Reflecting on Teaching from a Distance

Reflecting on Teaching from a Distance

Dear Friends,

We’ve had about 8 weeks of distance learning at CNA and are nearing the end of the semester. Classes have settled into a new routine with live online classes, quizzes, and assignments each week.

In Cardinal Newman Academy’s vision of education, being together as a community to learn is very important. Temporarily becoming a remote school puts limitations on how we can build community, but we’ve tried to compensate with online resources. I think both teachers and students have appreciated the ability to “come together” virtually in online classes.

Moving to online platforms has also provided an opportunity to appreciate what is important. One area that’s been highlighted for me is the importance of good communication. In the past weeks, I’ve seen the value of giving students clear, open feedback–whether that means challenging them to meet their potential or acknowledging their exemplary work. Communication from the students is also invaluable. Students elevate the quality of a class when they are willing to ask for clarifications or add their own insights. Our small size and the individualized attention we provide continue to benefit our students and teachers alike.

Miss Lagarde explains the properties of a special right triangle.

While there are silver linings to the current situation, we’re looking forward to being together as a school again! Some aspects of school community simply can’t be replicated online. For example, right before the COVID outbreak, when the weather was beautiful, we had been holding a Kan Jam tournament at the school. It was a great success that brought our community together, with faculty and students competing and cheering each other on. (One of the students even patiently coached me in throwing!) School-wide camaraderie like this both supplements and supports classroom learning.

As we finish up the school year, we hope to be back on campus in the fall. And I hope what we’ve learned during this time will make us better teachers and students.

 

Miss Lagarde
Math and Latin Instructor
Cardinal Newman Academy
Advantages of a Small School

Advantages of a Small School

Dear Friends,

A small school affords many advantages to both teachers and students. Among these is the ability of our teachers to adapt to the particular needs of the students.

For example, next week my English students will put the finishing touches on their papers about Shakespeare’s Macbeth. My initial plan was to read Hamlet next, and I have been looking forward to reading and discussing it with my students all year.
But about a month ago, I decided that we would instead read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis.

Why the change?

I have become very familiar with the students in my English class. I know how they write, how they think, and what interests them in a way not possible in a large school with large classrooms. Most importantly, I have gained an insight into what
questions they have about weighty topics like reality, themselves, God, and mankind. After hearing these questions in various forms all year, through many conversations both inside and outside the classroom, I realized that The Great Divorce would be better for them at this point in their lives than Hamlet. It would better help them find the answers to their questions.

Helping my students discover the truth is my most important job.

On a basic level, a true education concerns itself with answering questions. A liberal arts education focuses on the answers to the big questions man has wrestled with since the dawn of time. Much failure in education today is the result of teachers giving students answers to questions they never asked. Great teaching, in some cases, consists in properly framing the right questions. The students, thus prepared, can find the answers for themselves. And this mode of discovery is one that often makes a lasting impression.

This idea of asking the right questions suggests something more: a true education more closely resembles an afternoon ramble through a flower garden than it does a race along a pre-determined track. Do not misunderstand me: truth exists and is the true object of our intellects. But truth must be lovingly sought with both patience and flexibility. One does not really know the paths one will be led down in the pursuit of the truth.

And so I had to deviate from my plans to teach Hamlet. Cardinal Newman Academy is a school where this can happen. As we continue to grow, may we always enjoy this intimate atmosphere where conversation and flexibility remains a distinguishing characteristic of our school.

 

In Christ

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

Growth and a successful 2019 Christmas Challenge

Growth and a successful 2019 Christmas Challenge

Like the mustard seed of our Our Lord’s parable, Cardinal Newman Academy began small and in humble circumstances. And like that seed, we have grown and changed: we have increased enrollment, changed location, upgraded our facilities and expanded our academic and extra-curricular offerings. Most importantly, during this time something deeper was taking place – our students were growing in wisdom and stature before God and man. (Luke 2:52) With the support of our generous donors, this growth continues.

This year, we again challenged our supporters to continue this growth with a $40,000 Christmas Challenge. Thanks to the inspired generosity of an anonymous donor, we began this year’s Christmas Challenge with a $20,000 matching gift!

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During the course of the campaign, our students helped reflect on the coming of Christ by reciting G.K. Chesterton’s ‘A Christmas Carol.

 Our benefactors make possible the significant academic, spiritual, and personal growth our students enjoy.

