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Why is Classical Education Important
RCCA is not accredited, but why are you looking at private schools? All public schools are accredited. Renaissance is a member of the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) and working towards accreditation through them. We have chosen not to apply for accreditation through the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) due to our instructional and methodological differences with the organization. See below for one reason we have chosen a classical approach to education:
Classical schools are not doing anything novel to achieve these results. In fact, these results are poor compared to when the classical model was the standard used throughout Western Civilization. Renaissance has chosen to become an ACCS school because we believe in their goal – “to disciple students to love great art, love great books, and appreciate the greatness of our God.”
Parents that ask about accreditation are really asking – “How do I know my child will receive a good education?” Accreditation only assures a level of mediocrity, and in the case of public schools, almost guarantees it. A fact that most people do not realize about accreditation is that the only advantage, and that marginally so, is found at the High School level. But, it is far better to apply as a homeschooler to a college with a 1400 combined score on the SAT than to have an 1000 combined score and a 4.0 GPA from an accredited school. If the goal is to enter a highly competitive secular college (e.g., Harvard – 4.5 acceptance rate, Princeton – 5.4% acceptance rate, etc.), then an accredited high school with heavy extracurricular activities and above a 1500 on the SAT is the best path.
How can you be assured of the quality of Renaissance’s education? I can refer to our national standardized test scores (Stanford Achievement Test). The test results are solid, especially considering that Renaissance loses a third of its population to military moves every year. We do not adjust our curriculum or prep the students for the question they will see on the test. Also, with small class sizes, just one very poor score can drastically impact the class average. Here are the class average grade equivalencies by grade for last year:
Grade Reading Math Language
K 1.3 K.9 Not Tested
1 2.8 2.0 1.8
2 3.2 3.1 3.6
3 5.1 7 4.7
4 5.1 5.8 6.0
5 5.0 5.2 5.2
6 7.2 8.5 7.0
7 8.6 9.1 8.0
8 PHS PHS PHS
9 PHS PHS PHS
10 PHS PHS PHS
11 PHS PHS PHS
12 N/A N/A N/A
*The first number is the grade and second number is the month in school (e.g., 1.3 is first year third month). The test was administered on the 8th month of the school year.
**PHS – Post High School
Ultimately, the best way to know the quality of the education is to visit a school while class is running. Go visit the other schools in the area and then visit us. Come and see the difference that a classical school can make.
How Our Curriculum Works
Our curriculum is unique in that it is not so much set up by grade levels, but by stages. Below, you can click through each stage that you child will go through as they progress here at RCCA. For a detailed look at this year’s curricula and material, you make click here.
Kindergarten for 4-year-olds (K4)
Parents with younger children often seek something more than a daycare by the time their child is 4 years old. Their thinking is, “My child needs to do something more than play all day.” Contemporary wisdom states that a young child should not be required to learn much of anything until the magical age of five. It is definitely true that there are children (and a fair number of parents) that are not ready for the classroom setting at the age of four. If properly taught, reading and writing are not difficult skills for a young child to learn. The real question is, are they mature and disciplined enough to handle the tedium required to learn?
The four-year-old is just entering into what is called the pre-Polly stage of development. The child is still learning the basics of language, which means they are great mimics. These children will repeat anything and everything they hear, sometimes to their parent’s chagrin. They will find pleasure in repeating something even when everyone else is well passed bored. That is why a four-year-old child will have you read The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins for the five hundredth time. Any good K4 classroom will use these natural characteristics in their instruction; giving the child positive and constructive words to repeat.
Our K4 program is designed to teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, and counting. While the learning is designed to be fun, individual playtime is very limited. Repetition and memorization are emphasized along with plenty of songs that teach. We use Saxon Kindergarten phonics and math curriculum as the basis for our instruction. By the end of the school year, over 90 percent of the K4 class will be able to read, write/copy in print, and do single digit addition and subtraction. The fundamentals of the Christian faith are taught through Bible stories and the Westminster Catechism for Small Children.
