DRAPER — Advanced eighth-grade students at St. John the Baptist Middle School now have an opportunity to get a head start on their high school career. Beginning this year, the school has launched St. John Academy, where students can take freshman honors classes in math, science, language arts and social studies at Juan Diego Catholic High School while continuing the majority of their education at St. John’s.
In the program, these disciplines are called academies. Students can take up to four high school classes, based on what academics they qualify for.
Students who wish to participate must first take a rigorous entrance exam. From there, those who qualify must write an essay, get teacher recommendations and participate in an interview with a screening committee. The program is designed for high-achieving students; 29 qualified for this year’s inaugural session.
“We want them in accelerated courses in seventh and eighth grade,” St. John Middle School Principal Patrick Reeder said. “We want them participating, if they are in the Academy of Science, in the science fair, taking science electives. For the Academy of Arts, they would be taking art classes, band, theater.”
At the end of eighth grade, participants will be honored with a cord indicating they qualified for the various academies.
“We wanted to continue challenging those top-level students,” Reeder said. “One of the reasons we see a huge benefit for this is it allows those students that are in the accelerated classes and high school level courses in eighth grade to take more AP and concurrent classes while they are in high school. … We just see that as a financial benefit to our parents and a way for students to take more challenging curriculum at the middle school and high school.”
The high school and the middle school, as well as the elementary, are on the same campus, the Skaggs Catholic Center. Ideally, a student who wishes to participate in the program would start off in sixth grade at St. John’s, Reeder said, but the academy is open to any eighth-grade student in the Catholic schools who qualifies. The entrance exam will take place in February and placement will be determined from there, Reeder said, adding that he and JDCHS Principal Dr. Galey Colosimo have spent the past two years building the program and aligning the schedules of the two schools.
Shared resources is one benefit of the program to the two schools. With St. John Academy, 16 teachers are shared between the two schools, four of them are from the middle school.
This isn’t the first year St. John’s has shared teachers or facilities with the high school. “We just see this as continuing to blend our middle school with the high school,” Reeder said.
“I see two benefits to this: I think that this program will be very enticing to parents looking for a rigorous curriculum for their students in middle school and also the blending of St. John the Baptist Middle School and Juan Diego High School,” Reeder said. This program mirrors many other Catholic schools nationally that offer a K-12 model, he said.
Among those participating in the inaugural St. John Academy is Kate DiGiandomenico, who is taking Earth Science Honors, Enriched Algebra Honors and Advanced English Honors.
“I’m honored and grateful to be a part of this new program,” she said.
Ashley Cutshall, who is taking honors classes in Advanced English and Ancient Civilization, said the program gives her “the ability to take more AP classes in high school and gaining a window of how high school will be next year.”
Both students said thus far they have found the program to be challenging but not overwhelming. They have made a wider group of friends, they said.
So far, the program has gone “very, very well,” Reeder said.
Parents have been very supportive of the program and have been very willing to help through the initial struggles, or minor bumps in the road, he said.
He also meets with participating students every other week to do what he calls “check ins” to make sure they are doing well in the program and to address any problems.
Although participants will take high school classes, they will remain St. John Middle School students, wearing the school uniform, following the middle school’s rules and participating in its activities.
“I told the students ‘You are first and foremost a middle school student,’” Reeder said.
There is no additional cost to be enrolled in the academy, although participants will be required to have their own Chromebook.