As Catholic schools across the country close their doors, a pre-K through 8th grade Catholic school in Harlem is quietly thriving — with a focus on content:
“It doesn’t take long, though, for a visitor to discover St. Aloysius’s most powerful asset: the rich content of its classroom instruction. St. Aloysius exemplifies the old-fashioned notion that school is a place where children learn about our civilization’s shared knowledge and values and where teachers remain the undisputed authorities in the classroom, imparting that knowledge and those values through a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum. This traditional approach has stood the test of time and is still proving itself today in many inner-city Catholic schools, in the “no excuses” charter schools operated by the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), in schools that have adopted E. D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, and, to some extent, even in run-of-the-mill Massachusetts public schools that adhere to that state’s back-to-basics curriculum reforms (see “E. D. Hirsch’s Curriculum for Democracy,” Autumn 2009).
“In the third-grade reading class I recently dropped in on, students sat at individual desks facing their teacher, Lauren Carfora, a 25-year-old who holds a master’s degree in education from Boston College. The children receive two intense 45-minute reading lessons each day. In her first lesson, Carfora skillfully focused on the decoding skills and phonetic exercises that should continue through the third grade, according to the best reading research. Her second lesson emphasized close reading of a literary text to build comprehension and content knowledge. She guided the students through the narrative structure of the assigned story, the relationship of the characters, and the author’s use of literary technique, simultaneously expanding the students’ vocabulary and background knowledge. Barely a moment of distraction occurred during those 90 minutes of teacher-centered instruction. The classroom calm allowed Carfora to cover a great amount of substantive material efficiently.”