The Integral Formation Approach to Education

ATLANTA—Looking for a private Catholic pre-K through 12 school centered on Christ, devoted to the Blessed Mother and faithful to the Pope?

You might just find what you're looking for in a school based on the integral formation educational philosophy developed by the Legionaries of Christ.

There are currently 18 of these schools located across the United States, according to the Web site of National Consultants for Education, the organization that assists the Legionaries of Christ to implement the integral formation educational philosophy.

Integral formation focuses on four areas of the student's development —academic, spiritual, human and apostolic, according to Eduardo Grandio, executive director of National Consultants for Education.

“Integral formation, although it might sound innovative, is something the Church has been using for a long time,” Grandio said.

Integral formation bases education “on the Christian view of man—considering all aspects of the human person, not just academics or sports, for example,” he said.

According to Grandio, academic formation at National Consultants for Education schools aims to help students become intellectual leaders through “a personalized education … a demanding but achievable curriculum and education by objectives,” which means very concrete plans for each grade of students.

For the organization's high schools, “the academic level is very high—true college preparation,” he said.

The spiritual formation at National Consultants for Education schools is “offered personally to each one of the students, helping them to develop an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for their faith,” Grandio said. Where possible, Mass is available daily in the morning before classes begin, and students and families are invited to attend together.

“Usually priests are available to hear confession, and a priest will talk to each individual student once a month [for spiritual direction],” he added.

Human formation, according to Grandio, focuses on “the development of the more human virtues, like honesty, responsibility, self-discipline, honor and leadership.”

Apostolic formation is geared toward teaching the students to “put all that they have at the service of others,” Grandio said. He listed examples such as organizing a collection of food and toys for the needy at Christmas time, participating in local parish service projects, joining local missions or, for older students, traveling to Mexico to participate in missions organized by the Legionaries.

The overall purpose of integral formation, Grandio said, is to “help educate young people to become authentic and committed Catholic leaders in their communities, their homes, their places of work and in the Church.”

Grandio explained that “the schools are at various stages of development, but at full maturity, they will offer pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.”

The current National Consultants for Education schools are co-ed in the sense that “all the schools have boys and girls. But all are striving toward having gender-separated education—that is, when they get to fourth grade having separate classes for boys and girls,” Grandio said.

When asked if the National Consultants for Education schools were well known outside the Legion, Grandio responded, “Maybe not yet, but I think our reputation for excellence will make us a faction in Catholic education in the United States. … There is huge competition in education and schools, and while we have over 50 years experience in other countries, we're basically just getting started in the United States.”

Pinecrest

Out of all the schools implementing the integral formation methodology, Pinecrest Academy in Cummings, Ga., is the largest school with the fastest growth, Grandio said.

Arlene Gannon, a founder and former principal of Pinecrest, said the academy was founded in 1993 by a group of families who were members of Regnum Christi, an ecclesial movement of apostolate founded by Father Marcial Maciel of the Legionaries of Christ. Gannon is currently the director of religious formation at Pinecrest.

Gannon said the Legionaries' integral formation educational philosophy helps the whole community at Pinecrest “to stay focused on Christ as the center of our life.”

That focus on Christ, plus “devotion to the Blessed Mother and fidelity to the Pope, make the strong spiritual tripod the school stands on,” she said.

Pinecrest began with 29 students in pre-school through sixth grade, with many combined classes, Gannon said. She acted as principal and kindergarten teacher.

Founding the school “took lots of grace,” Gannon said, in addition to some upfront money, which she said was not significant.

“We were able to start in a former public school that had closed and the people we rented from were very reasonable, very kind and generous to us,” she said. In addition, “the teachers came on board because they wanted to help found a Catholic school. … That first year we only paid one of the teachers. The second year we were able to start paying everyone a salary.”

By 2002, Pinecrest had grown to more than 720 students on a 68-acre campus, according to Pinecrest's Web site. Pinecrest is currently starting a high school for the 2003-2004 school year. “It looks like we're going to open with about 60 students in ninth grade,” Gannon said. “[After that], we'll add a grade a year.”

Some highlights of Pinecrest's current curriculum, available online, include the music program for sixth-graders, who study composers of Western music from the Middle Ages through the Baroque Era; and the art program for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, who study art in light of Catholic theology and tradition.

In addition to helping found the school, Gannon sent two of her children to Pinecrest. Her 19-year-old son, Michael, attended Pinecrest until eighth grade and later graduated from a local parish high school. After graduating from high school, Michael decided to “give a year back to God” by working with the Legionaries of Christ for a year in Ireland, Gannon said.

Other students who attended Pinecrest through eighth grade eventually went on to such colleges as the Naval Academy, Georgia Tech, Christendom College and the University of Georgia at Athens, she said.

“In the beginning years, you're trying to build a foundation on which future generations of kids will be formed,” Gannon said. “There were definitely stronger areas than others. [For example], we didn't have the greatest sports program because we were too small, but now we have a fabulous program. Overall, because the teachers were so dedicated to the task, it probably exceeded our expectations because people were very committed to doing something great for God.”

Archbishop John Donoghue of Atlanta said the Archdiocese of Atlanta “has a great relationship” with Pinecrest and that he has been “with them all the way” since the school's founding.

“The parents made great sacrifices,” he said, “and the school is doing a great job for the children.”

Katharine Smith Santos writes from Garden City, New York.

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