheme as a commedia performance: two people meet, fall in love, have a conflict that keeps them apart, but surmount the obstacle to live happily ever after. This similar story arc is found in many modern sitcoms such as The Office, Friends, Parks and Recreation, and even Seinfeld.
Sitcoms are like traditional commedia because actors start with a simple character outline such as “the dumb one,” “the neurotic one,” “the witty one,” couple it with a simple show premise such as “coworkers in an office,” or “friends in a big city,” and then go from there. Throughout the course of episodes and seasons the actors begin to embody their characters more and more by developing each character’s mannerisms, quirks, and personality along with expanding the initial premise of the show. And while these are often exaggerations of reality, they are born out of real life situations that are instantly relatable to the audience.
This type of comedy resonates in our culture and many of the characters, lines, and shows have become a part of our social fabric. If Shakespeare and Molière copied commedia for their shows, I imagine it had much the same effect in the 16th century.
In this year’s fall show, The Servant of Two Masters, Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni took the classic characters and situations that both he and the audience were familiar with and wrote them down in order to preserve the spirit and vitality of commedia dell’arte. However, this was 200+ years ago, and we have been faced with the challenge of trying to bridge the gap between an old, unfamiliar play and a modern audience.
Fortunately, because of the relationship between commedia and modern comedy, the gap isn’t as large as it appears, and it was quickly bridged by our student actors; the real challenge has been coaxing the improvisational and physical comedy out of them.
Commedia has always been a difficult form of theatre to perform because it is built around the improvisations and camaraderie of the actors rather than the story itself. Knowing that that was the case, I decided to focus on improvisation with the students as I directed this particular play, giving them the freedom to play with their characters and practice a more improvisational style of acting. Additionally the set design and costuming is simple, the props are minimal, and the blocking is very easy for the purpose of facilitating more improv.
Through the course of our rehearsals, students have been learning more than just their lines and blocking, they’ve been learning the two most important elements of good comedy: listening and being present in the moment. The result is our students have better understanding of comedy and a show that will have our audience (regardless of age) in stitches.
When the curtains open on November 9th and 10th, I hope you’ll join us for a lively and exciting production of The Servant of Two Masters!
At a recent Dads-Who-Dare prayer meeting (Thursday mornings, 6:30-7:30, at Petra), a father asked for prayer for his elementary-aged daughter.
“She’s like me,” he said, “in that she’s shy and quiet and can sometimes be anxious about making friends.”
He went on to share some good news, though: “Yesterday, she came home with some grass stains on her pants, so I’m taking that to be a good sign. Pray for more grass stains.”
The story stuck with me as the group prayed. While I’ve seen a few kids content to roll down our playground berm on their own, it’s rare; more often than not, where there’s one, there’s usually at least one or more friends doing it with them, together.
What a beautiful picture of a father’s love for his daughter, I thought. Recognizing his similar struggles, this dad has experienced the anxiety that kids (and adults) often feel in making and being friends. But, rather than look for someone or something to blame for his daughter’s challenge, he asked other fathers to join him in prayer for a resolution that, if provided, might actually mean more work and/or cost for him and his wife (last I checked, grass stains are still a pain to get out of clothes).
May God grant us such insight into our children and their needs. And, may God give us courage to pray for our kids and their struggles, even if doing so might cost us something in the answering.
(This is the second of two posts from 3rd grade teacher Sabrina Moody. Read part one.)
The Opportunity to Grow
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8
As we re-experience 3rd, 5th, 8th or whatever the grade may be, we have the unique opportunity to grow alongside our children. Chances are most of us did not have a classical Christian education. We may remember a grade level, but not always positively. By getting involved with projects, classroom and school activities, and homework, we positively reshape our loves and experience. The challenges and joys we experience will grow us, and as adults modeling a love for growth and learning, we couldn’t show our children a better example.
Questions like: “How can the Lord help you grow through this challenge in math?” or “How can I help you as we move past this frustration with homework?” are invaluable assets to your parenting experience. You will “grow much fruit” in your relationship with Christ and your child as you come alongside.