Class starts at 8am, and all academics are taught in the morning. Students have a morning recess and a snack break at 10am. Lunch break is from 12:00 to 12:30pm. The school does not serve lunch, so students are required to bring their own food. After lunch, there is a story time before laying down for a nap. Naptime is from 12:50 to 2:20pm. At 2:20 the students get up, put away their mats, do a lesson review, and get ready to leave at 3:00 pm.
The class size is limited to 14 students (when the class size exceeds ten, an assistant teacher is added for the instructional period). One word of caution – Our K4 program is not a good choice for parents that intend to transfer their child to a public-school Kindergarten class the following year. Students that complete our K4 program will be ready for the public-school 1st grade, not Kindergarten, but will be unable to advance to 1st grade due to their age.
Phonics Stage (Kindergarten - 2nd Grade)
Most parents believe that the first couple years in school are the most critical. While I might not totally agree, the reasoning is sound. It is during this time that the tools needed for all future learning are fashioned. If the fundamentals of reading, penmanship, and number theory are not properly taught, the student will struggle in his education until these skills are mastered. Renaissance uses the methods used for nearly a millennium to teach children to read and write. It has seldom failed those instructed by it.
Classical Education requires the methods change with changes in a child’s mental development. The first stage is often referred to as the preschool years (ages birth to about three years old). During this stage, the child learns to talk and gain a cognitive understanding of the world around them. Somewhere between three and five, most children enter into what is called the pre-Polly or Phonic stage. Students in this stage are excited about learning, enjoy games and stories, have tremendous memory skills, but also have short attention spans. The Classical method makes use of, and takes into consideration, these characteristics in teaching children.
The phonics class is filled with games, songs, chants, and body movements. Games like “popcorn,” can keep a kindergartener focused on his reading. The catchy Skip Counting Songs teach the times tables long before a child has mastered addition. Catechisms can effortlessly not only teach basic Christian theology, but also science and history. Shurley English chants and jingles enable a student to identify the parts of speech in a sentence as they master their writing skills. Self-control and attention spans are systematically improved through practice and class structure.
By the end of the phonic stage, a child will have a strong foundation to build upon. Students should be fluent readers, though comprehension may lag behind. Literature will progress from simple and often silly stories to informative and entertaining books. All the basics of arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) will be understood, but mastery will not come until the next stage of the Trivium. Penmanship, sentence structure, and the eight parts of speech are being developed through extensive use in a myriad of subjects.
The mental tools fashioned in these early years are still clumsy and slow. They lack the tempering and strengthening that comes with the Grammar school. The student still lack the sharpened edges put on during the Logic stage. Comfortable handles, polishing, and the ornate coverings of a keen mind will not be added until Rhetoric is mastered. Still, what is learned will be used the rest of the child’s life.
The Grammar Stage (from about 3rd through 5th grades)
Plutarch once said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” This is true, as long as, you have kindling – and that is what the Grammar stage is all about. Susan Wise Bauer in her book A Well-Trained Mind pointed out that much of the modern “classroom time and energy has been spent in an effort to give every possible child the opportunity to express what is inside them.” She goes on to state that our culture has become obsessed with creativity and requires students to be creative before they have the knowledge or skill to create. It is the during the Grammar years that we give the child the knowledge and skills that will allow “the child to overflow with creativity” as the learning process proceeds to the next stage.
The classical method emphasizes stages of development rather than the chronological age of a child. Consequently, most students begin the transition to the Grammar stage sometime in second grade and are fully in the Grammar stage by the end of third. Students in this stage love to explain and figure out. While most people enjoy talking, at this stage, children love to talk, just to talk. They love chants and clever repetitious words (e.g. Dr. Seuss, riddles, knock-knock jokes, etc.). They like collections and organizing everything (except their bedrooms and desks). Memorization is still very easy but will begin to require more effort as the child ages into the logic phase.
