If you’re thinking about transitioning to classical Christian education and maybe questioning if it’s too late for your child, you aren’t alone! As the Head of School for Veritas Academy (a brick-and-mortar school in Lancaster, PA) for over 20 years, I’ve had countless conversations with families deciding to make the switch.
There are unique considerations for three different grade levels.
“Is it too late?” K - 4th
The answer is that it’s not too late in almost every case. When children are young, God gives them protection because they are bad at making decisions. This protection is called parents. If you are a parent of a K - 4th-grade student, and you’re convicted that he or she needs to change to a classical Christian setting, you should not consult your child. Instead, you should have a conversation with him or her about what you have decided and what it means for the child. Be honest with them about why you, as parents, have made this decision. Be forthright with your youngest children about the challenges they might face and the joy they will experience in a classical Christian setting.
Two points need to be emphasized with the youngest children. You expect obedience and their best efforts. Along with this call for obedience should be a commitment to be “with them” in this decision. You need to be alongside them, helping and encouraging them because they work, and that will become 2nd nature in the long run. Now, it might feel like drinking out of a fire hose for a 4th grader who enters a new environment where more is being asked of him than has ever been (no matter what you’ve done before, classical education will ask more of your child than any other educational philosophy.)
There are special cases that might require more preparation before the transition to classical Christian education is possible for a younger child.
What the child has been doing previously and the rigor or coherence of their education up to that point might be an issue. Some public schools transfer students from certain districts that are years behind. Typically, we don’t admit students who need to move back to more than one grade because the physical and emotional maturity that they have leads to bitterness on their part or problems relating to their classmates.
The child might struggle with obedience and work ethic. This might take some work, but parents need to be working to help children submit joyfully to their decisions.
There might be a learning issue that forestalls them from ever being part of the classical Christian environment. I hesitate to mention this one because I am convinced that while these situations are real, they are so over-diagnosed that, were I a parent, I would spend a lot of time thinking about the first two of these issues before I considered the third unless the issue is obvious like blindness or Down Syndrome. (Note, I believe some great programs seek to provide a classical Christian education even in these challenging circumstances, but most schools and many home school situations might struggle to accommodate some of these issues.)
“Is it too late?” 5th and 6th graders
There is a change that comes when students reach 5th and 6th grade. First, there is a change in maturity. These students might be more tied into activities and friends. Of course, obedience is expected, but the conversation has to be a little different. You need to make the decision but listen to them more than you would a younger student.
The second difference is that more ground has been covered educationally. This could make the catch-up extremely difficult. So the conversation needs to consider how far the student is behind and the commitment level of the student to get caught up. If the deficit is great and the child is not ready to put in the hard work to get caught up, classical Christian education might not be for this child at this time. Be patient. Take time. Pray. Talk with the child and perhaps start getting the child tutoring in basic skills (math, reading, and Latin) to close the gap and make the move possible.
If the student is committed to catching up, amazing things can happen. In my early years, I had a young lady from a great family who wanted to transfer to Veritas, but when we tested her, she was 5 years behind in Math. 5! We let her family know with a heavy heart that we were not going to be able to accept her. Thankful, this was happening in April, and she wanted to transfer in September. After talking with their daughter, the family called and asked when was the last day when we would be willing to conduct a re-test. She wanted to try to catch up in the summer—catch up all 5 years! We told them a date and also said that we thought it would be unlikely that she could catch up. When the day came, I conducted and graded the test because I expected that I would be delivering devastating news to the family. When I finished grading the test, she did it. She did not get a perfect score, but she was ready to start at a place where we could accept her. Student commitment and desire make a huge difference.
“Is it too late?” 7th through 12th grade
When you move into the logic and rhetoric years, the decision must not be unilateral. If a student wants to receive a classical Christian education, there is never a time when it is too late to start, but with 7th grade and beyond, I often say, “You can take a horse to water, but you might have to shoot the horse right there at the water’s edge.” We interview every parent whose children are applying to Veritas. We do testing with every student, but we only interview students in grades 7 and above. We try to be blunt with them about what our community is like. I remember telling a young lady, “If you like learning and like books, Veritas might be the place for you. We like learning, and we think it is fun. You will have a lot of fun here if you like learning.” She did not come.
This cooperative necessity can lead to a lot of parental distress. The parent might know that this is the best option, and the student might cross their arms and grit their teeth. When this happens, I counsel parents that patience is needed along with talking, counseling for both parties, praying, and compromising.
Parents looking at classical Christian education love their children, but it sometimes takes a lot of work to help children see the love that parents possess when they desire to change their educational life. Honestly, if my mother- a loving person who read the Bible to me when I was little, had attempted to move me from the public high school I attended to a classical Christian school during my junior or senior year, it would have been a disaster. I had worked for years on a few sports and was looking forward to playing. I was counting on my teammates, and they were counting on me. Classical Christian schools existed then (at least one or two), but my parents would not have known of them. God had plans for me to be involved in classical Christian education—but the timing was His rather than mine or my mother’s.
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