The map of schools that are in the network of the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education continues to be ever more populated, but we still have large areas in the United States with no schools deeply dedicated to the Catholic tradition. (See here for a commentary on Catholic schools that are not so dedicated to the tradition.) For those parents in isolated places, however, there is an option.
The Oxrose Academy is an online institution that opened in 2011. It was started under the name Rolling Acres School; the name change took place in 2021. Oxrose now runs from preschool to twelfth grade. The curriculum is “classical, liberal arts, great books, and Thomistic,” the website says. All teachers are Catholics “in good standing,” and everyone submits to “the teaching of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church,” though the school remains independent of any ecclesial authority.
Founders Kenneth and Alecia Rolling started the school as a place for philosophically-minded kids to study metaphysics, natural law, and revealed theology. By its second year, Oxrose served 20 students, most of them drawn from the homeschool world. Today, Oxrose has a full curriculum of humanities (“Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas are the tutors”), sciences, theology, and the arts, and it serves 160 students, most of the growth happening in the last three years.
Students come from faraway locales, where no deep Catholic engagement is available at low cost. They attend class through their laptops and take tests and submit work electronically. It's practical and cost-effective. Tuition for elementary students is just over $3,000, for upper-school students $3,400.
Of course, one doesn’t think of classical education as consistent with online habits, but Mr. Rolling tells me that the advantages for certain students outweigh the hazards of the screen. First of all, there’s the availability factor. Students can tune in from the other side of the world, and indeed, several students come from military families.
Second, there's a flexibility benefit. Students don’t have to enroll as full attendees. They can take just one or two classes and pay accordingly. Homeschool parents with a weakness in one or two subjects can turn instruction in them over to Oxrose faculty and keep the home option going strong. Oxrose is able to issue diplomas to full-timers but is happy to support part-timers, too, who remain classified with the state or district as homeschooled.
Third, the portal allows for extensive one-to-one contact. Oxrose insists on it, with cameras always on and teachers face-to-face with students. When in class or one-on-one tutorials, all students must wear a school uniform and remain visible. Additionally, over the summer Oxrose hosts in-person gatherings so that students who have been seeing each other in little Zoom windows all year can meet and mingle. The contact turns them into fellow students, not just screen-sharers.
The goal, says Mr. Rolling, is to use the technology while vigilantly resisting its depersonalizing effects. Add to that intention year-long readings in “The Christian Age” (ninth grade), “Praying the Old Testament” (eighth grade), and “Natural Theology and Law” (eleventh grade), along with four years of Latin. The dangers of the tech frame shrink. In twelfth grade we have an interesting course called “Return to Tradition,” the capstone of the Great Books sequence starting in seventh grade. Very good—let’s not end high school with the modern fetish of progress and innovation.
For parents eager to give their children a rich Catholic formation but who find slim pickings in the vicinity, Oxrose is ready to sign them up.
Mark Bauerlein is a contributing editor at First Things.
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