Blended virtual learning, longer school days and fidelity to the magisterium: The experiment that could change the future of Catholic education

The Archdiocese of Boston, home to Lexington and Concord, may now be the stage for an education revolution. This fall, the archdiocese is launching Lumen Verum Academy, which will be a blended-learning high school—the first such Catholic school in the nation. This new initiative should yield important lessons for Catholic schools, and for educators more broadly.

Many lessons about the proper role of technology in education and the crucial importance of social interaction among students were learned during the Covid-19 pandemic of the past year and a half. Lumen Verum doubles down on the strengths of both. Academic instruction will largely be delivered virtually, but students are also given a large amount of guided time at multiple campuses across the archdiocese for social interaction. Lumen Verum (Latin for “True Light”) will offer virtual instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Sixteen hours of in-person activities are offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with an additional three hours of evening family activities.

The school explicitly seeks to avoid injecting politics into the classroom, as well as to set a more civil tone than that reflected in the current tribal disputes breaking out periodically within the broader church.

Longer school days that track the 9-to-5 workday and a longer school year help create the space for academic rigor required by the school’s classical curriculum. Students will be given prep time before each small-group, Socratic-style discussion, as well as dedicated homework time. The goal is to eliminate large amounts of take-home work that would interfere with family life.

The school’s faculty is composed of devout, practicing Catholics, as allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision on employment practices in Our Lady of Guadalupe. The teachers will recite the Oath of Fidelity annually before the student body and their families. Lumen Verum pledges complete fidelity to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The school explicitly seeks to avoid injecting politics into the classroom, as well as to set a more civil tone than that reflected in the current tribal disputes breaking out periodically within the broader church. The academy will teach the underlying moral teachings that unify issues like sanctity of life and opposition to assisted suicide with the church’s view on the death penalty, immigration and homelessness.

One of the interesting aspects of the academy is its use of technology to bring distinguished guest lecturers from across the English-speaking world to its virtual classrooms. The school has already lined up a bevy of such speakers, including George Weigel to teach totalitarianism in the 20th century through the life of Saint John Paul II, Charles Camosy of Fordham University to teach moral theology, and Eduard Habsburg, ambassador of Hungary to the Holy See, to reflect on the impact of the Habsburg monarchy on church and European history.

Unlike many high schools that routinely administer admissions exams as a condition of entry, Lumen Verum eschews this approach. Its philosophy: “We take children as God created them.” Lumen Verum also has pledged to accept families regardless of their income and ability to pay the school’s almost $15,000 annual tuition. The school is confident it can attract enough full-pay families and sufficient philanthropy to allow it to fulfill its open-door social commitment.

Lumen Verum is deliberately starting small, with an opening class of 25 students, to leave room to refine its model in its initial year. This fall, Lumen Verum offers instruction in the 6th through 8th grades, and it will add a grade each year thereafter until it is a 6th-through-12th-grade secondary school.

Lumen Verum addresses a fatal conceit of American education: namely, that students in a particular grade are equally adept at all subjects they are taught.

The academy is explicitly seeking to attract students that do not currently attend archdiocesan schools. We are building a student population with four objectives in mind. First, the school is attracting stranded students from families in “Catholic school deserts,” those areas within the geographically large Archdiocese of Boston where the closest Catholic school may be too far away to be a practical option. About 75 percent of the archdiocese’s school buildings are located outside Route 128 (a highway encircling Boston and its nearest suburbs), but 75 percent of Catholics in the archdiocese live outside Route 128, a reflection of suburbanization.

Second, we are reaching out to homeschooling families. Homeschooling children at any age is hard work, but the degree of difficulty rises exponentially in subjects like math and science, which become more complex beginning in 6th and 7th grades. Lumen Verum offers these families a trusted faith environment and access to expert teachers and guest lecturers that homeschooling cannot as easily provide.

Third, Lumen Verum addresses a fatal conceit of American education: namely, that students in a particular grade are equally adept at all subjects they are taught. In reality, a student’s aptitude and interests vary widely by subject. So, when they are forced to take all courses at the same chronological level, they will find themselves not understanding the material in some classes and being bored in other ones where they have the capacity to jump ahead. Allowing each student to be assigned by topic to the appropriate grade level is much easier in a virtual setting than in a brick-and-mortar school. As a result, Lumen Verum can offer a much more customized and personalized education for each child.

Fourth, some students simply cannot focus in large classrooms. Lumen Verum’s target maximum class size of eight to 12 students is more manageable for some students. These students’ parents trust that their children’s ability to remain home and to interact virtually with no more than eight to 12 students will help them thrive by minimizing distractions during class time.

Overall, the three-part ambition of the school is to: partner with parents to ensure that each child retains and deepens their faith, provide an intellectually dazzling academic program, and instill joy in our students. We are excited to put our principles into practice at Lumen Verum Academy. We are inspired by the enthusiasm of our founding students and their families, and we are confident we can meet their high expectations.

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