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Students at a private school in South Bend are consistently earning huge SAT scores

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – From the time students walk through the doors of Trinity School at Greenlawn in South Bend, their education seems to take on a new life. It begins with four years of learning Latin, which many use to their great advantage while taking the SAT’s.

For the last 30 years students at Trinity have scored an average of 200-300 points higher on the SAT than the national average.

Trinity is a private school that accepts students of all creeds, colors and gender. There are no requirements that a student be a Christian, though to be a teacher you must be one. John Lee, the Head of School at Trinity says, there are no indoctrinations occurring, nor are there SAT-Prep courses.

In fact every student takes the same courses his or her fellow classmates take. The curriculum builds upon itself and is designed not to allow holes in knowledge. The curriculum is just one reason Lee says the students have seen the kind of success they have.

Literature is a big part of the curriculum, and students do quite a bit of reading. This naturally helps them on the reading and writing portions of the SAT.

Lee says students are taught to think and not memorize. This allows them to take a question on the SAT they may have never seen before and work their way through it, using Latin to figure out the meaning of words with roots that may be familiar.

Getting students to a place intellectually where they are capable of working through the test in this way takes a special approach, says Lee. The first part of that approach is separating the boys from the girls.

Nearly all of the student’s classes are single-sex classes, with just a few classes, such as Drama and Choir, where boys and girls learn together.

Lee says, this allows the students to be more open during the learning process. He says, it removes the fear and stress that can come with trying to balance hormones and learning. “[Students] aren’t putting on a show in the classroom to impress this boy or that girl; or even in some cases, some students are more reticent to take chances in a classroom if they are trying to impress someone,” said Lee.  

By segregating the students, Lee says, they can focus on learning without distraction while learning to become comfortable with themselves and other members of the same gender. This does not mean the two groups do not learn to integrate at a social level outside the classroom.

During lunch, boys and girls sit together and socialize outside of school, sometimes to the chagrin of adults. In a sense what the school has decided to do is take a stance that classroom time will be used efficiently and with as few distractions as possible to maximize the learning process.

One thing you will not find in abundance at the school is technology. Every junior and senior student is given a laptop to use and taught how to program it for use in solving complex mathematics and physics problems.

There are no flat screen televisions, or multi-media suites, or even Prometheus boards. At Trinity, the administration and faculty look at technology as a tool, not a substitute for teaching or learning.

Instead they lean heavily on their teachers to get the job done in the classroom. In order to do that, they hire teachers who love to learn, and keep learning every day. The private school is not looking for the best teachers; they want the most passionate ones.

Many of their teachers have been there for over a decade, some for the entire 30 year existence of the school. They have not been tempted away by better paying jobs at other private schools or by the higher paid union positions at public schools.

Instead they have made a sacrifice to teach at Trinity, many say because of the curriculum and the mission the school has.

Some people say, private school students get a better education because their families are affluent and take an interest in their child’s education intellectually and financially. But there are many students in public school systems that have parents just as devoted, and the results are similar.

Some people will argue that poor families cannot afford to send their children to private schools, and are forced to use public schools. Some will say those parents don’t have time to take an interest in their student’s education because they are working two jobs to make ends meet.

Those are just a few of the excuses people will make about why the public school system has not been able to achieve the same results Trinity School has. “There is a lot of excuses going around. I don’t buy any of these excuses,” said Roger Parent, school board president of the South Bend School Corporation.

Parent is quick to point out that SBSC has also had several achievements, but acknowledges the district faces several challenges.  “We have a lot of challenges we face, and certainly the fact that many of our students come from a lower socio-economic strata is a little bit of a problem. But that’s an excuse that’s used too often,” said Parent.

Parent is fed-up with the way public schools as a whole are run and how material is taught. “We’re basically running our school systems, top-down, the way we did 100 years ago. We’re basically teaching somewhat the same way in the classroom,” said Parent.

Parent also says, the federal government and states are trying to starve public schools financially. But while he complains about not getting enough funding, Trinity spends less than half of the tuition a child pays on their education. A portion goes towards the teacher’s labor costs, and a large chunk to building maintenance.

Granted, Trinity has a much smaller number of students to educate and far less overhead and employee compensation to deal with. However, the gap between an average SBSC student’s SAT score and a Trinity School student’s score is vast and some question if more money is really the solution.

Some wonder what a change to segregated classrooms would do at public schools; if it would reduce distractions and problems in the classroom and get kids at least a little bit more focused once more on learning.

Finally, an environment conducive to learning and a potentially high SAT score does not come cheap. It costs $9,350 per year for a 9 to 12 grade student to attend Trinity, and the cost for a 7 or 8 grader is slightly less than that.

Lee says, they have many families who receive financial assistance so their children can attend the school. Next year the cost of tuition for all grade levels is expected to drop, and they plan to begin accepting School of Choice vouchers as well. The details are still being decided on how that will work out.

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