School officials happy with enrollment, seek to expand extracurriculars and reach out to more families
CLINTON TOWNSHIP ─ When Alejandra Correa-Miller and her husband, David Miller, were praying and discerning what education options they wanted for their children, God pointed them to the Chesterton Schools Network.
The couple reached out to other prospective families who they thought might be interested in the classical-style education Chesterton provides. They found an interest was there.
Then in September 2020, the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Guadalupe opened in Clinton Township at the site of the former St. Luke Lutheran School, providing a Grade 9-12 classical-style education.
It may seem like 2020 was an unlikely year for any startup to begin, particularly a school during a time when many established schools were opting for remote learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
But aside from the virus hindering recruiting efforts, the first year and a half of Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been a success, Correa-Miller told Detroit Catholic.
“I think we’ve had wonderful progress in the sense we opened in a very difficult time,” said Correa-Miller, who now serves as an advisor to the school. “We now have 27 students, with a nice-sized ninth-grade class. The students are getting acclimated. We have more sports; we have [men and women] religious who come in and mentor the kids. We are on the right track to being an authentic school in the Catholic tradition.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the first Chesterton Academy in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The Chesterton Schools Network has 34 schools operating in the United States and Canada, with several additional schools slated to open in 2022, according to its website.
Chesterton Schools operate with a classical-style curriculum, emphasizing the “great books” of Western civilization and the traditional model of education based on reading, writing and arithmetic.
Classes sizes are small, and each school day begins with Mass at San Francesco Parish in Clinton Township. Our Lady of Guadalupe is an independent school where teachers promise to uphold the magisterium of the Catholic Church. It operates in good standing with the Archdiocese of Detroit but is not owned or operated by the archdiocese.
“We definitely attract a certain type of family who are familiar with what classical education is all about,” Correa-Miller said. “We do have the occasional family that comes from a regular private Catholic school or a public school that might need more information as to what classical education is all about.”
St. John Paul II Catholic School in Lincoln Park switched to a classical style in Fall 2019, becoming the first K-8 school in the Archdiocese of Detroit to offer classical education. St. John Paul II Classical School continues to operate as an archdiocesan school, connected to neighboring Christ the Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
The curriculum at Our Lady of Guadalupe emphasizes great thinking, like from St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, and the study of Latin and Shakespeare. It also engrains Catholicism throughout the day, beginning with daily Mass.
“Starting with Mass is what really sold my husband I to Chesterton, the school itself and the desire to open it,” Correa-Miller said. “There is no better way to start your day if you are a Catholic than to start with Eucharist and prayer. It sets the tone for the rest of the day in that the first teacher and most important teacher is Jesus Christ.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe recently hosted a gala for donors and supporters of the school, with 429 people attending, showing a desire for classical Catholic education in southeast Michigan, said Jordan Mitchell, who became headmaster of Our Lady of Guadalupe in August 2021.
“I know that our first year was tough with COVID going on, and we couldn’t get into other schools to get the word out, but we still had over 400 people at our gala,” Mitchell said. “We are getting noticed by the general community now; they know we exist.”
Chesterton schools are designed to have a maximum of 40 students in each grade, so with 34 students currently, there is plenty of room for Our Lady of Guadalupe to grow at the former St. Luke Lutheran school site.
Most of the school's current population came from homeschooling or other Catholic schools, but a couple families came from public schools, according to Mitchell.
“There are a lot of families who don’t know they are looking for classical education yet,” Mitchell said. “I know that sounds a little arrogant. But when you look at the last 50 years of education and history, this was the way everyone was educated. Even in public schools, they were taught this way."
The classical style of education, rooted in the magisterium of the Catholic Church, is what drew Hannah DeRocher to teaching at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
DeRocher is been the humanities teacher at the school, teaching History, Literature, Latin and Drama, and is one of three full-time teachers on the staff of 12. Before teaching at Our Lady of Guadalupe, DeRocher taught at another classical school in Minnesota for four years and briefly worked at Fr. Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor.
“I love the small classroom at Chesterton and getting to know the students and working with them one on one with their writing, their thinking,” DeRocher said. “Our main model in classical education is the Socratic method, where the students fully participate. We are reading great texts like Dante in literature or Karl Marx in history and are being taught by those authors and thinking critically, as opposed to being lectured by a humble teacher like me.”
The Socratic method is a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.
DeRocher said the method comes in handy when teaching across multiple disciplines, for example linking the lessons from Dante’s “Inferno” with St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologica” or Homer’s “Odyssey.” This creates lessons that cross disciplines, all of which are rooted in the Christian pursuit of truth.
DeRocher was one of 10 teachers recognized as “Amazing Catholic Educators” by the Catholic Foundation of Michigan in March 2022, a testament to the work she and the entire staff at Our Lady of Guadalupe have put into launching the school, Correa-Miller said.
“It’s a huge honor for the school and for Hannah, who is just a wonderful teacher and a blessing to us not only because she is a wonderful teacher,” Correa-Miller said. “She brings her many gifts and talents and amazing intellect. To have a teacher in our school in only our second year of begin open have this honor is a huge feat for us.”
DeRocher said it is liberating to teach in an environment focused on the whole person, recognizing that each student is first and foremost a child of God.
"What makes Chesterton stand out, aside from the classical curriculum, is it is intentionally shaping the whole person,” she said. “The school is a culture, not just an institution, not just a separate organization from the family or the church. Here were are bringing families together to help build stages for drama, we have Mass every day, we’re teaching the bigger picture."
Now a year and a half into its establishment, the Chesterton Academy of Our Lady of Guadalupe is looking to expand enrollment and the number of sports and extra-curricular activities it provides.
The school's annual tuition is $6,700 is competitive for private education in southeast Michigan. There are scholarships and financial aid for families in need, particularly for those with multiple students in the school.
The school intended to start with Grades 9-11 last year, but Our Lady of Guadalupe did graduate a senior who wanted to be part of the Chesterton community last year.
That graduate is the first of many who Mitchell hopes will go out into the world as a well-rounded, well-formed person modeled under the Chesterton Schools’ motto: Cultura Vitae, or “Culture of Life.”
“The definition of a successful Chesterton graduate is one that will answer wherever God calls them to in life, whether it’s a religious vocation, marriage or whatever job they are called to have," Mitchell said. "Our students are ready to say yes to whatever God asks them.”