The Opportunity to Love and Understand More Deeply
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. “ Romans 15:5-6
As a learning community that places Christ at its center, Petra offers families and students the chance to build a network of support in the Body of Christ and supplement the local church. This does not mean we seek to do the work that local churches do, but rather that we support each other in the body of Christ in an educational way. What does this mean?
We integrate our subjects with biblical, Christian teachings. We teach Bible as a class at the elementary and secondary levels, but we don’t limit understandings of other subjects (particularly math and science) as exclusive of our Christian ethos.
We give you the opportunity to pray with us (Moms in Prayer, Dads who Dare prayer groups) and the opportunity to receive prayer support (faculty prayer).
Finally, our Humanities (secondary) and Literature studies (elementary) are connected to our faith by teaching students to interpret God at work in the creation of characters, themes, and philosophies shown in classical and secular literature.
Your child’s studies may be the most challenging he/she has yet experienced, but the opportunity this gives you to encourage and persevere is rich with potential. Embrace the opportunities at Petra! And may it be a wonderful year of joy, exploration, and support for you and your children!
Maybe you’re at Petra Academy because you want a community in which your children can learn and grow. Maybe you’re here because you’ve grown to love classical Christian education, or have become excited about its promise for your children and family.
Maybe you’re here because you sense, on some level, opportunities at Petra that you and your kids have never had before. What are some of these opportunities?
The Opportunity to Share
And we pray this that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:10
At Petra, parents and families share in the classroom and school endeavors in unique and indispensable ways. Rather than turning you away at the door as you “drop off” in anonymity, we delight at seeing you in our hallways, hugging your child, delivering some extra words of encouragement, letting us know of requests or upcoming needs, supporting sports games and plays, or asking how you can volunteer in our classrooms or school.
At Petra, the premise of “in loco parentis” meaning “in the place of parents” (paraphrased as “being responsible for the child’s parents while the parents are absent”), guides our role as adults in your child’s life. We don’t replace you or supersede your role; instead, we partner with you to ensure that your authority and vision for your child is held throughout the time he or she is stewarded by us during the school day. This philosophy supports you as parents in a time when cultural norms can undermine and confuse your beliefs and vision where your children are concerned.
The Opportunity to Build Up in Christ
But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude:20
Our community encourages and embraces the expression of love and fellowship through our Lord Jesus Christ. As our mission states, “recognizing our need for God’s grace, Petra Academy strives to awaken love and wonder in our students by teaching them to observe with humility, think with reason, and articulate with charity for the flourishing of humanity and the renown of Jesus the Christ.”
The school year here at Petra gives you the chance to build up your child, your family, your child’s teachers, administration, and families within your child’s class and school. You can build up by your words, your time, and yes, your smile. Reaching out for help when you need it (i.e., “recognizing the need for God’s grace”) gives you the opportunity to be joyous on this journey. Reach out to teachers whenever you have a concern about your child – that is why we are here! – to support and help you and your children.
Words like “I really would like to hear more about ________( your studies in a subject, class, enrichment),” or “This learning must be such a delight. I wonder how we could live into this teaching at home?” or “What you did today sounds like fun. Can I do an activity with you to experience or learn more about this?” can go a long way with your student.
(Petra’s Spell-a-thon is our annual elementary fundraiser in which families and friends of Petra sponsor student spelling words. Click here for sponsorship information for Spell-a-thon.)
There is a common misconception in this day and age of autofill, autocorrect, and spell check that spelling is not as important as it used to be. But that’s not the case at Petra Academy.
Spelling is an integral part of our elementary curriculum from Kindergarten to 6th grade, and we want to keep it that way. We know that spelling is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating big ideas and timeless truths. So how do we prepare students to learn the big ideas of classical literature? By teaching them the big ideas behind spelling. Here are a couple of examples of how spelling instruction takes place in our classrooms.
