The following are questions routinely asked by parents who are considering enrolling their student in Monument Academy:
- Half-day kindergarten 16 maximum with para support
- Full-day kindergarten 18 maximum with para support
- All other elementary 24 maximum with para support (our paraprofessionals roam between classes)
- Middle school core classes cannot go over 24 but tend to be smaller due to more cohorts. The elective classes can be much larger or smaller depending on the course (i.e. band, choir, drama, strings, forensics, speech and more)
We do not. We are very familiar with this approach and it is good. It is based on solid true principles for which you cannot go wrong; however, it is not what has been chosen for our school.
Charlotte Mason’s approach is strong in building a love for literature and retell of stories to bring them to life. MA is a great books school. “Using the power of language, the best thinkers and writers of the Western tradition have unveiled their visions of the world and of man by rendering them into this curious invention called a book. A first glance at a book on the shelf or a coffee table would have us consider it a small, harmless, or unimportant thing. And yet behind the great revolutions, the great reforms, the great beliefs and wars and aspirations of our civilization there is almost always a book, goading men and women on to be the best (and sometimes the worst) that they can be, or sometimes just to understand themselves. Because human beings think, because they think through language, because great thinkers have permanent lessons to teach humanity, because humanity—even in its darkest moments—wants to know, books have become the common reservoir for saving, passing on, and replenishing our collective wisdom about the human condition. Young people, despite whatever popular culture tells us about the state of their souls, ardently want to know who they are and what their purposes are in life. Their souls are ripe for the reading of books.
The books MA teaches in its classes might be called “the great books” of the Western tradition, or as Matthew Arnold put it, “the best that has been thought and said.” These are the books that have been etched into the permanent memory of man. Even in a “post-literate age,” as some people are branding the present, we retain a faint glimmer in our minds of a man named Crusoe who spent years alone on an island; of a couple called Adam and Eve who fell from grace in a Garden; of a hero with the strange name Achilles whose presence or absence in battle determined the fates of armies and peoples; of a boy known as “Huck” who floated down the Mississippi and in so doing found his own, and another’s, humanity.
At MA we do not read these books in a rush or in snippets, as some schools do: in one week The Iliad, the next week The Odyssey, then on to The Canterbury Tales. In our way of thinking, such a superficial “covering” of the material does no justice to the books, to the characters and themes within the books, to the human condition those books attempt to illuminate, and consequently to the students’ own capacity for thought. Of course, there is never enough time to read and discuss thoroughly everything we want to; some compromises must occasionally be made; but on the whole our approach in reading the great books is to immerse ourselves fully in the lives of the characters as though they were living beings, as though we were living with them and having to make their choices and take their stands. To this end, the typical means of reading books employed in most schools, whether plot summaries (rising action, climax, falling action) or historicized and biographical reductionism (Poe was a drunk; no wonder his writing was so weird) are not the means we employ. Our overarching question is, “What does it mean to be human?” (Used by permission with adaptations from Dr. Terrence Moore, 2015)
As far as the character or habits training espoused in the Charlotte Mason approach, we philosophically believe that children belong to their parents and the development of their character and their moral training rests in the laps of their parents. BUT as a school, we would be remiss to leave this out of education. To provide education without character is merely educating an intelligent thief. One of our founding tenets is character development, which we place the cornerstone of our positive motivation and discipline system upon.
We use the Character First program. The monthly materials and links we post for parents on-line. We change those each month. Our discipline system is not condemning or condescending but rather reaches to higher levels by asking students what character traits were not displayed. What would have been a better way to handle a situation and what happens when we compromise our character? We are constantly looking for demonstrations of character in action in order to provide tangible examples for students. A good book to read is Character First by Tom Hill.
The most important part of our program is the staff that is trained to model character first and then to make as their goal to reach every student’s heart. If you cannot reach students at the heart level, you will not make a lasting difference in them.
I have heard from other parents that Monument Academy works to meet each child where he/she is. Do you believe there is healthy differentiation in the classrooms?
There are 65 full time teachers. Some do well at this while others do okay. By a healthy differentiation, we take that to mean that no one suffers by another student having his or her individual needs met. There are those teachers who are masters at this. We try to know who those teachers are and then carefully place students. Overall, we believe our school and teachers have come a long way and do a great job at this. Our professional development has been geared toward this and our teachers have embraced it.
