by Ann Lowrey Forster
At St. Augustine School we seek to cultivate excellence, wisdom, and joy by assisting parents in the education of their children, so that they may grow into a thorough understanding of God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. A University-Model education assists us in this mission in some key ways. This distinctive of St. Augustine is probably the most new to folks, and so we hope to explain what this approach entails and how it is integral to our mission.
What is the University Model?
The “University Model” is a trademarked term, protected and supported by an organization, the National Association of University-Model Schools (NAUMS). St. Augustine is a member school of NAUMS and we have benefited greatly from those schools that have gone before in this fairly new model. The basic principle of University-Model education is that some traditionally core-classroom time is redirected to time in a satellite classroom, usually in the home, and some portion of teaching responsibilities are redirected to a co-teacher, usually the parent of the child. Rather than the traditional thirty-five hours a week of the five-day school, a child comes to class at a University-Model school between twelve and twenty hours a week.
The University Model gets its name from the university setting. In college, most classes are taught three hours per week, requiring an additional three hours of outside-the-class work. In University-Model education, we hope to do exactly that – model the university. This model allows for fewer hours in a classroom and thus more efficient, flexible work that promotes family relationships and individual growth.
Scripture teaches that parents have the responsibility of educating their children, and at St. Augustine School, we seek to honor and uphold that truth. We do believe that parents can wisely delegate portions of those responsibilities, but that is what it is – delegation – not abdication. In this goal of parents holding onto their God-given responsibility, the simple matter of time is important. When parents do not see their children, relationships are difficult, and their role in the education of their children can be eroded. The more hours a parent has face-to-face with his or her child, the more naturally involvement in education will flow out of that relationship.
At St. Augustine, we have chosen the University Model to allow for more time, for parents to be primary influences in the lives of their children. We trust that this will lead to involvement in education, the building up of relationships, and the transmission of truths of the faith. The school provides professional instruction, educational expertise, and a community of learners, while allowing for parents to come in and be a real part of the learning experience for each child.
In addition to the University Model encouraging the strengthening of family relationships, it also assists in the cultivation of a joyful educational experience. Because some of the work is redirected to a satellite classroom, it can often be completed more efficiently. This means, for the young child, fewer hours seated with a pencil in hand and more hours outside, at play, and visiting exciting places. Wonder and delight are gifts from God, but it is difficult to experience much of them behind a desk. We want our students to be outside, to be in the community, to be doing the things that put grins on the faces of the young, and we believe that the University Model is a great aid in this pursuit. For the older child, oftentimes joy is found in pursuing his or her own interests, both academically and experientially. The University Model allows for time for these pursuits. The wonder of the child evolves to become the engagement of the adolescent. When they are young, they look and talk about the anteater or the beautiful painting; when they are older, they read about the anteater, write about the painting, and find part time jobs at the zoo or the art museum. The University Model allows for that joy to grow into pursuit by providing time outside the classroom.
The University Model is not just about providing a more joyful experience, but also a qualitatively excellent education. At St. Augustine we believe that self-motivation and self-discipline are key parts to being excellently educated. This redirection of time and work means that a child is encouraged to learn these skills early and thoroughly. Children begin taking responsibility for their studies at an earlier age, and by the time they leave for actual university, they have had the opportunity to master self-discipline and organization.
Wisdom is not simple knowledge. It begins in the fear of the Lord, and it involves the experiences of life. Rarely is an adolescent described as wise, and it is true that much wisdom comes from simple graying of the hair. However, at St. Augustine, we hope to push back against the norm we see in our current culture: that a young person cannot be taught wisdom. Our young people can cultivate wisdom in their own lives, and we have a responsibility to assist in that. We trust that the additional non-classroom time allowed by the University Model will result in rich family experiences, working part time jobs, and serving in the community, all of which will allow knowledge to be transformed into the wisdom of the Lord and into the maturity of adulthood.
University-Model education is not home schooling, but much of the schooling is done in the home. So, how is this balance achieved? We strive to redirect much of traditional classroom time to the home, and the strategies for achieving this vary by the age of the child.
In the younger grades, parents serve as true co-teachers. The classroom teacher will teach a math lesson, but the parents will also be teaching, explaining, instructing in the satellite classroom at home. Children begin their academic lives at all different places and learn at different speeds and in different ways. For the first few years of formal education, it is important to be aware of and honor these differences, and so as much flexibility as possible in the pacing of curriculum is stressed. The classroom teacher will work through concepts, allowing the reinforcing work to be done at home, where the most individualization is possible.
As the children move into grammar school – third through sixth grades – the parent begins to shift into a role of mentor and tutor. The classroom teacher is teaching content, and the parent is at home, assisting the child in his or her assigned work, fleshing out concepts, encouraging perseverance and focus, and requiring attention to detail. The lesson plans are transferred to the satellite classroom and are explicit and comprehensive.
In middle school, the classroom time at school increases, usually seeing a shift in number-of-days per week of attendance from two to three. This continues to transform the role of the parent. Now, the student is taking more ownership of his or her own work, and the parent is serving as needed.
In high school, the goal is true independence of the student. He reports to his teachers; his teachers communicate to him. Parents are able to develop relationships with their students that don’t primarily revolve around the completion of school work. As the child prepares to leave home, he does not prepare for a massive transition, but rather moves into an academic structure similar to what he has been experiencing.
The University Model of education has been in place for about twenty years in American schools, but the principles behind it are not new. At-home study is a very old concept. The expansion of classroom hours actually developed as a necessity of modern life. We see the University Model as returning to a previous model, simply in a way that is more formalized, and so fits within the current needs of our families and pupils.
At St. Augustine, we trust that the University-Model aspect of our education will be an important part alongside the Christian and Classical emphases in accomplishing our mission.