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Schools & Program Visits - Sept, 2000 Issue #73 

Phoenix, Arizona
Dave Johnson, Admissions

Visit by Lon Woodbury on April 12, 2000

I last visited St. Paulís Academy in 1994. Since then they have moved to new facilities and have grown and matured their program in a number of subtle and not so subtle ways. The most obvious change is their newer and more compact building, with the chapel in the center, reflecting the important role that spirituality plays in the studentís experience there. It is used not only for church services, but also as an auditorium. From the chapel, doors lead to administrative offices, classrooms, and all other parts of the complex except the dorms, which are in separate buildings a short trip away. The complex has a warm, comfortable and relaxed feeling, with tasteful pictures and student artwork adorning the walls.  

Founder Lowell Andrews has worked to make a school that at first glance looks traditional, but has elements that make it unique. One important element is their character development curriculum in which students earn privileges and responsibility through their Knights Templar format. It is named after an organization of knights from the Middle Ages that was responsible for conquering the Holy Lands for Christianity during the crusades. This curriculum is structured to expose students not only to the old concepts of chivalry held by the Knights, but also to their modern manifestations of honor, patience, responsibility, integrity, trust, and leadership, thus teaching that these values are timeless. 

St. Paulís Academy strives to create an environment that is emotionally safe enough so that a student can ask for help. However, this is in no way a therapeutic school where treatment is a goal, rather, counselors are there for support. For example, it is imbedded in the schoolís culture to have older students help younger students. This not only encourages the concepts of friendship, charity, responsibility, and giving in the older students, it also fosters security and safety among the younger students. With an active positive peer culture like this, there is much less chance for a frightened or angry student to fall through the cracks. 

Founder Andrews and his staff assert that it is the attention to character development that makes the school work. This was obvious from the staff meeting I attended, during which a sensitivity to the emotional as well as the academic needs of the students was demonstrated. The sense of collegiality among the faculty was also quite impressive, suggesting it would be a very satisfying place to teach. The Academic curriculum is college prep and each of the students is college bound. Teachers evaluate the studentsí knowledge base, filling in academic gaps when necessary. Class size averages 10, and does not exceed 12 students. Junior and senior classes are taught at an advanced level and students are expected to work to their potential, in an effort to prepare for college. 

The dorms are very neat and clean, and of course comfortable. Beds were made and clothes neatly hung in closets with no piles of clothes in the corner as can sometimes be found in a traditional boarding school. Such orderliness is considered to assist with emotional growth. When a student is confused and chaotic, one tool to help bring order into his internal life is to impose order in his external life, such as is expressed by neatness in the living quarters. The dorms are the same buildings they had when I visited six years ago. At that time the policy was to allow very little student material on the walls, which gave the dorms a bit of a Spartan look. This time, each student had a board on the wall they could use to put up what was important to them, so long as the subject matter was appropriate. Several boards were filled with mementos, pictures, etc. which expressed the personality of the individual student. Others were somewhat bare, suggesting to me that these students had more work to do to feel safe so they could feel more comfortable being there. Overall, the impression was one of dorms that are being lived in. 

St. Paulís would rank fairly low on the Structure Spectrum. That is, they are not appropriate for the resistant, angry boy, especially if he is a run risk. Who they do work with are unmotivated boys who are making poor choices, who are not working at their potential and whose behavior would worsen unless someone intervened. They also utilize a 12-Step program, offering a strong element of help for those with drug and alcohol issues. 

To be enrolled, a student has to agree to be there, seeing that St. Paulís has something to offer them. Though at first many are not happy about attending, they are willing to sacrifice for their long-term goals (college). Many students enroll after completing an intervention program, as it must be their choice, not their parents, in order to be admitted. 

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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