As the 2011-2012 school year has wound down, many University of Dallas seniors have looked to their new beginnings. Many have been accepted to graduate school. Others have opted to jump straight into the work force. Some are getting married (or celebrating their anniversary), while others are entering the religious life. Each senior is taking a different path in life, but a few will be making the journey together. I am thinking particularly of several students who have decided to move to Arizona and work at the Great Hearts Academies.
I am one of those seniors. Quite honestly, if you had told me four months ago that I would be working in Phoenix, Ariz., I would have considered you insane. What would make UD students move to a hot and barren wasteland to … teach?
Quite a bit actually.
For those of you who know very little about them, the Great Hearts Academies are a non-profit network of 12 public charter schools dedicated to improving education in the Phoenix Metropolitan area. For over 10 years, these schools have been centered upon a core curriculum. This education prepares its students to be independent thinkers and leaders in creating a more philosophical, humane and just society.
Does this sound at all familiar? It certainly sounds like the education I have received in college, but it certainly differed from in my own elementary, middle and high school education.
UD alumnus Paul Sampson (‘11) has been teaching sixth grade at Mesa Preparatory Academy for the past year, and he has loved his experience.
“Great Hearts has a rigorous curriculum and a deep sense of the dignity of our students that is pretty incredible in any school, let alone a public school,” Sampson said. “I have continued to be impressed by how well the students are able to meet our high expectations and by how joyful everyone at school seems to be about what we are learning.”
He added, “I was worried that the intellectual conversations that I enjoyed so much with my friends at UD would end at graduation, but I feel like my colleagues and I talk about great books and human issues at least as much as I did in college. I also feel like my own education has continued at Great Hearts. Teaching is a great way to learn, and I’m looking forward to teaching new classes next year.”
Now several seniors will be joining the Great Hearts Faculty. Joseph Swope accepted a teaching position at Trivium Preparatory Academy, a school that started this past year. Being a part of this school’s “first steps” was one of the major attractions for him.
“The Great Hearts seemed like a good fit because it has so much in common with UD,” Swope said. “Both promote classical, liberal education through reading and discussion of primary texts. I think the Great Hearts Academies are doing a lot of good for the students that attend them, and I want to be a part of their mission of forming ‘great-hearted’ young men and women,” he said.
Indeed, the ultimate goal of the organization is to formulate “great-hearted” young men and women who possess a sense of destiny and purpose that is aimed towards the good, the true and the beautiful. While I found this to be a charming philosophy, I questioned how a public education could motivate to love a classical education.
During my own visit to verdant Phoenix (yes, there was greenery in the desert!), I sat in on a discussion of Pride and Prejudice at Veritas Preparatory Academy; not only were these students enthusiastic about what they were reading, but they were engaging with one another in a captivating dialogue, one that reminded me of my own experiences at UD. As classes ended and students dispersed, I complimented the teacher about her senior class.
“Miss Colvin,” the teacher told me, “they are not seniors. They’re only sophomores.”
Needless to say, I was floored. But I was also delighted to witness that kind of passion for learning.
Senior Lucy Ricci was also impressed with how intelligent these students were. Believing that she would have missed out on something special had she decided to attend graduate school or teach at another institution, Ricci accepted a job as a third- grade teacher at Archway Veritas Classical Academy.
“I think that [Great Hearts] is doing something revolutionary in education,” she said. “During my visit, I was shocked at how intelligent the students were and how diverse the student body was.”
Not only are UD students drawn to Great Hearts, but the Great Hearts Academies seek out UD students to be their educators. And it’s much more than a teaching certificate to them.
Archway Veritas headmaster Erik Twist remarked that the teachers they recruit are not the ordinary, but the extraordinary. “Ultimately,” he said, “if we are going to change the face of public education, we need to hire a different kind of teacher. In building our faculties, we look for adults who are intellectually, aesthetically and morally alive. We want them to be lovers of truth, seekers of the good and defenders of all that is truly beautiful. UD’s best students fit this strict criteria.”
He also believes that “UD students bring a natural love for classical education, coupled with that all-too-rare belief today in objective truth. They play a major role in ensuring our academies stay grounded in the high culture and virtues of the western tradition.”
Senior Sarah Willingham, who has accepted a teaching position at Archway Veritas, finds that Great Hearts will be the perfect transition from UD and into the real world.
She remarked, “For me, this isn’t merely a job or even a career but rather a lifestyle. Though I will be considered a true and independent adult when I leave college, I know that I still have much to learn in life. A position at the Great Hearts will foster my growth as a person as I do the same for my students.”
A deep love of learning makes Great Hearts stand out as a strong option post-graduation, especially for UD graduates who are interested in teaching.
Sampson said, “I have a hard time imagining a better atmosphere for first-year teachers, and it provides an opportunity to use the knowledge you gained at UD to serve others and continue your own growth at the same time.”