We do have a GT program. We will identify students as early as they show any significant indications of giftedness. We have a referral process that is followed. We do not give them more work–that is humorous. Beginning in second grade, we differentiate in math instruction with leveled math for those gifted in Quantitative. From kindergarten on up, we differentiate in reading. We have enrichment provided through Advanced Learning Plans (ALP) for each child who has been identified. It is the GT Coordinator’s responsibility to work with the teacher to coordinate a time for the enrichment. It will often be an area of interest to the gifted student. They will be able to research and do investigative work. They will in turn be rewarded through presenting back to their class their findings. In middle school it is more of a module program with other resources. We have members of the community come in and present special units for our GT kids. They have done woodworking, chemistry, space units, movies, special field trips, and more. The middle school students are part of the ALP process.
We are one of the few charter schools with a pure and honest special needs program. We have three special education teachers, speech pathologist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, counselor, other contracted specialists and eleven para professionals just for special education. All of these individuals work for Monument Academy. We have an excellent team who meet the needs of our exceptional students in an amazing way. Our team is one of the finest in Colorado.
Many charters are now using our contract as a reference to renegotiate their own in order to have a special education program. Most charters do not want this program because it affects their scores. We embrace it and feel a school without a program for all children is no school at all. How do you teach children about character if you are exclusive? How do your teachers really put their teaching to the test if all students are the same? Your school should hold its’ own regardless. It is more work but it isn’t about the adults.
Every student takes music, art, Spanish (middle school only required one year), PE, technology, and library. All of our teachers are experts in their field and most importantly love their students. You can see their scope and sequence on-line. They all align to the curriculum and we strive to make it cross-curricular which is the best way to learn. We are always striving to do things better. We will have a strings program for grades 4-8. We currently have band as well for grades 5-8 and choir for 5-8.
Do classes/students ever interact with other classes/students? (e.g., 4th graders reading with 1st graders, etc.)
Yes they do. We have reading buddy opportunities for them. We limit the interaction between the age groups for safety purposes. The interactions are planned for leadership and relationship (character) purposes.
Our seventh and eighth graders may also apply for a teacher aid class as well. If approved, they could serve in an elementary class or the library as an aid. Also, the NJHS or student council members help with some of the special elementary days.
Does MA value kids learning in order to achieve the same rigorous standards? How about kids learning to think outside the box? How is the joy of learning emphasized or shared at MA?
These are questions that you will have to answer for yourself after observing our amazing staff at work and our students absolutely engaged in the process of learning. Our teachers are pushed to take students to the higher-level of thinking and use the Socratic dialogue and questioning. There is nothing cookie cutter about our school. We actually take a lot of criticism for that from some of our counterparts who are more into direct instruction. We LOVE thinking outside of the box and encourage our students to think outside of the box and come up with their own creative solutions.
You will have to witness the joy of learning for yourself. Talking about it and seeing it are two different things.
How are kids with sensory needs helped? Can simple, non-distracting modifications sometimes be made without an IEP? (e.g., letting a fidgety kid get up every once in a while to walk around, shortening a spelling list, taking a time out to cool down if student is getting anxious, etc.)
Certainly we can help students with sensory needs. Again, we are here to reach every child! One nice thing about having one of the best OT’s in the area working at our school is that we have her expertise in the building. We have a motor lab as well. Many times students are allowed to go through the motor lab just to re-fire their brains for learning. We have many sensory tools available to the teachers. There are special pencil grips, squeeze balls, chew things, seat cushions, and bands for chairs, Velcro for bottom of desk, charts, and more. Students can get up if needed and there are other creative coping skills teachers can offer as well. Students all learn differently.
We do discourage this. Sometimes it is a last resort but we ask the teachers to take them outside anyway. Some teachers have them walk outside to get exercise. There is generally a morning, lunch, and afternoon recess. Middle school students get a snack break in the morning and a break outside after lunch.
How much emphasis is placed on homework? Might kids be able to show that they have mastered a concept without a whole lot of drill and kill?
Homework is dependent upon the grade level but as a general average: 10 minutes per grade number 1st = 10. 2nd = 20. This is not counting reading minutes.
Mastery is different for all children. “Drill and kill” is not the best method for all good for some. It has nothing to do with mastery. Mastery is all about proper assessment and how follow through is handled after the assessment. Our teachers are trained in mastery teaching.
From the top down….. How is that for a short answer?
How is discipline enforced and emphasized? Are strong-willed kids and those who struggle more with self-control helped with learning how to channel their personalities/energy in positive ways? Or is the main focus practicing obedience until they get it right?
Honestly, we have few discipline problems. We do have some and we handle them as they come but in comparison to other schools it is very minimal. Everything we do is centered on character. If we have a repeat offender, we take it seriously. Parents are brought into situations immediately and we expect change.