Within the first two weeks of our integrated 6th grade Latin vocabulary and spelling curriculum, students were already discovering the relationship between Latin root words and English derivatives. As elementary Latin teacher Elizabeth Wickland explains, “The English word “sylvan” came from the Latin word “silva,” meaning forest or woods. One student made the observation that “sylvan” was in “Pennsylvania” and I was able to explain that the state’s name means “Penn’s woods.”
This story seems the type you would hear about at the end of the year, but students are already grasping the concepts presented. Spearheaded by Mrs. Wickland and 6th grade teacher Sarah McClaflin, our curriculum makes students’ understanding of spelling and knowledge of Latin even more accessible and applicable. Students learn Latin vocabulary alongside English derivatives and practice and learn how to spell the English words for spelling tests.
For example, terra is one of their Latin vocab words meaning earth; an English derivative of terra is the spelling word terrestrial, an adjective describing something earthly. “The English language is not our own,” Mrs. McClaflin says. “We’ve borrowed a lot from Latin.” She mentions the fact that students have an easier time with spelling when they can see the connections between words rather than simply memorizing “the way it is.”
On the other end of the hallway, Mrs. Miller has been teaching Kindergarten students letters and phonograms for 9 years at Petra. “Reading is like a magic code they get to break,” she says with a smile. “Students start in our Pre-K and Kindergarten classes learning all the different sounds that the letters can make and by the end of the year they’re sounding out words on the signs all over the school.”
As for the method, students begin by learning phonograms and spelling rules. At the outset it seems a lot to learn for a little kindergartener, but by the end of the year they know all 70 basic phonograms and take that foundation all the way through elementary. This specific and focused introduction of phonograms and spelling rules is built upon in each grade, with the end goal being that students know how to learn to spell all words, not just specific words.
The spelling skills that students are learning in grammar school are vital for becoming more confident readers both in class and on their own. It also makes them more capable of tackling the big ideas in the classical texts that they read in their secondary years.
Mrs. McClaflin and Mrs. Wickland both point out that any modern student’s vocabulary would be stretched by classical literature, but here at Petra, they are gaining the tools they need to be able to learn, understand, and use any new word they come across. We’re not just teaching students what to learn; we’re teaching them how to learn (and how to rightly spell what they learn).
The benefits of this spelling instruction are evident: during last year’s Spell-a-thon, the average score across all grades was 93 out of 100 words spelled correctly; the year before, it was 92. Not only are the scores good, but our students learn to love spelling and reading and want to do both well.
Spell-a-thon is one of the many ways that we get our students excited about learning, and it’s also one of the many ways families can be involved in our school. Thanks for being a vital part of awakening the love and wonder of spelling and reading in your students…and helping us cover the costs to do so!
At Petra Academy, we partner with Christian parents to reassure them in their school pursuit to see their children faithfully stand out in the world.
Good parents want their children to grow up to be good people. And most want a community of like-hearted people to help along the way.
Parents want their children to have the best chance at success. They worry that a wrong decision could lead to failure. Opinions from friends and family complicate matters, often causing parents to feel insecure about their choice.
Here’s an excerpt from an email from a new 2nd grade mom stating just that:
Thank you for a great first week of school for my daughter! She is really happy about her new school, which I am so happy about because sometimes as a parent we question our decisions.”
How do parents enjoy their children’s learning years if their children don’t? This is where Petra Academy can help. We recognize so much is at stake in the decision parents make for their children. And we know evaluating educational options can be difficult and confusing.
But we also know how to come alongside and help, because that’s what we’ve been doing since 1995.
Through our partnership with parents, we provide regular feedback about student progress that so many schools are unable to offer. Smaller classes and teachers who really want to get to know your student are standard, while our classical curriculum and Christian culture are anything but.
We have a good school – the best in Montana. And we have a good tale to tell – of God at work in the lives of family and faculty, of students and staff learning together. It’s a story worth sharing, so let me encourage you to jump in and share it with us!