Dear Families of St. Raphael School:
During the past four years, St. Raphael School has grown from a small group of families into an established community of Orthodox homeschoolers. The most frequent comment I hear from parents is how much they appreciate the sense of community and even real friendships that students have with their teachers and classmates. The live classes, the shared learning experience, and the common bond of our Faith bring about meaningful connections despite the limitations of the online medium.
The uniquely Orthodox character of our academic program is especially important in the Liberal Arts, Catechism, and the Greek language courses, and we have increasingly focused our attention in those areas. These are topics where key elements of our Tradition—theology, spirituality, history, and culture—play a special role. St. Raphael School will continue to pursue these three strategic areas in our live, online courses. Although we will continue to assess and adjust as needed, the development of the basic structure of these three online programs is complete.
Moving forward, the focus on future developments will be on deepening our sense of community, particularly among the parents, and providing other resources to families (more explanation to follow) in support of a classical Orthodox home education.
Our community has grown over the past few years from around 80 to 135 students, and this increase has raised questions about how we will continue to move forward. What about other subjects, like modern languages, research writing, computer programming, science and mathematics? Will St. Raphael School ever offer a complete curriculum? These are questions I hear regularly from parents.
While it seems fitting for St. Raphael School to offer Liberal Arts or Catechism courses which are firmly rooted in our Faith, it has never seemed to me that there would be a need or a demand for a uniquely Orthodox approach in various other subjects, like Algebra or French, for example. Parents who desire these courses seek, along with academic excellence, a sense of trust in their children’s teachers. Faithful Orthodox parents want to know that teachers of any subject love students, fear the Lord, and share the goal of raising children who will, with God’s help, become wise and virtuous adults.
There are many good online programs, but I have identified one that offers such opportunities and shares our vision for Orthodox education, and that is the Classical Learning Resource Center. CLRC offers a wide range of subjects to a broadly Christian audience, although you will notice that nearly all their teachers (including the entire administrative staff) are Orthodox Christians. In addition, they report that about half of their student body is Orthodox, so St. Raphael students should feel right at home. St. Raphael School families who are looking for a wider range of subjects and electives would do well to consider a CLRC course in addition to their studies with St. Raphael School.
That is why, several months ago, I initiated discussions with John and Anne Van Fossen, owners of the CLRC, about how we could join forces and work towards a unified presence in the world of Orthodox homeschooling. After spending a week together on their beautiful farm in the mountains of northern Idaho, we all agreed that working together would be the best thing for both of our programs. While they have taken an a la carte approach with CLRC, John and Anne have always had a heart for developing an integrated Orthodox classical curriculum (they helped to found a parish school and designed such a curriculum about 15 years ago), and so they want to see our unique program at St. Raphael School flourish. While I do believe that this joining of forces will help both of our programs, here are some of the benefits that we will enjoy as we work together with CLRC:
Establish a unified presence of Orthodox online educators and homeschooling families: we will now have a combined team of over 30 instructors and around 200 Orthodox families.
Streamline administrative and technological resources: CLRC, a larger program, will provide us with web hosting, LMS administration, accounting, legal resources--all of which have become increasingly challenging for our small staff as we grow. I’ve already been blessed by getting to know their staff—Matthew Gallatin and Andrea Wallace—during my recent visit to Idaho.
Upgrade for Canvas LMS: St. Raphael students will now enjoy an enhanced version of Canvas which can include graphics and other features not available on the free-for-teachers version.
Combined experience: I've already benefitted from the wisdom and experience of John and Anne. We are all pioneers in the world of Orthodox online education and agree that sticking together in this journey will benefit everyone involved. We already share a common purpose, helping other families like ourselves take on the challenge of home education, and it only makes sense to share our resources.
While there are likely many questions about the full implications of this new development, there is probably one important question to address now: will this result in significant changes to the mission, structure, teachers, or pricing of St. Raphael School?
No. Rest assured that St. Raphael School will continue as its own program with a distinct mission. We will continue to have our own website, courses, teachers, and unique emphasis on a classically inspired integrated Orthodox curriculum, and I will continue as the program Director. The CLRC is a “mission fit” partner and their supportive staff wants to help us succeed in this phase of growth. They seek to help our program be more of what it already is, and any future changes will only be made considering our unique mission and goals.
With some extra resources and man-power, one of the next major projects I plan to undertake as the Director of St. Raphael School is the development of more resources and ways for our community to connect. Over the course of the next year I plan to work on…
- a web-based parent forum on Orthodox home education
- on-demand videos for parents and students on teaching and curriculum topics
- a blog on the philosophy and theology of Orthodox education
- live events for St. Raphael School parents
- parent-teacher advising and consultations
Finally, John and Anne and I are discussing a new not-for-profit initiative for the development and distribution of Orthodox homeschooling resources which would include consulting services for classical Orthodox co-ops.
Thank you for your prayers as we continue this journey, newly strengthened by the partnership of the Classical Learning Resource Center.
As always, I am happy to talk with you over the phone and answer whatever questions you may have or listen as you share your ideas that come to mind. There is much work to be done, so if you find yourself inspired by any of these projects, please consider volunteering to help!
Yours in Christ,