MA is a classical education school, correct? What does that mean at MA? Are textbooks the norm, or is classical literature pieces (documents, poems, speeches, writings, books) often used in teaching?
We are first a traditional school with a classical emphasis. We closely align to the ideals and philosophy espoused by Dr. Terrence Moore, author of The Story-Killers, 2014.
MA is a traditional education for modern times. What Monument Academy does is counter-intuitive. Rooting ourselves firmly in the learning of the past we prepare ourselves for the future. In a world that constantly chatters about the speed of information, we slow down to read long books carefully, to open our minds to stories that take a good while to tell, to labor over problems that a modern calculator could solve in a microsecond, to love things of permanent and transcendent beauty, and, when necessary, to reinvent the wheel. We make no apologies. We are not antiquaries and do not consider ourselves quaint. We are in the business of forming minds, not programming machines. We are committed to strengthening souls, not gaming a system.
Will your teachers continue to teach (as long as it's in their control) classical literature, despite the Common Core push to use primarily informational text?
It will be in their control with the current leadership in place. Classical literature is desperately important for children to read and understand. There is also a place for informational text in the sciences, history, math, and other. We cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. We must guard our primary sources and make certain we trust the sources from which they are coming.
We will stay true to the traditional approach of teacher-led instruction and not allow Common Core or any other government regimes replace teachers as facilitators. We will stay true to pure classical literature and rich truthful history. We will teach math in a way that is logical as well as the English language.
Their children love learning and their presence is valued.
Our teachers and the exciting opportunities they bring to learn.
They do. Some are outstanding at coordinating these efforts and some are just okay. They all do their best. Parents and teachers must be partners in children’s education for maximum results.
It is good. The teachers have a board representative for each level of the school. There is good trust there so it isn’t a problem.
You may look on the website and view their resolution stating their stand opposed to the CCSS. It was stated in November 2013.
It is. We use the Core Knowledge phonics program. It was introduce to MA three years ago. We used to use Riggs Phonics which is similar to Spaulding. The problem we found with Riggs was that it was a program in isolation; it did not tie to any reading program. We had to find supplemental leveled readers and other supplements for any struggling readers.
Core Knowledge phonics is so much stronger as it is based on the 270 phonemes as the others are as well but, it goes with the Core Knowledge reading program and has leveled some of the classics for kindergarten – second grade as well as integrated so much of the content tied into the phonics. The reading instruction integrates teaching to all modalities which makes reading more enjoyable for all readers. We saw 99% of our kindergarten students reading well above benchmark at the end of the year last year. Their end of the year readers are far more advanced than our old readers ever were. We are very pleased with the Core Knowledge phonics.
Our philosophy is outlined on our website. It is part of our traditional model of education. Prior to the 1940’s that is the only method for teaching penmanship. Progressive education in America brought many negative changes to our system and one of them was manuscript writing. Our brain must learn how to read and write. Speaking is an acquired skill. The skills of reading and writing happen in different lobes of the brain. They were never meant to be combined. Once a child’s fine motor skills are well developed, they will be able to write any way they desire–even print if they want. The developmental mode should be cursive until that skill is fully developed for many reasons stated in the philosophy. There are other articles cited in the philosophy. (As with any philosophy, there are differing views on this. We hold strong to our viewpoint and find great success.) The top-performing schools in our state are cursive-first elementary schools.
What does instruction look like- more lecture, teacher-led, group projects, hands-on activities? A mix of it all?
It is a good mix of it all. When one walks by a class, one should expect to see students engaged. This could take on many forms. If a teacher is lecturing, students can still be engaged.
We use the “effective teaching cycle.” It was originated by Madeline Hunter but has been adjusted and adapted for use by Monument Academy. Our teachers are all trained in how to implement this in the classroom. It works!
A hearty “YES” to your question. We love kids and take advantage of their curious nature and build on it to teach them.
We are looking into every possibility.
Yes. Our current principal has been here six years. Our Executive Director, Dr. Don Griffin has been here for five. As with a coach, you often have to let some players go who don’t work on your team but you hire those who are ready to take the ball and run. Charter schools have an average turnover rate of 25% and this coming year we are looking at 6%. We have had much higher years based on other extenuating circumstances. They better love kids……
Is there anything else that you believe makes Monument Academy stand out from other schools, including other classical charter or private schools?
We have cohesive leadership with singular vision. Our staff is highly competent and dedicated to their craft including all administrators.
Our students set us apart. You just have to see for yourself.