In seeking truth, beauty, and goodness, students grow a love of learning and discover God’s purpose
FORT WORTH — Nolan Catholic High School senior Brett Tipler can trace the threads of truth, beauty, and goodness throughout his time in primary and secondary Catholic schools.
“From our earliest days, we’re learning to become more responsible citizens and understand our role,” Brett said. “My relationships have become more fruitful, and I understand my role in the world.”
He said that his Catholic education emphasizes “exploring the world around us,” and helps him realize his vocation comes from God, and he has an important mission to “witness to the needs of my community.”
For Saint Maria Goretti third graders Caroline Peterson and Damian Smeragliuolo, the aim is to identify God’s handprints in their everyday lives. Their teacher, Clairessa Cruz, asks them often to think about where they see God at work, inside and outside the classroom.
Whether it’s a science experiment, a math lesson, a story about Jesus, or a class project to study the saints, “scholars” in Cruz’s class are encouraged to learn helpful habits and develop their thinking skills.
“One of the things we do with all our lessons is that I tell them what habit we’re working on and why God wants us to learn it,” Cruz said.
Damian said that he is learning a lot by studying the saints, like following the example of Saint Francis of Assisi by “treating every living thing with kindness.”
Caroline also is learning important lessons from the saints. A recent story about Saint John Neumann reminded her to “trust in God even though others, at times, might not be nice to me.”
Finding God’s purpose
The movement toward classical education concepts of truth, beauty, and goodness with the methods of logic, rhetoric, and grammar in Fort Worth diocesan schools began in earnest a little more than four years ago. In an August 2017 address to teachers and administrators at Nolan, Bishop Michael F. Olson highlighted the need to impart the “transcendental goods of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness” so students better understand why and what God wants them to learn and to develop their characters for eternity.
Saint Maria Goretti Principal Amy Utendorf echoed that idea, saying “we’re here to get them to heaven.”
Helping students think critically rather than feeding them answers is well worth the effort.
“The challenge to do something hard helps them find God’s purpose for their lives,” Utendorf said.
When they focus on transcendent concepts in lessons, they develop curiosity and an outward focus.
Utendorf said, “In a time of social media and a lot of influences trying to get their attention, they can take a break, step back, and ask ‘What is the truth, beauty, and goodness in this situation, and what can I do?’”
Cruz said they use the Socratic method often in her classroom. She offers a starting question, and her students – she calls them scholars – take over from there, offering their own thoughts and coming up with new questions.
“In the Socratic seminars, they’re learning proper communication skills like listening carefully and looking people in the eye,” Cruz said.
She also helped students come up with their own class motto, “the believers of love.”
Caroline said it’s something they talk about often and are urged to pursue inside and outside of school.
“Ms. Cruz asks us sometimes, ‘Are you being believers of love or are you not being believers of love?’ It really makes us think,” Caroline said.
Igniting a love of learning and a heart for service
Nolan Principal Leah Rios said that feedback from colleges helped them make the shift some years ago. Students could be prompt, courteous, and often accurate, but sometimes had trouble thinking critically and solving problems.
“You can’t get those things out of a textbook,” Rios said. “It’s not a textbook that creates a love of learning or ignites that love.”
Truth, beauty, and goodness are rooted in everything they do at Nolan, so students learn to grow and develop strong character, she said.
Outdoor learning specialist Emily Breclaw works with teachers at Nolan to incorporate nature in their lessons by taking students outside.
“It helps them develop a sense of wonder,” Breclaw said, something you can’t get from using Google to find an answer. “Every time you walk out into creation is a love letter from God who is trying to get your attention.”
As students learn how the transcendent concepts of truth, beauty, and goodness are reflected in everything from math and music to sports and science, they see God’s hand in all of it to find “the reason why you’re studying,” Breclaw said.
Rios said that they want students to develop an understanding that “our hands are the tools of God, and they have to be used for good, whether they’re creating a robot, raising an animal, or building a set.”
They also encourage them to develop a practice of serving others inside and outside the school. Rios said that students have developed their own service programs, like autism awareness week and helping a school that experienced a tragedy.
“Our goal is that they know, love, and serve God, and they choose a workplace where they can best serve God,” she said.
Brett said that Nolan emphasizes the role of the family and cultivates a community mindset.
“We interact with other students to discover truth, beauty, and goodness and live that out,” he said. “I thank God every day for that opportunity.”