A revolution for education: Discover Blessed Carlo Academy, a virtual high school

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Carlo Acutis school
A boy kneels in prayer before an image of Blessed Carlo Acutis during Eucharistic adoration April 7, 2022, at St. Rita of Cascia Church in the South Bronx, N.Y. In the Diocese of Madison, Wis., a virtual Catholic high school named for the teen, Blessed Carlo Acutis Academy, begins its second year of online learning Aug. 21, 2023. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

MADISON, Wis. (OSV News) — On Aug. 21, classes at Blessed Carlo Acutis Academy will begin. While that date is very near, Therese Milbrath, the assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Madison, said it is still not too late for parents to register their high schoolers for the virtual academy.

“We can take registrations up until that time,” said Milbrath.

The online Catholic high school was set up last year by the diocese in partnership with Catholic Virtual, a company that has been working with Catholic schools throughout the United States for more than a decade. The company provides both teachers and training for teachers specifically for online learning, curriculum and resources, and technical support.

“The teachers are all over the United States,” said Milbrath. “They do a lot of professional development within the Catholic faith to make sure that they are including Catholicism within all of their courses.”

This training includes learning effective approaches for virtual instruction.

“Virtual learning is a very different approach,” said Milbrath. “It needs to be far more visual because you have to be reaching students.”

For regions without Catholic schools

Last year, the school had five students. As the school grows, Milbrath said, “our hope is that we will find that there are pockets of students within the diocese. We would love to start what we are calling ‘satellite campuses,’ where students can come together one or two days a week.”

Milbrath said these satellite campuses would allow the students to socialize, attend Mass, go to confession and “start building a community.”

For now, the diocese’s goal is to “offer some assistance to the areas of the diocese where we don’t have a brick-and-mortar (Catholic) high school,” she said.

The school is named for Blessed Carlo Acutis, an English-born Italian teenager beatified in 2020 who loved the Eucharist and helping others, and who made a website cataloging Eucharistic miracles before his death from leukemia in 2006.

Students can be enrolled as full-time students or, if home-schooled, they can enroll in individual classes. Students outside of the diocese are also welcome, Milbrath said.

“We have been doing some work with home-school families,” she said. “They come to us just to take one class. The big ones we see are math, science and foreign language. The school is filling a lot of needs.”

A new classroom environment

Even for full-time students, though, the learning environment is different than a typical classroom environment.

“A full load is six classes. You have live sessions twice a week with your teacher,” said Milbrath. “The rest of the time is spent in what we call asynchronous (learning). You’re working on an assignment. You’re working on tests. There may be videos to watch. It is a rigorous curriculum but it is not your typical school day.”

She said this allows for more flexibility for families to go to appointments that would result in a child missing classroom time and playing catch up.

Supporting students with special needs

The academy is positioned to provide some special needs support, as well.

“If the student is special needs, we request the IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), or if they are at a current Catholic school, it would be a service plan,” said Milbrath. “I meet with the academic team to make sure that we’re able to meet those modifications. For some students, they actually thrive in the online environment.”

In regards to the parental time commitment, Milbrath said that parents are the best ones to judge what their children need.

“Some students need more hand-holding than others, but some students really just fly in this environment,” Milbrath said. “I had a couple of students last year who finished their coursework early.”

Families are expected to provide the student with a computer and internet connection. The tuition for this academic school year is $5,740. Financial assistance is available, Milbrath said.

For home-schooled students looking to take a class or two, the cost is $500 per course per semester.

“I think it checks a box for a lot of different things families are looking for in education,” Milbrath said. “We are authentically Catholic.”

Angela Curio is the editorial assistant for the Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.

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