The Legacy of Saint Katherine Drexel

As Katherine Drexel once said, “If we wish to serve God and love our neighbor well, we must manifest our joy in the service we render to Him and them. Let us open wide our hearts. It is joy which invites us. Press forward and fear nothing.” 

Called to open wide our hearts, all Catholic educators partake in a service that must be approached with joy and mercy. The life of Saint Katherine Drexel serves as an inspiring example for Catholic educators everywhere, particularly in her recognition of Christ’s incredible call to “cast into the deep.” Born into a wealthy family in Philadelphia in 1858, Katherine Drexel dedicated her life and fortune to serving marginalized communities. Drexel understood that, as Catholics and Christians, we are not called to remain in our familiar and comfortable surroundings but, rather, we are to bring Christ to the world and proclaim His message of hope and salvation to all. Her abandonment to Divine Providence in prayerful surrender must be replicated as we ponder the future of Catholic schools in America. Catholic schools were never intended to be elite and exclusive.

Through prayer, Drexel would discern a need and then act swiftly. Most notably, she opened 60 schools across the United States for those who were underserved. It is with this same swiftness and prayerful passion that Kolbe Academy operates today.

Founding Principles and Growth

Kolbe Academy was established by three families seeking a rigorous yet faith-filled educational environment for their children. Their goal was to raise young Catholic citizens who could confidently live out and defend their faith. Dissatisfied with the standardized approach of public schools, they envisioned a more holistic education that took inspiration from St. Ignatius and would lead students towards self-activity, mastery, and formation.

In response to growing demand, Kolbe Academy introduced a formal homeschooling program in 1987, allowing families from afar to benefit from their curriculum. This initiative marked the beginning of their journey to becoming the dynamic school and homeschooling provider that it is today. 

In 2013, well before the pandemic of 2020 when all schooling went online, the world-wide demand for quality Catholic education came increasingly into focus for Kolbe Academy, a need that prompted an expansion of Kolbe’s offerings. Inspired by their patron, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the administration embraced online instruction which brought teachers directly into Catholic households across the United States and across the world. Acting on Pope Paul VI’s call for innovation in meeting contemporary needs, Kolbe Academy departed from traditional methods by introducing scheduled live classes, a pioneering approach in Catholic education. This shift attracted families nationwide to a comprehensive Catholic curriculum and it empowered parents to become the primary educators of their children. Presently, Kolbe Academy offers live online classes spanning from Preschool to High School.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s formative education, Saint Katherine Drexel swift obedience and Saint Maximilian Kolbe’s spirit of evangelization have permeated everything that Kolbe Academy does. 

Embracing Change and Expansion

Following 2020, Kolbe Academy witnessed a remarkable surge in families opting for traditional Catholic education, alongside an increasing number considering homeschooling as an educational path. With more families joining the program, and more teachers joining the faculty, it became even more important to reflect and refine how the school’s mission manifests in all its programming. Partnering with Duc In Altum’s School Collaborative provided a platform for reflection and innovation alongside experienced Catholic schools. 

After attending a few DIA Summits, the administration at Kolbe Academy felt a call to reflect on how the curriculum, course pacing, and programs embodied its pro-life stance. As a school with a mission to provide high-quality, classical Catholic education to families in multiple formats, we began to ask, “How are we ensuring the dignity of each child is upheld by our programming and by our allocation of resources?”

The next step was determining how to ensure we could successfully serve more students of varying needs in our school. Kolbe faculty and staff spoke with many members of Catholic schools, educators and parents alike, and felt strongly that students with disabilities and learning struggles were being underserved. Yet, the path forward remained unclear. The amount of funding that goes towards Special Education services in public schools is insurmountable, but still, the desire for families to be able to send all their children to a Catholic school, and the desire to seek out resources to support this desire, was strong among all educators.

In the spirit of Katherine Drexel, with conviction and passion, and confident in casting from the right side of the net, Kolbe administration set about launching a new and robust Student Support Department—the school’s first step towards more accessible Catholic, classical education. While Kolbe has always worked with parents to help and support students of varied abilities, in 2022, the school began offering a wide range of services such as: placement testing, special education support, live online class accommodations, and live online tutoring. 

Student Support Programming

Struggling students, students with learning disabilities, and students with other special needs often require individualized, targeted intervention and sometimes significant accommodations to be successful in a traditional curriculum. The Special Education program at Kolbe Academy partners with parents to support students in developing their God given gifts and talents. Upon enrollment, new students at Kolbe Academy begin with a live placement test. In fact, they meet one-on-one with a teacher to assess their basic skills, and to determine appropriate placement and support recommendations.  

After the placement test, students who struggle in a particular content area or need executive functioning support are referred to online support classes, tutoring and/or our accountability mentoring program. Students with learning disabilities and other special needs are placed in our Special Education program, and parents are provided with a personalized, written accommodation plan. The plan outlines their course selections, support programming, accommodations and goals.

Additionally, students who require significant intervention and support are placed in our resource program.  These are small-group lab classes staffed by dedicated Special Education teachers who work with students individually and in small groups to bolster the instruction from their regular courses and to facilitate accommodations that were previously out of reach for the classroom teacher.

Looking to the Future

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Looking to the future, Kolbe Academy remains committed to its mission of offering an education rooted in Catholic values and academic excellence. In the fall of 2024, the academy will introduce new live online foundations courses providing greater flexibility in rigor for students and families.

These foundations courses will take the same beautiful, classical content of Kolbe Academy’s curriculum and provide an altered course option that tempers the pace and adjusts rigor. Kolbe Academy has always enjoyed a reputation for being rich in content and rigorous in its programs. This remains true; however, the goal of these courses is to allow students who may need to adjust the rigor in a particular subject, or across all subjects, the ability to do so in the online program. The foundations courses will also allow students who are part of our Special Education Resource program to be taught by a specialized instructor who will work closely with their Resource teacher to ensure their accommodations and support are more easily integrated into their resource classroom with a pacing and model that will aid to their success. 

As Kolbe Academy continues to grow and expand their programming, the goal is to open access to Catholic education to more families each year. Guiding children on the path to salvation is no easy feat, and the Church does not want parents to feel alone. In the words of Jesus, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). 

Meet One of Our Founders, Dianne Muth, on Episode 100 of the Kolbecast

Kolbe Academy is a school based out of Napa, California who provides various levels of support to parents who want to educate their children at home. It allows parents from all over the world the opportunity to harness well-trained and experienced Catholic instructors in a distance format that maintains the benefits of an in-person education wherever possible.