Curriculum and Educational Philosophy
The Founders of our country believed the purpose of education was to prepare students to become virtuous people and good citizens. In alignment with that vision, Optima Classical Academy at Estero (OCAE) will provide students a content-rich education in the classical tradition and a clear understanding of actions and their consequences. OCAE will nurture academic achievement, personal discipline, ethics, and responsibility. Students will graduate as highly literate, responsible, and ethical citizens who are well-prepared to advance into any life endeavor, to inspire others, and to articulate and uphold our Nation’s founding principles. The leadership of OCAE at all levels will hold themselves to the highest standards of integrity, mission-driven focus, and fiduciary responsibility to parents, students, and taxpayers.
OCAE has been accepted through a competitive application process by the Barney Charter School Initiative (BCSI) of Hillsdale College and will receive support from BCSI in the initial stages of school startup. BCSI assists schools in design and execution of the educational program, providing a complete set of curricular and resource recommendations for Kindergarten through 12th grade (please visit Hillsdale for more information). BCSI searched the marketplace for the best platform and materials for classical education, and has effectively used this curriculum in over 25 other successful charter schools, yielding strong results across a wide variety of student backgrounds. It is based in part on the curriculum and the success of Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins, Colorado, a nationally-recognized leader in charter schools. Dr. Terrence Moore helped to develop the curriculum at Ridgeview Classical School (as school Principal) prior to bringing his experience and curricular insight to the Barney Charter School Initiative. BCSI’s ongoing collaboration with affiliate classical charter schools in Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Michigan, Indiana, Georgia, and Nevada to analyze feedback and share best practices facilitates continuous improvement of the education program.
OCAE’s curriculum is characterized by a strong emphasis on language, content-richness in all subjects, a strong core knowledge base, and a focus upon the historical, literary, and scientific traditions of the United States and of Western civilization at large.
OCAE will develop within its students the intellectual and personal habits and skills upon which responsible, independent, and flourishing lives are built, in the firm belief that such lives are the basis of a free and just society. The Academy strives to offer enrichment and to develop character to nurture the child’s humanity with a constant view to the future adult. The time-honored liberal arts curriculum and pedagogy direct student achievement toward mastery of the fundamentals in basic academic skills, exploration of the arts and sciences, and understanding of the foundational tenets of our Western heritage. The curriculum surveys the best intellectual and cultural traditions of the West as they have been developed and refined throughout many generations.
The classical content of our curriculum refers to those traditional works of literature, history, and philosophy that embody perennial truths of the human soul and which remain compelling because they present these truths in memorable or beautiful ways. These classics are admired not because they are old; rather they are admired because they continue to resonate with people across many eras, cultures, and tongues. The classics provide the most thoughtful reflections on the meaning and potential of human life. They introduce students into a conversation which spans millennia and seeks to address the ageless questions of the human heart and mind.
Optima Classical Academy at Estero will train students to be stewards of the “Western Tradition” and the pillars of a free society. We believe that the diffusion of learning is essential to the perpetuity of this tradition. Therefore, our aim is to provide an expansive education, not geared toward a specific trade, profession, or skill set, but one that aims at understanding the highest matters and the deepest questions of Truth, Justice, Virtue, and Beauty. Where possible, we believe that we must engage those ideas and principles in the original texts, which have intrinsic worth and beauty and are worthy of study and contemplation in and of themselves. We also find a clear expression of this legacy both in the founding documents of our country as an experiment in self-government under law and in the literary and scientific education of the founders themselves. As they sought to avoid the problems of pure democracy as seen in Athens and of a republic that gave way to an empire in Rome and despotism in Europe, we too must engage in those ideas in order to have a citizenry who understands the perils of each. We accomplish this objective through a classical, great books curriculum designed to engage the student in the ideas and principles of our founding.
OCAE’s classical education is language-focused, based on words (written or spoken), an inherently more rigorous mode of learning which requires very different habits of thought than image-based learning. Thus, from our students’ earliest education, their brains are required to – and learn to – work harder and be more actively engaged, in order to translate a symbol (words) into a concept, versus passively absorbing images. Building this mental muscle early on fosters the continuation of ever more rigorous work throughout their education. Further, the three-part pattern of classical education we utilize – first learning facts, then applying logical tools to organize those facts, and finally equipping and training students to develop and express conclusions – follows human cognitive development and provides each student with their best chance at success.
OCAE’s curriculum emphasizes humanities, sciences, and the arts, and was selected specifically to meet the needs of all students. Several unique innovations characterize Optima Classical Academy at Estero:
- All students in grades four and five will be informally introduced to Latin roots which have been demonstrated to improve reading comprehension and vocabulary and bolster performance in all subjects. Formal study of Latin will begin in grade six.
- Upper level students will study with a focus on primary source documents to foster analytical skills and essential insight into their culture and heritage.
- All students will be trained in study skills such as time management, organization, annotation and note taking, which are essential for building stamina for further academic pursuits.
- The program will introduce and seek to instill virtues of character in the lower grades through these pillars of character education: courage, courtesy, honesty, perseverance, self-government, service and responsibility.
