The University Model School: Expanding Educational Choices
In his first political announcement, Abraham Lincoln addressed education by saying “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” As a primarily self-taught man, having had almost no access to “proper” schools when he was growing up, he knew the importance of a good education as it relates to the freedom and health of a nation.
Here, now, the educational climate is an exciting one. Options abound for students to get the type of education that will best suit them and their families. Traditional school choices are now supplemented by homeschooling, online schools, and dual-enrollment opportunities. There is also a lesser-known option called the university model school, whose roots go back about 24 years, but whose growth is a testament to the desire of parents to customize their kids’ education.
Mississippi only has one University-Model school that is certified by the NAUMS (National Association of University Model Schools), and that school is right here in the metro area – St. Augustine (pronounced Aw-GUS-tin) in Ridgeland. St. Augustine’s headmaster, David Herndon, explained what it means to be a university model school. He says this type of school “is a hybrid, or blended, school model that aims to incorporate the best attributes of homeschooling (close knit families, discipleship of children, efficiency in work, etc.) and traditional schooling (structure, accountability, rigor, specialized expertise, a community of learners, etc.).” In other words, it’s school. It’s just that some of the instruction time happens at home, where kids can dig deeper into subjects they really like, as it is with home education. However, parents are not tasked with deciding on curriculum and have the freedom to simply monitor and encourage their kids.
For what it lacks in familiarity, this method of schooling makes it up with parental satisfaction. This school “movement” began in Texas in the early 1990’s when a group of parents wanted more time to mentor and disciple their children without giving up a rigorous academic life. The first academy was opened in 1993, and through primarily word of mouth, the University-Model school movement has spread from state to state. Kids don’t go to classes 5 days a week, because part of their instruction time is completed at home (much like it works in a university setting). Anywhere from about 10-20 hours a week is spent in the classroom with the remainder of the educational hours completed at home. The parents and teachers work together, so no parent is wholly responsible for all the educational decisions.
University model schools vary in design from school to school. For example, St. Augustine in Ridgeland is a Christian school with a classical education emphasis. Herndon explains it as “an emphasis on the liberal arts as taught through various classical instructional elements, primarily that all subjects are integrated and all truth is unified—ultimately in Christ. Also, a classical education attempts to recapture some of the tools of learning that were employed to educate great thinkers from Aristotle to Newton and even as recently as C.S. Lewis, but have been primarily shelved over the past century.” Grammar, logic, rhetoric, and math from a conceptual approach are typically included in classical education systems. Many university model schools have the freedom to pursue this type of curriculum structure and teaching approach because of the freedom the school has in working directly with the parents of the students.
It is quite wonderful to be living in a time where parentshave so many good options for securing the right education for their kids. The universitymodel school is proving itself to be the perfect fit for a lot of families. While “school choice” may have been demoted to being a political buzzword, the reality of options like the university model school system has improved the educational choices of many deserving kids.
Leah O’Gwynn Kackley is a homeschooling mom of three and wife to one (Jason) who is very grateful to be raising kids with so many educational freedoms and choices. They do their learnin’ in the Reservoir/Fannin area.