In the Phonic stage, we teach the basic skills needed to learn (i.e., reading, writing, and the concept of numbers). The Grammar phase is all about memorizing, collecting, organizing, and categorizing information. In English, we require the student to memorize the parts of speech, so that when they have collected the pertinent information and organized it, they can structure a sentence and paragraphs into something that can be understood by others. In math, we require memorization of math facts and formulas so a student can collect the right information, identify a usable algorithm, and then put that information into a useable format to find new information. In science, we talk about major categories of things that God has created. Then, we organize, subcategorize, reorganize, and recategorize to gain a better understand and appreciation of the world around us. Ultimately, the Grammar stage, teaches languages – the language of English, Latin, math, science, history, music, etc. As the student begins to master these languages, we can begin to have meaningful discussions, make appropriate applications, and think meaningfully in each of these disciplines.
By the end of the Grammar stage the student should have all the kindling required to start a good-sized fire. But more importantly, they should know exactly how to find more wood for the fire of the mind. As students enters the Logic stage, they will begin to understand that education is a lifelong endeavor and can be as much fun as it is useful.
The Logic Phase (from about 6th through 8th Grade)
Many parents dread the “middle school” years – and for good reasons. The bright, enthusiastic, obedient grammar child has turned into an argumentative, lethargic, at times disrespectful, and emotional teen. Classical education does not have a cure for this stage but does try to make the best use of it.
The questioning, contradicting, got-to-be right attitude of the Logic stage is God-given to help a child make the shift from the concrete to the abstract, from child to adolescent. Throughout the Grammar stage, the Classical curriculum pushes the child beyond the surface truths to an underlying message. For example, in third grade, a cute story of a pig and a spider (Charlotte’s Web) is really a story about friendship and how real friends behave. In the logic stage, thinking well takes priority, and thinking well often means thinking abstractly. By abstract thought, I mean seeing multiple meanings and applications to a principle or thought. Teaching how to think is the essence of any true education, and it is in this area that modern education often fails. In nearly every area of life, a student should be challenged to question, argue, find errors, and seek truth. Irrational, emotional thinking should be confronted, while reasoned arguments and questions should be explored and applauded.
For the majority of logic students, this is a somewhat painful transformation. Gone are the simple, obvious, one sentence answers. Now, multipart questions and paragraphs become the norm. Math morphs a few simple math properties (e.g., the identity property, associative property, etc.) into something far more complicated called Algebra. English moves from the mastery of grammar into the much more nebulous and difficult art of writing. Even science, which in the grammar phase was so very straight forward, demonstrates a level of complexity that has boggled the mind of modern scientists.
The linchpin for developing a Christian worldview and the cognitive skills needed as an adult is the Omnibus class. Starting in 7th grade and continuing through 12th, students will spend a large part of their school day on the Omnibus curriculum. Omnibus combines history, literature, and theology into one class. It has been described as a great books course, but it is much more than that. Students will cover 15 books each year and be expected to read between 25 to 50 pages nightly. Every book has either great historical, literary, or religious significance for western civilization. The Bible is central to the study of each of these books, and students will read multiple books of the Bible interspersed among the other 15. The class is principally taught using the Socratic method, where the ideas of the greatest human minds (both Christian and secular) are discussed and explored. The student is constantly challenged to evaluate the author’s thoughts and the American culture in the light of the Bible.
I would like to end with a word of caution to parents that send their children through a Classical curriculum. One of the main teaching objectives of Classical education is to teach student how to argue and to argue well. They will learn how people are manipulated through propaganda and emotional arguments and how to persuade thoughtful people using sound logic. In the process, parents should expect to have their own ideas and positions challenged, hopefully tempered with the appropriate degree of respect.
The Old New Way
Frequently Asked Questions
What About Learning Disabilities?
This is a complex, difficult, and very personal problem facing many children these days. Terms like ADHD, dyslexia, and APD, unheard of in my day, have become a part of our everyday language. To be certain, there are a growing number of children struggling to learn in our schools. I am not convinced that all children labeled with a disability actually have a disability.
Upfront, Renaissance is one of the most academically advanced and challenging schools in the area. The school does not officially make any special allowances for a learning disability. However, that does not mean that Renaissance is not the best school for your child. The real question revolves around what exactly the problem is and the parent’s willingness to assist the learning process. The following paragraphs briefly discusses how we handle varies problems and concerns.
