Bishop Christopher Coyne of Diocese of Burlington is setting up a “digital Catholic High School”. Intriguing, no?
Here is a part of an interview he did at Aleteia.
Your diocese — Burlington, Vermont — announced plans to open the first Catholic online high school. Why did you decide to do this?
I came from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which has a huge Catholic school system, which produces such benefits for the diocese. When I got here to Vermont, I encountered a school system a quarter of the size in a state that is half the population … so I started think about how I could foster and support Catholic schools here.
We only have two Catholic high schools … we’re such a rural state — everything is spread out. How do we engage our Catholic families and Catholic students, especially at the high school level? And the idea of a digital Catholic high school came to fruition, not just as an online program, or as a curriculum for homeschooling families, or classes, but we asked: What makes Catholic school unique? It’s the formation. So we decided to have one day a week called a “hub day,” where students would sign up for our school, but then one day a week they’d have to make a trek to one of the hubs in the state where they’d have Mass, formation, peer ministry, counseling, tutoring if need be, but without the hassle of doing that every day.
And when do you plan to launch this?
We hope this fall to have our first freshman class up and running. We’ve got a lot of content from the Jesuit online program and the Archdiocese of Miami, which has its own online high school program, but they don’t have the hub days, or focus engagement with the families on the formation level.
Do you envision this being for people who might otherwise home-school, as well as those who may currently send their kids to a public or Catholic school?
We’re getting a lot of inquiries from home-schoolers — but what they’re more interested in is content. They’re excited about tying into what we’re doing and using a lot of our online classes, but they’re not necessarily inclined to enroll fully into the Academy yet; they want to see how it plays out.
But we’re also getting inquires from across state borders — from Massachusetts and New York, and from Canada. So we hope to set up our hubs in the corners of the state, close to borders so a lot of these families can enroll and be able to have their students attend our Academy. Many schools are failing in Vermont, due to dwindling numbers and resources, and current private schools, whether Christian or secular, are very expensive, so we’re trying to keep our costs very low but offer a quality education and Catholic charism. Currently, we have an online survey and we’re trying to figure out where the people are who would be interested in our Academy, and then we’ll choose our hubs accordingly.
In addition to nearby border states, do you see this as something families in far away states could eventually participate in?
We just got an inquiry from Hawaii. If you think about it, a digital Catholic academy spread across the islands could work well out there.
Another story at the National Catholic Register:
Named after St. Thérèse, it will join other online offerings for students and teachers.
BURLINGTON, Vt. — The Diocese of Burlington, this fall, hopes to become one of the first in the country to open a digital high school, where lectures, class discussions and homework largely take place in an online environment instead of a traditional bricks-and-mortar classroom.
Although online courses have long been available to Catholic home-school students, including some that go back to the 1990s, the idea of an accredited and diocesan-supported online Catholic school is quite new. The National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) said it is aware of the existence of just one other: the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School.
The Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School opened in 2013. It claims to be the only diocesan-supported school of its kind. At least one other archdiocese, Chicago, also launched a digital academy in the same year. But it is intended to offer supplementary courses taken by students already enrolled in a physical school.
A third institution, Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy, also offers supplementary courses to any Jesuit or other Catholic school. It opened in 2008.
Inspired by St. Thérèse
In Vermont, newly appointed Bishop Christopher Coyne said the digital option is a way to offer a Catholic education in sparsely populated areas. It is also expected to be more affordable. Tuition is tentatively pegged at about $5,000, noticeably less than what is charged at the two high schools in the state’s main population centers. Rice Memorial High School near Burlington charges $9,395; at Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland, it is $6,400.
The school will be named the St. Thérèse Digital Academy. Bishop Coyne, who is an active user of social media, said he came up with the name after reflecting on how St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s teaching applies to digital culture.
“I started thinking she could be the patron saint of the digital culture because she showed us how to love God in each and every moment of our life; and being present in the digital culture is really being present in a lot of small moments in a lot of small events,” Bishop Coyne said.