While some of our neighboring public schools continue to add four-year, specialized tracks geared towards particular jobs, we believe St. James Academy is called to provide a different option: a well-rounded education rooted in objective truth and the liberal arts tradition with ample opportunities for upper-classmen to experience college- and career-oriented electives and activities.

By Shane Rapp, Ed.D., Principal

In a world of increasing pressure to specialize and compete, St. James Academy administration believes that exposing students to practical experiences in a variety of fields before they graduate within the context of community and prayer can help them find God’s call amidst all the other voices surrounding them. We also know that to fulfill that call in a changing world, they will need a foundation in thought and virtue that a well-rounded, Catholic education is so well-suited to provide.

While some of our neighboring public schools continue to add four-year, specialized tracks geared towards particular jobs, we believe St. James Academy is called to provide a different option: a well-rounded education rooted in objective truth and the liberal arts tradition with ample opportunities for upper-classmen to experience college- and career-oriented electives and activities.

Career Explorations classes in Health Care, Engineering, Law and Public Service, Education, and Journalism and Mass Media are offered at SJA. These courses offer tastes of what a career in those fields might be like through some combination of job shadowing, guest speakers, field trips, and hands-on learning experiences.

The success of these classes has been encouraging. Take, for instance, senior Ben Lobb, who by the time he graduates this May will have taken our College Explorations class (which provides ACT prep, college search assistance, and guidance on elements such as college essay writing and scholarship applications) as well as THREE different Career Explorations classes (Engineering, Health Care, and Law).

When I asked Ben why he was taking these classes, he said, “I wanted to see what these careers are really like because it helps me see what I want to do with my life.” He continued, “So far I’m really liking Health Care and have started looking at KU to begin working towards the medical field.

We want to further help students like Ben discern what careers they may be called to work in someday. And he’s not the only one of our kids testing multiple fields before making his college choice: in just the second year of these Career Explorations classes, 26 students have taken two or more of those courses, and 88 current students have taken our College Explorations class and at least one Career Exploration course.

While we don’t think it wise for most 14-year-olds to try to choose their future career path, we do want to provide opportunities for students to gain some experience in at least one, if not more, career paths before graduating to help determine where God might be calling them. Combined with conversations with parents as well as teacher mentors, personal and communal prayer, and all of the other courses and experiences they have as part of their high school years, we believe that by graduation, students can have a clear vision of God’s plan for their lives and be prepared for their next steps towards making that plan a reality.

In addition to our Career Explorations classes, we also have a robust Advanced Placement (AP) program. AP classes provide college-level instruction and learning with an opportunity to earn college credit by scoring at certain levels on the exam at the end of the course.

Last spring, 268 different SJA students sat for 567 AP exams with a pass rate of 66%! These are astounding numbers, especially considering we are one of the few schools in the area that requires all students in an AP class to sit for the exam (most allow students who don’t think they’ll pass to opt-out of the test).

Of the 14 AP courses we offer, three are in science (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), two are in technology (Computer Science Principles and Computer Science A) and four are in math (Calc AB, Calc AB-BC, Calc BC, and Statistics). We were the first school in the state of Kansas to offer AP Computer Science Principles, and last year, our third year of testing, we still comprised over 10% of the test-takers in Kansas.

We have a delicate balance we need to strike. Education is not just about college and career. It is ultimately about who the child is becoming, how they are growing in their identity as a son or daughter of our loving God, heirs to his Kingdom. If all we are doing is getting kids to college and ready for a career, then is our alumna who is a cloistered nun a failure because she didn’t go to college and doesn’t have a “career”?

Of course not! She is one of our greatest success stories because success in the eyes of the world is different than success in the eyes of God. Success means doing God’s will. That’s it. And she, along with many other alums, is living into this will in radical ways that appear as foolishness by the standard of the world’s wisdom.

Having said that, the reality is that most of our students are called to be in the world, working and living in a variety of places and fields alongside people of all personal, professional, and faith backgrounds. Our goal is to help them know they are not of the world, to be light and salt in all those places, to have the tools and skills necessary to “bloom where they are planted” and build up the Kingdom in whatever way God calls them to do so.

That is why “college and career readiness” will never be the centerpiece of our programming or the mission of our school. But it will always be a part of what we do and a byproduct of their four years here as they search for the voice of their Father and find their voice to answer His call.

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