SPRINGFIELD >> What began as an idea and a phone call two years ago seems to be morphing into a reality.
And as the first students walk through the doors of Martin Saints Classical High School in September, the founders of that reality will scarcely have a moment to exhale.
Sometime in the fall of 2015, the idea for a classical high school surfaced during a weekly coffee gathering wife hosted by the wife of Martin Saints’ headmaster, board member and philosophy teacher Adam Dickerson. She then called him to talk about the idea.
“It’s been amazing as we’ve progressed over these past two years how many people are looking for the same thing,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson, a founding family member and former high school teacher in the private system, said he couldn’t be happier about providing a school for families looking beyond the traditional route.
“There’s nothing like it in this area. The local classical schools only go to eighth grade, so we wanted a high school to follow suit as well,” he said.
Board member and theology teacher Chris Roberts couldn’t agree more.
“Our school motto is ‘The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive,’” Roberts said. “It’s a quote from a second century bishop. The motto means we’re going to teach our kids to be both faithful and smart. It means that Martin Saints’ education will form students to live lives that are deep and adventurous, alert to the presence of God among us. The Martin Saints teachers are passionate about truth, beauty and goodness.”
Roberts, who holds a PhD in theology from the University of London, has been a key visionary.
“In a way, a Martin Saints education is a bit rebellious,” Roberts said. “We’re seeking God, but we’re up against a secular culture, a culture suffering from amnesia about morality and God. To do your job as a Catholic school today, you have to be committed to excellence and truth and push back against mediocrity and mush and half-truths.”
Distinguishing Martin Saints’ curriculum from more traditional high school experiences is all part of the plan. The school’s commitment to classical education includes the Socratic method of questioning as part of its day-to-day pedagogy.
“The classical model is an integration of the subjects, so the teachers pace with each other. All of the subjects are integrated,” Dickerson said.
“We’ll be drawing the knowledge out of the students that they already know, without spoon-feeding them,” Dickerson said. “We want them to fall upon it themselves.”
Belgium native Kris Van Hees, director of classical education, was raised within a European classical system that closely integrates STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects with the humanities. Board members said Van Hees has been doing the lion’s share of the research on the curriculum.
“Our vision is to form the youth in moral excellence so that they’re able to think freely in a faith-based setting. The students will be going to Mass every day,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson found a material home for his idea in Oreland’s Holy Martyrs Church, which once housed a grade school. Total expected enrollment for 2017 will be 10 freshmen, with a long-term goal of roughly 160 students in grades nine to 12, according to school officials.
“We need to build our donor base,” Dickerson said. “Right now, our source of funding will be donors. Tuition will be funding, too, but we’re looking to build a funding base.
“The overhead and the tuition don’t exactly equal out,” he said. “Some of our teachers will be teaching pro-bono this year.”
Affordability may be a draw for families within the community. Board members said they found Martin Saints’ tuition is comparable to other Catholic high schools and costs families less than private schools in the area.
“We’re keeping it low deliberately to allow people to afford the type of education we’re offering,” Dickerson said. “Part of the affordability is making good use of the resources which were present before us.”
Approval from the local community has been a key component as well. Board members presented their plan to the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners in early March.
“I gave them an overview of the logistical concerns of the township,” Dickerson said. “I let them know the ideal size would be 160 in coming years.”
While the present feels good, board members indicated that there is more work to be done.
“As with any organization, fundraising is our next biggest task and will continue to be,” Dickerson said. “The other would be hiring qualified faculty.”
“We’re not going to dumb down or water down the faith. We’re going to take the whole faith, not a politicized halfway version of the faith,” Roberts said. “That means, for example, that we’re going to care about the poor and the immigrant, and also we’re going to be pro-life and pro-chastity. Catholicism is both-and, not either-or.
“There are a lot of challenges to Catholicism in our rapidly secularizing culture,” Roberts said. “We’re not going to be naive about what’s happening, but we’re not going to have a fortress mentality either. We’re going to try and raise kids who are smart and kind, and, most of all, who are on fire for God.”