Fostering our students’ interest in learning and providing them the skills and habits to learn effectively is at the heart of what we do. Every year, we’re adding new courses, academic resources, and staff that allow us to provide the intellectual and social environment for our students.

Our mission is to form young men and women of faith and wisdom who are committed to Christian service. Every year, our students attend weekly mass, continue their education in the Catholic faith, and pursue a deeper relationship with God and living their faith through service events, retreats, an annual pilgrimage, and frequent reception of the Sacraments.

During high school, our students form friendships that will last a lifetime and develop the interests that shape their future. Every year, we expand our co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities that build our community, cultivate student interests, and broaden perspectives.

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Cardinal Newman Academy is growing into the New Year!

 We are so grateful to our donors for helping us exceed our goal and raise a total of $42,494.66! As we begin 2020 and the second semester of the school year, we remember all of our benefactors and their families in prayer and gratitude for the many blessings they make possible.

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

Introducing our new Shopclass

Introducing our new Shopclass

Susana Cortes, a professional chef and our French teacher,
leads the students in cooking an Italian dish earlier this year.

Friends,

A holistic education gives students experiences that come from the satisfaction of work done well. As St. John Paul II wrote, “work is a good thing for man – a good thing for his humanity – because through work man not only transforms nature . . . but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being.” (Laborem Exercens, 9.) Education, after all, “is of the hand as well as of the head and heart,” as Pulitzer Prize winner Mark van Doren once said. Offering our students fulfillment and opportunity is one of core strengths.

To help achieve this goal, this year we have introduced a new Shopclass course. The course, taken this inaugural year by all of our students, is divided into three portions: Cooking, Woodworking, and Sewing. Taught by a professional chef, handyman, and two local artisans, respectively, the course imparts skills, fosters creativity, and cultivates focus – all of which complement the academic and spiritual formation at the heart of our school.

Bert Drummond, Owner and Operator of Southbound Handyman, shows students how to use a handsaw in their first woodworking course.

This winter, students in woodworking will be building the workbenches upon which they and future students will create projects that are both useful and aesthetically satisfying. Students will use basic tools to work, shape, and join wood together to make something beautiful and functional.

 At Cardinal Newman Academy, we’re serious about forming well rounded young men and women. For that reason, our curriculum imparts a tremendous breadth of knowledge and experience across disciplines. We are grateful to these professionals for teaching our students and enriching our program.

Pax Christi,

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

Looking ahead to the Class of 2024

Looking ahead to the Class of 2024

Students at Cardinal Newman Academy enjoy the unique advantages of a small school.

Friends,

We are now accepting applications for the 2020-2021 school year. Next year, we will add our 12th and final grade and we are accepting applications for grades 9-12. To learn more about our admissions process and view our application materials, click here.

We are committed to academic excellence, the character development of our students, and our Catholic faith. We invite interested families of prospective students in grades 9-12 to visit and learn more about the unique advantages of our young school.

In particular, we welcome visitors and prospective students to the following upcoming events:

  • Student Shadow Day, Friday, November 8th;
  • Coffee with the Head of School, Wednesday, November 13th at 9 am.

To register your child to shadow or schedule a visit, please email [email protected].

We hope to see you soon!

Sincerely,

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

Rescuing True Education by Rediscovering the Whole

Rescuing True Education by Rediscovering the Whole

by Stephen Fitzpatrick

It was 95 degrees outside. 

I had just finished digging a hole for a mailbox in the rocky Virginia clay by the side of a parking lot. As I was bending over the hole, pouring concrete into it, a thought came to me: this isn’t what I was expecting.

When I took the job as Head of School at Cardinal Newman Academy a few months ago, I didn’t know it would involve moving pianos (not a joke) and installing mailboxes. But I also can’t say that I’m too surprised. We are still young, and we just moved locations. The Head of a small independent school has to wear many hats. That just comes with the territory and I am happy to do what it takes in order to offer an excellent education to the young men and women under my charge.

When I was not busy with manual labor, I was also doing some preparation work of an intellectual nature. The patron for our school is Blessed (soon to be Saint) John Henry Cardinal Newman. I have therefore been reading his famous work on education, The Idea of a University. In these series of lectures, Newman makes many sensible claims concerning the nature of a true education. Among these is his statement that one is not truly educated unless one has a sense of the whole.