While schools should always have the worthy goal of improving student learning outcomes and concrete methods of self-evaluation, OCAE believes the greater goal is to produce students who communicate effectively, are virtuous, possess cultural literacy, and are active and productive members of American society. In order to accomplish this valuable goal, we utilize a carefully selected curriculum and time-honored instructional methods that may not fit the standard definition of “innovative”, but whose results speak volumes. These methods are the cornerstone of classical education and support mastery of the State Standards.
Optima Classical Academy at Estero will emphasize an education in the humanities, the sciences, and the arts in several current and research-based curricula and programs, and incorporate methods and features which will serve students well throughout their lives, during their K-12 years and beyond:
- Explicit and Systematic Phonics Instruction – Through the direct teaching of letter-sound relationships in a specified sequence, the foundation for literacy is established and provides students the ability to decode the printed word. Scientific research supports this method (Source: K.K. Stuebing, A.E. Barth, P.T. Cirino, D.J. Francis, and J.M. Fletcher, “A response to recent re-analyses of the National Reading Panel report: Effects of systematic phonics instruction are practically significant,” Journal Of Educational Psychology, 100(1), 2008: 123-134).
- Explicit English Grammar Instruction – Using tools such as diagramming and the study of root words, students will be equipped to speak and write with a high degree of communicative competence. As students learn to identify parts of speech and seek to develop syntax, they are able to communicate more clearly on all levels. The more they learn about the English language and its structure, their ability to easily and fluently express more complex thoughts grows.
- Ability Groupings – Instructional supports and strategies are most effective through the use of flexible Ability Groupings in the core subjects of Reading, Writing and Math. To best differentiate instruction, providing individualized supports for all learners while maintaining the same expectations of outcome, ability groupings will allow ECA to tailor instructional techniques and class time to meet the needs of all students. Students will be placed into Ability Groupings upon admission using initial assessments that indicate strengths and weaknesses. Students will be moved across groupings as additional assessments suggest. Students are responsible for mastery of the same skills and concepts and are required to take the same assessments regardless of grouping. Using differentiated instructional strategies will enable teachers to optimize the learning of all students.
- Utilization of Primary Source Documents – Materials that were created by those who participated in or witnessed the events of the past, including letters, reports, books, photographs, drawings, recordings, and artifacts reflect first-hand observations and interpretations of events and experiences that actually occurred and introduce students to the individuals who lived them. In high school, for example, teachers of American history will introduce students to historical works that contributed to the formation of American society and culture such as George Washington’s “Farewell Address” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Such primary sources will bring history to life and equip students with essential insight and analytical skills. Especially in the upper grades, history instruction at OCAE will depend upon primary source documents.
- Teaching of Study Skills – Time management, organizing, memory techniques, notetaking, and outlining will be emphasized throughout OCAE and integrated throughout the curriculum to equip students for higher learning. Developing stamina for challenging and complex work is imperative for the promotion of a strong work ethic.
- The Socratic Method – The use of direct, intentional questions to guide students’ understanding of problems and their solutions will be a fundamental part of instruction, particularly in literature and history courses. Most instruction will be “teacher directed,” taking the form of a lecture, story, read-aloud, or teacher-led discussion, practices that model inquiry and analysis for students as a way of preparing them to engage in more open Socratic discussion in high school. Projects, student-led discussion, student-led inquiry, and other popular modes of instruction will have a limited place at ECA, and only within the broader context of the mission, curriculum, and school culture. To achieve our mission, Estero Classical Academy will emphasize an education in the humanities, the sciences, and the arts using several current and research-based curricula/programs in the elementary and middle schools, which include:
- The Core Knowledge Sequence (a specific, grade-by-grade core curriculum of common learning)
- Access Literacy's Literacy Essential Program for the explicit phonics, reading, handwriting and spelling.
- Singapore Math (a conceptual approach to mathematical skill building and problem solving)
In high school, OCAE will follow the BCSI course sequence, comprised of four and a half years of history; four years of literature, math, and science; three years of foreign language; one year of composition, and a semester each of government, economics, and moral philosophy, along with music and art. High school students will receive a content-rich classical liberal arts education that will align with and exceed Florida State Standards. Teachers will be equipped to train upper level students in Socratic Seminars to encourage intelligent, logical, and independent thinking.
OCAE’s curriculum has proven to be successful for all students, including students with unique abilities as well as English Language Learners. It was selected specifically to meet the needs of all students within the enrollment zone, and we expect a population of students with diverse backgrounds and learning abilities. Our curriculum is time-tested and research-based, and has been successfully implemented for students from academically, socially, and economically varied backgrounds.
Classical education upholds a standard of excellence and has proven itself over the course of time, having produced the most admired scholars and statesmen in history. Its high standards and rigorous, research-based curriculum provide students with a traditional education that will challenge and encourage them to excel not only in learning but in character development. At OCAE, high academic achievement, personal discipline, ethics, and responsibility will be consistently reinforced through the study of subjects in the classical tradition. Students will graduate from OCAE highly literate and ethical citizens who are well-prepared to succeed in college and career, to advance into any life endeavor, and to lead and inspire others. While employability is an admirable and essential end of education, we find the full purpose of education to be much broader. Human beings have the capacity to know, to think, to feel, and to act, but none of these are fully formed in children, and each need careful cultivation if children are to grow into informed, discerning, responsible, and virtuous adults. The purpose of OCAE’s classical education is to lead students to excellence in knowledge of the world, moral self-government, and civic virtue.