My child has ADHD
Let’s face it. Sitting still in a classroom and trying to read while there are fish to catch, puddles to splash in, and aliens to kill goes against the way God made most boys (and some girls). I know; I was one of them. I made horrible grades in school until I learned to control my tongue and thoughts. As Dr. Dobson points out in his article “Boys in School,” this has been a problem since there have been schools. If your child has Attention Deficit Disorder, the typical classroom can only exacerbate an already difficult situation.
Many parents that have a child diagnosed with, or suspect their child has, ADHD, do not want to medicate their child. I can certainly understand this, especially for a child with a slight to moderate disorder. The long-term effect of the drugs must be weighed against the detrimental effects on the child’s learning by not being medicated. For some children, the proper medication is the difference between the ability to make an A and the total frustration of the unavoidable F. For others, the child can avoid the medication but will have to learn to discipline the wandering mind. The classroom setting may seem to be rigged against your child, but by practice and determination, a child can learn to focus on the subject at hand.
So how does Renaissance handle boys or girls wanting to be anywhere but in a classroom seat? What is needed is more structure, not less. The classroom needs rules, sure discipline, and a small class. The last thing a child like this needs is an opportunity to play or have anything to distract his attention. For younger children, much of the instruction is taught in a group setting with as much physical activity as possible. Individual work is done in a quiet classroom (or with soft classical music) while the teacher monitors the daydreamers and minimizes distractions. Finally, teachers of younger students are taught to be tolerant of the fidgety student, as long as he/she does not become a distraction to others.
For the busy parent, the bad news is that school is only part of the solution; the most important piece is parental involvement. Many children can overcome and outgrow their difficulties without medication, but it does require a concerted effort from the parents. This may require several hours a night for many years working with your child before you start seeing any results. The more consistent and dedicated the parent is, the shorter and less painful the process is.
We have had success in teaching the active minds to be scholars without medicating them. However, this only works with supportive parents and obedient children. A child that will not submit to the teacher’s or parental authority cannot be effectively taught until this issue is dealt with. Just one unruly or disobedient child amongst other children will inhibit the learning of others and will not be tolerated in the Academy.
My Child Has Trouble Reading
Many children with this problem do not have a learning disability; they have a teaching disability. Almost every child can learn to read and read well. The problem is the method of instruction.
This country’s educated elite decided about 60 years ago to totally abandon the phonetic methodology for an untried system of reading. This system requires a child to memorize a word by sight, much like the Chinese must learn every symbol of their language. Since that time, our literacy rates have continued to fall. This method is totally unnecessary since the letters in a word have sounds associated with them.
Our written language is based upon the fact that letters or groups of letters make a certain sound. The vast majority of English words can be pronounced and spelled correctly based upon a set of phonetic rules. Foreign words (e.g., spaghetti) and Old English words that have lost their inflections (e.g., does) are troublesome to a reader using phonics. Fortunately, these words comprise a small portion of our language. At Renaissance we teach the phonograms and a few dozen rules, and with only a few exceptions, our children are reading within the first few months. Most Pre-Polly and grammar students are reading at grade level by the end of the school year. The average student at Renaissance is reading above grade level by the end of two years.
There are two other things I would recommend parents do to help their child read. First, read to and with your child. Younger children will truly enjoy the attention given them. Their desire to impress and please you will drive the majority of children to at least try to read. It is the practicing of phonics that will improve the reading.
My second recommendation is almost as important as the first – choose great books. Dr. Suess and Golden Books are fine for a three and four-year-old, but by five, children’s reading should transition to children classics. Old Fairy Tales are timeless in their ability to catch the imagination and subtly teach moral lessons. Books like Winnie the Pooh will have children laughing at the silly situations that Pooh gets himself into and wanting to know how he will be rescued. For older children, classic fiction like The Adventures of Robin Hood or Anne of Green Gables will develop an appreciation for literature, if not a love of reading.
