Imitation as a method of teaching was passed down by the Greeks and was highly respected among scholars and educators. Aristotle viewed imitation as a “part of human nature.” A natural process inherent in all learning, Andrew Kern says, “You become what you behold.” Our Borromeo Academy staff must model what we want our students to become, which are life-long learners, lovers of wisdom and truth and watchers of beauty.
You can define teaching as the art of being imitated because children are natural imitators. This is a humbling reality when you become a parent and when you work with children. As a staff, we are paying attention to this important art of teaching. Borromeo Academy is being intentional. Intentional in our curriculum choices for the classrooms, in the way we teach and in the formation of our teachers. We want to model for our students whom we want them to become. We are spending more time cultivating our faith and intellectual habits in order to inspire the students to imitate what they encounter in the classroom. We are doing this in many ways, but here are a few examples: we have started a staff book club that meets every month to expand our intellectual life and increase our thirst for knowledge. The four books we are reading this year are: The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools Archbishop J. Michael Miller, C.S.B., Tools and Fuels: How Catholic Teachers Can Become Saints, Beat Burnout and Save the World by Jonathon E. Doyle, Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by Tim Gray, and Beauty in the Word by Stratford Caldecott. We pray together and encourage each other in our faith walk. Mass, Adoration, and Lectio Divina have also been a central focus for the staff this year.
As Father Joe Cisetti says, “We need to live lives of intentional faith.” This is not an easy way to live. It makes you counter-cultural in almost every way. Catholic classical education should be an aid and encouragement to this type of intentional living.
Have you ever observed a child imitating your tone of voice, mimicking your gestures or treating others in a manner that resembles your interactions with them? Our children will become like us whether we like it or not. Regardless of the teaching method or approach you use, the only way a child will become truly virtuous is if you, as your child’s primary teacher, embody truth and become a living example. If we want our children to love what is beautiful and good, then we need to show them how to behold Christ, behold truth and beauty, and invite them into your lived life. What are you reading? How do you treat others? Where are you in your faith journey? What movies and TV shows are you consuming? How do you spend your time? Where and whom are you serving? Each of these decisions shows your children what you value most.
Education through imitation is an essential part of God’s design for growing in wisdom. We are created as images of God, therefore, it is when we are imitating the true, good and beautiful that we are becoming what we should be, that we are truly learning. Our faith calls us to be imitators of Jesus. The more we keep our gaze on Him and learn who He is, the stronger our example will be. We need to cultivate moral, physical and intellectual virtues in children. What will that look like for you this coming year? In your home? In the classroom? About what are you being intentional?
“So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrifice offering to God for a fragrant aroma.”
“No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”
Dean of Academics Borromeo Academy
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When I arrived at St. Charles in 2015, I discovered that we were distracted by many things. We lacked pure joy and lost our gaze on Jesus. So today I stand here before you in thanks and deep appreciation because you have given us the opportunity to reboot. Not all schools on the verge of closure are so lucky. Borromeo Academy is one of them. My goal here this morning is to update you on what has occurred this past year. One simple word comes to my mind each time I enter the building. JOY.
Joy is a treasure. Not like a piece of gold or the Hope diamond. It’s a living treasure, one that makes us whole. The thing is… everyone can see our own personal joy. It is contagious and can be spread by treating others with the kindness and gentleness that stems from one’s personal, close, relationship with Jesus. A community, if filled with the kind of focus on Christ, can spread joy. And for a while, we lacked pure, spiritual joy. Teachers were here doing what they do best, but we were distracted. Distracted by the latest educational gimmick that will improve test scores, stem, and low enrollment just to name a few. While we were Catholic, we were not experiencing joy on the deepest level.
A school lacking joyful teachers and staff becomes more focused on what is missing and less grateful. After all, when we lose sight of Christ, we start to doubt, open ourselves up and entertain negative thoughts, our trust in God is undermined. If we keep our gaze steady on Jesus Christ and make Him our Savior, leader, and guide, then we experience unbelievable joy as a result.
And that is exactly what we did. We talk a lot about joy at Borromeo Academy these days. Joy is a funny thing. It can completely engulf us and yet be entirely elusive. On the verge of closing a school, joyfulness eluded us. Through the financial and spiritual support of the many people in our community and beyond Shady Lane, we discovered joy again. You see, Jesus made a way for us to have joy… big, bright, unbridled joy. He wants us to have the very same joy that He has. It all depends on us.
So often in history, we have seen the depth of the troughs of scandal, evil, disease, greed, war, and the list goes on. When things seem at their worst, a renewal is working through the background, growing, gaining strength, and ready to rise. Borromeo Academy experienced that renewal through the adoption of the classical model. A joyful model that affords us a strong Catholic identity. After all, our Catholic identity is the foundation of our school, the reason for our existence. A Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, loving God and neighbor and who will also be citizens of the world to come, thus fulfilling their destiny to become saints.
Once a melancholy culture, the halls of Borromeo Academy are experiencing a reboot, a new start. Our teachers have worked incredibly hard over the past two years to transform our school. We have changed many things. New curriculum materials, teacher training opportunities, and physical changes to the environment. New windows, updated school lobby with a gallery wall, a conference room, and our new second-floor arts center including a chapel and library. The parish, too, has experienced growth with a brand-new parish office building, gathering space and the long-awaited elevator!
Not only has the physical appearance changed, but the academy has grown to nearly two hundred students from a low of 123 in 2016. Just the other day we welcomed a new family to the community, which now puts our 6th grade at capacity! We have a long-range plan is in place for expansion of educational services including a Montessori track in our early childhood program and plans to offer homeschooling families part-time courses. Our teachers are hard at work forming disciples by teaching scholars about respect, morality, and self-control through the classic liberal arts approach. The students have been exposed to new coursework including Latin and are experiencing new ways of learning such as Socratic circles, and embodied learning such as monastery day (Where 4th & 7th graders took a vow of silence). We brought back diagramming sentences, recitations, and learning about historical time periods.
Yes, we have experienced joy again at St. Charles. The joy of learning. In our natural state, it’s fun to learn, but so many times, school deadens our desire to seek knowledge rather than encourage it. In a classical Catholic school, the focus is on enriching the human soul and providing an environment of joyful learning rather than churning out successful test takers. At Borromeo Academy, our classical curriculum encourages deep thought and exploration that sparks delight, even as it challenges. We seek to permeate joy into everything we do and say.
But the work is not finished, we must maintain a growth mentality. Our goal is to continue to increase enrollment and provide a high-quality classical education graduating students that can think well, write well, and speak well. In order to do reach our goals, we must conduct marketing efforts and provide classical and spiritual training for our teachers. These items require extra funding above budgeted items. Hence why we are here today. I humbly ask you today to help us find the joy that God has for us. Joy is something that completes us and, in its fullness, spills out into the lives of others. Won’t you help us spread the joy of classical education?
Principal, Borromeo Academy