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First ‘chara-curriculum’ starts the year at Subiaco Academy

Character-building program is believed to be first with measurable plan to help students

Published: August 16, 2019   
Aprille Hanson
Father Cassian Elkins, OSB, who teaches at Subiaco Academy, takes folders July 22 from senior Mason Schluterman, 17, (center) and juniors Matthew Kremers (left), 16, and Jackson Frederick, 16. This year, Subiaco students will begin ‘chara-curriculum’ to build defined areas of character throughout their school years.

When students pass through the halls of Subiaco Academy, the school intends to form each in faith, scholarship, character and brotherhood, keeping true to its values statement.

Dr. David Wright, who became headmaster last year, said he could point to tangible evidence that backs up most components of their values, but the building blocks to forming “character” weren’t as well-defined.

For the 2019-2020 school year, the academy is introducing a parallel curriculum or “chara-curriculum” for its roughly 150 male students. For 50-minute bi-weekly sessions, two instructors from Subiaco’s administrative staff will focus on different elements of character building to prepare students beyond academia.

“This is a way for us to put our money where our mouth is, to actually do the educating around these areas, developing of these young men,” Wright said. “Our term is that we grow our students graciously to manhood and I love that, I think it’s such a wonderful tagline. But again, grace, that’s all part of your character so paying attention to character development is really the impetus behind all of this.”

Father Cassian Elkins, OSB, who teaches English, oral communications, music, drama and religion, said the characteristics emphasized in the program “are at the heart of Benedictine spiritualty and the emphasis of Benedictine education. It’s a lifelong journey and we’re trying to prepare these young men for that journey as much as we can now.” 

 Wright said, “This is the first-of-its-kind type of program, where it’s that integrated into everything we’re doing with absolutely laid out learning objectives, with a pre-imposed test to examine the learning that took place or not, where did we fail, and an actual curriculum to follow in each of these areas.”

The curriculum took 10 months to develop, stemming in part from Wright’s doctoral dissertation on integrity-based and socially responsible leadership. At Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, he worked with the director of the Garthwait Leadership Center to create a “first-of-its-kind leadership certificate for undergraduate students.” 

“In college or university it’s almost too late for students also to take advantage of their higher education years; they really should get this kind of experience in education and opportunities earlier in their life. That also quite honestly made me start to think about working with a younger population, younger than college-aged students,” he said of coming to Subiaco after working in higher education for more than 30 years.

Both purchased and in-house created curriculums will be used for the program. Each student will take pre- and post-tests and journal their reflections.

“Students from Arkansas and surrounding states and the world will see this as an exciting place to come to learn, mature, develop and grow. I’ll be honest with you, we hope this attracts a lot of quality students here,” he said, adding other schools may hope to follow in the future. “We hope that we become the model school for how to do this.”

Juniors Matthew Kremers and Jackson Frederick, both 16, said the curriculum will prepare them beyond the classroom.

“I think it’s more needed in life in general because there’s way too many followers,” Kremers said, with Frederick later adding, “Once you go to college, you’re almost all on your own so it’s good to know all that stuff right before life hits you.”

Senior Mason Schluterman, 17, who hopes to pursue a career in wildlife management, said he hopes the entrepreneurial course for seniors will show “how not only to develop your business but also how to keep it running and how you’d go about advertising to people and the best way of getting your name out there.”

The curriculum will eliminate a homeroom and teacher assistance period every two weeks, not taking away time from the structured courses.

Cheryl Goetz, academic dean, will be the lead teacher for the strengths-based education, along with Dr. Marion Dunagan, director of marketing and enrollment management.

“A lot of the emphasis is on cooperative learning, so learning how to work productively with a team” and use everyone’s strengths, Goetz said.

After 17 years at Subiaco and previously working in public schools, Goetz said she often sees high-achieving students worry about their weaknesses and hopes the program will shift their outlook.

“I think it’s very needed because especially in a college prep environment, students get overwhelmed in what they feel they cannot accomplish … It becomes difficult for them to see all the wonderful things they’re good at,” she said. 

Brother Raban Heyer, OSB, a teacher, coach and English Department chair, said the curriculum “provides more stability to the person. When they move into the world, their faith will be challenged and the more touchstones of stability they have, they’ll support each other more.”

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