Great literature is great for a reason: it draws a person into the story. Our use of nothing but the very best literature is one of our keys to success. Children raised on simple or trite literature will soon be bored by it and believe that reading is totally unnecessary. Once a child discovers that reading can be fun and captivating, even if they never become an avid reader, they will be willing to read much of what is required.
My Child has Dysgraphia or Dyslexia
At Renaissance we have had a couple of students with these difficulties. As you probably know, there are no real cures, only coping mechanisms to help the child overcome them. My experience with these students is that most are well behaved, though shy. We are willing to work with and assist the student as long as he/she is not detrimental to the rest of the students.
We have had two students with diagnosed Dysgraphia. Their teachers suffered through their handwriting. We have required summer penmanship work and typed reports to insure proper grammar. In both cases the handwriting improved to legible quality over several years. The grades in handwriting, grammar, and spelling were poor because the teacher could not read what was written.
Mild forms of dyslexia are pretty common (roughly 20 percent are dyslexic to some degree). Students struggling with this ailment have to train their minds to handle the mental distortion. The severity of the dyslexia will determine the impact on academic skills and parents should be prepared to accept and applaud lower grades. Renaissance will make certain allowances with students with diagnosed severe dyslexia. These allowances will have to be worked out between parents and teacher based upon the severity of the disorder and the subject at hand. However, requirements will remain the same, and the student may be required to do additional work (or redo work) to keep up with the class.
What about Technology?
Without a doubt, we live in a world totally inundated with technological gadgets. Many of our homes and work machines are managed by computer chips (e.g., car engines, air conditioners, household security systems, etc.) However, there are items that are designed for extensive human interaction. These computers entertain, facilitate communication, and help us work; it is these machines that parents often want children to have early exposure to. The conventional wisdom is that by early exposure to computers, they will have tech savvy kids for the work force of the future. Unfortunately, much of conventional wisdom of today is not that wise. There are two unstated assumptions that I want to challenge.
The first assumption is that these electrical gadgets are relatively harmless. The New York Times recently published an article called “The Dark Consensus about screens and our kids begins to emerge from Silicon Valley” with a sub caption of “The devil is in the cell phone.” It seems that there is a large consensus among the computer senior executives, that they do not want their children around iPads, computers, or cell phones until they are in their late teens. Gates, Jobs, Cook, and nearly every major executive in Silicon Valley either prohibit or greatly limit their children’s “screen time.” There are some executives that disagree, but they are a minority. The people who understand computers the best are not worried about their children’s future success by limiting their children’s technological. What they are concerned about is the very real damage that can happen to a child’s mental and social development. The chances of addiction are high. Girls can get ill, have panic attacks, and go through withdrawal by losing their phone. Boys will not eat, do homework, or even sleep in their attempt to reach the next level of the game. This is not to mention the nude selfies, pornography, or cyberbullying that parents must vigilantly guard against. Research is just now becoming available on how destructive pornography, social media, and gaming are on a child’s social and mental development. The damage done to the child’s psyche by these machines can be as permanently crippling as losing a limb.
The second assumption is that early exposure to technology will help the child use the devices of the future. I also believe this is a fallacious argument. First, computer technology is advancing so fast that major universities are barely keeping pace. Unless you are going to be a computer science major, it is highly unlikely that you will have much need for computer programing skills in the near future. Second, that same technology is making human interface less and less difficult. When I was in college, we used a program called Fortran. The interface with the mainframe computer was done through a set of punch cards (often 12 to 18 inches high) that had to be perfectly punched and correctly sequenced. Any error would invalidate the entire program, and a detailed search had to be done manually to find the error. Today, computers are far more user friendly and will become more so in the future. Therefore, human computer interface will most likely require even less skill tomorrow than is required today. The computer skill that college students need is the ability to effectively research and write on a topic. Those skills can be taught and are taught adjunct to other instruction.