“That only is true enlargement of mind which is the power of viewing many things at once as one whole, of referencing them severally to their true place in the universal system, of understanding their respective values, and determining their mutual dependence.”

It is not enough to know something, or even much, about this or that topic, or even about many and various topics, if you are unable to relate these disciplines to each other. If at the end of your education, you have accumulated knowledge about a good many things, but these things form an unconnected archipelago, you have not gained an education. If, however, the various islands of your knowledge are interconnected by many bridges, you have what Newman calls a philosophical state of mind, which is the characteristic mark of the educated man.

In this view, Newman echoes ancient philosophers such as Aristotle who held that wisdom lay in the connections: in the ability to see how seemingly disparate things relate to each other.

The wise man has a grasp of the whole and is therefore able to assimilate any new truth into his existent framework.

Without this framework, argues Newman, people are at the mercy of emotional rhetoric and popular feeling. They are not able to work out difficulties on their own. They lack the tools necessary to figure out their place in the world. They do not recognize the truth. And education, after all, is about the truth. The truth is the proper object of the intellect, and all truths are reflections of the one Truth. All knowledge is ultimately about one Subject. This is why the connections are so vital to wisdom.

The big picture for which one should strive, will be akin to the image given to us by Dante at the end of his Divine Comedy.

Dante beholds the Divine center blazing with a brilliant light that he can only see having been granted a power of vision beyond the lot of earth-bound men. Around this center orbit the angels and the saints.

{

I’d seen the general form of Paradise –
my gaze had grasped the pattern of the whole
without yet fixing on a certain place,
And I turned with a fresh fire in the soul
To ask my Lady of those things I see
That hold my intellect in some suspense.

(Paradise, Canto 31, lines 52-57)

In my analogy, the angels and saints represent the correct objects of the particular sciences and disciplines. They can be individually studied, and that to a good purpose, but without the light at the center they lose their meaning and their true significance. Indeed, they would not even be visible at all but for the life-giving light.

The whole cosmology must be at least partially grasped to know what to make of the parts, for the parts form a beautiful and ordered whole. This whole is what the good educator strives to show his students, and this is what Newman considered to be of the utmost importance in the mission of a University.

But I do not run a University, I run a high school.

What does this look like in our high school classrooms?

I had a wonderful example of that speaking with a craftsman who will be teaching a woodworking class to our students. That seems straightforward enough: the students will get the valuable experience of working with the stuff of this world and shaping it into something useful and, hopefully, beautiful. But if one has this vision of the whole, it can go further.

The woodworking teacher told me how he also wanted the students to read for his class. Between classes the students would be assigned passages from, among others, Pope Saint John Paul II and Saint Benedict in which they speak about the sanctity of work and the innate desire in man to be, albeit in a small way, co-creators with God. The teacher wanted the students to see how woodworking fulfills a deep and holy desire in man to take the “good” creation of God and offer it back to Him, re-fashioned and made beautiful through the use of his hands coupled with his unique gift of reason.

Woodworking class is now examining the nature of mankind and how he is supposed to relate to the rest of the physical creation. This is a beautiful and profound plan for integrating a woodworking class into this bigger picture, and doing it in a way accessible to high school students.

They will still make tables and shelves but the whole tone of the class has been elevated. Bridges have been built.

The more a teacher is able to make these connections for his students, the more of a holistic view he gives them. Teachers should consciously try to impart this idea of the bigger picture while teaching whatever part of it they are assigned.

It is good for the students to contemplate the mysterious order in creation in a Geometry class. It is good for them to admire a beautifully-crafted sentence in a history book. It is good for them to rest in the poetic wonder that all of the energy that powers their own bodies ultimately comes from the sun. It is good for them to learn with their bodies as well as their minds. We are both, after all.

A holistic education is one that integrates everything into a beautiful big picture with God at the center, giving meaning to everything else. The rediscovering and communicating of this whole must be a priority for any good school.

I contemplated all of this as I was sweating in the hot weather wondering if my hole was deep enough (and very much hoping that it was).

Anyone who passed me might have taken me for a contractor, instead of the Head of School. What I was doing only made sense with a proper understanding of the big picture; an integrated view of the whole.

My very situation was a small example illustrating the larger principle I had been reading the day before in The Idea of a University. I welcomed the reminder as I plan my own classes for the coming semester.

 

 

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Stephen M. Fitzpatrick

Head of School, Cardinal Newman Academy

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