Finally, according to the National Foundation for American Policy, roughly 71 percent of the technological workers in the automation field are Asian males from 3rd world countries. The majority of these wealthy technocrats grew up with limited availability to modern technology, but a lot of exposure to hard work, math, and books. Few children need instruction on how to use our modern gadget,s and if they lack anything, they seem to learn it in minutes.
What our children need is a disciplined mind, logical thought patterns, abstract thinking, a solid understanding of math, and the ability to effectively communicate. Can these skills be taught by computers? I do not believe so. Gaining a disciplined mind will probably never be taught through entertaining games. Since computers cannot think in the abstract, it is unlikely they will ever be great at teaching a person to do so. Writing is far more an art than a science; so again, computers have very limited applicability. There are programs that can effectively teach math skills, but they are poor substitutes for a good teacher and time spent grappling with a thorny problem. These programs are best used in reinforcing principles taught in class.
It is our position at Renaissance that a child is far better served by the healthy social interaction that comes from the old proven methods of teaching children. Will a day come when computers will be superior to a teacher and a classroom? Perhaps, but I think not.
What about discussion of sexual topics in the classroom?
If you have not noticed, we are living in a highly sexualized and confused society. Many people in education will deny differences between sexes one minute, and then insist you address someone by the gender of their choice. To not address sexual issues from a Christian perspective is to leave that education to the world and their perverted viewpoint. The fact that you are reading this article shows that this is an area of concern to you!
There is a huge difference between what I will call human sexuality and “sex education.” The former deals with the nature of man and the later with the act of copulation. The former is unavoidable in the classroom, and the latter is best taught by parents (and scientifically by the biology/anatomy teacher).
Starting in Genesis 2, we read that God made mankind both male and female. Man is a sexual being, regardless of those that try to deny it. Any study of the Bible will bring up difficult questions like – Why were Adam and Eve naked? Why did God destroy Sodom? Why did Jacob have two wives? What is a concubine? What is a foreskin? What is adultery? These are just a few questions that will arise from any good children’s Bible. When these questions are asked by grammar aged children at Renaissance, they will get a vague but truthful answer. If pressed, we will suggest they talk to their parents. However, as the child enters the logic stage: theology, many of the great works of literature, history, art, and science demand a more forthright answer.
The real difficulty is determining when and how to address the thorny sexual issues of our culture. It would seem obvious that the best time to engage a person on any subject is before they have formed an opinion. If you have a preteen, you might be surprised how firm an opinion they may already have on topics like homosexuality, abortion, divorce, and the like. Hopefully they have a Biblical one, but there is a high probability that they will have a very worldly one.
Most Classical schools have chosen the 7th grade as the age to openly discuss human sexuality. It is not this school’s intention to usurp the parent’s authority in this area, so students are always encouraged to discuss any cultural topic that will be talked about in class with their parents the night before class. Parents should know that Renaissance holds to the historic position of the church on every sexual issue.
Sexual discussions are infrequent but do come up as part of the curriculum. A student in the 7th grade will discuss the Biblical and cultural view of marriage, homosexuality, abortion, rape, and divorce. Famous works of art are shown that can depict varying degrees of nudity (e.g.; Michael Angelo’s David, Jacques-Louis David’s Intervention of the Sabine Women, etc.). As the students reach the Rhetoric stage, more adult topics are discussed in class (e.g.; Grecian/Roman views of life and sexuality, ancient/medieval comedy that is very reminiscent of the crude comedy of today, pornography and its effect on cultures of the past, etc.).
The purpose of these discussions is to have the student think critically through these and other cultural issues from a biblical and historic lens. Most, if not all, the perversions of this age will not withstand the light of reason, history, or the Bible.
What about the racial demographics of Renaissance?
The Academy reflects very closely the racial demographics of Fayetteville. In any given year our racial composition is about 40 percent white, 40 percent black, and 20 percent other.
What about transgender and LGBT?
I find it bizarre that this issue must be addressed, but Renaissance takes the traditional Biblical stand. We believe these actions are contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible. We do not believe any discussion on these topics are appropriate for grammar aged children. The school expects all students and teachers to dress in the sex given to them by God.