ACTIVE LEARNING: “The boys feel free to express themselves in the classroom. They can move about and be active, which can promote learning at a young age,” says Olen Kalkus, founding headmaster of Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart. In the photo, second graders in the Lower School have selected an unusual setting for their reading assignment.
Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart is set apart from other independent schools in several ways. First, it is an all-boys day school, offering a traditional curriculum from Junior K through eighth grade.
Equally important, it is part of the network of the Sacred Heart Schools throughout the United States and around the world. Its near neighbor is Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart whose student enrollment is all girls, except for its pre-school, which accepts boys up to four years old.
In addition, Princeton Academy has a strong focus on the importance of character development and values. “I’m a big believer that character and values are embedded within the culture of the school,” says founding headmaster Olen Kalkus. “They are instilled here, and values and character are shown in how the boys treat each other and how the staff and faculty interact.
“200 years ago, it was expected that values would be taught in school. Over time, our society has gotten away from that, but at Princeton Academy, it is an important part of our mission, which is shaped by the Goals and Criteria adapted by the network of Sacred Heart Schools around the world.”
As explained in the school’s mission statement,
(1) “A personal and active faith in God is the guiding principle of Princeton Academy’s education, which is offered to students of all faiths.”
The other principles include:
(2) “A deep respect for intellectual values with the goal of helping each boy become a self-reliant thinker, reader, and learner.
(3) A social awareness which impels to action.
(4) Building community as a Christian value.
(5) Personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom.”
Princeton Academy opened its doors in September of 1999 at 1128 The Great Road. The location on 50 acres was formerly home to a private residence, built in the 1930s, and later became Our Lady of Princeton Convent.
“The idea for the school started with a small group of parents about 15 years ago, who wanted to establish an all boys School of the Sacred Heart,” explains Mr. Kalkus. “It began with 34 students, kindergarten, first grade, and combined second and third grade, and four full time and three part time faculty.
“Today, we have 225 students, a 40-member faculty on a 50-acre campus. 50 percent of the student body is Catholic, and 50 percent members of other faiths. Parents of students of other religious denominations like the idea of an all-boys school and the values we emphasize at Princeton Academy.”
The school’s focus on educating boys is centered on the belief that at the earliest ages, boys develop and learn differently than girls. “We’re built around the Sacred Heart values and the current research on how boys develop and learn,” points out Mr. Kalkus. “Developmentally, boys progress more slowly verbally than girls. These differences are more pronounced at younger ages, and we need to keep the boys engaged to help them develop a love of learning. I believe we are the only all-boys elementary school in the state of New Jersey.”
Active and Energetic
Boys are active and energetic, and don’t sit quietly at a young age. These factors are all taken into consideration at Princeton Academy. Classrooms are configured so that boys can move about and be active.
“We combine academics, play, and activities. Physical education, recess, and exercise are very important,” says the headmaster. “Studies have shown that cognitive skills are also developed through exercise and play. During recess and after school, the youngest boys just like to play. It’s like the old-fashioned neighborhood, where all the kids got together for unstructured games and sports. This can be a great learning experience. Our teachers understand boys’ development and that they need to be active, and that indeed, activity serves to engage boys’ brains.”
“Boys do better when they are active. They need to burn off energy,” agrees Princeton Academy director of admission Tom von Oehsen. “Some of our classes begin with running. There is a lot of activity in the classroom.
“Sometimes, boys stand at their desk and move about. We accommodate to the fact that boys need to move, and then they will learn better.”
Princeton Academy has produced an enlightening video featuring many of its concepts regarding educating boys. Included are five principles.
(1) “Boys learn best when they are navigators of their own learning.
(2) Boys learn best deductively.
(3) Boys learn best when given clear goals and feedback.
(4) Boys learn best when they are not afraid of failure.
(5) Boys learn best through relational experiences.”
“We emphasize an environment that motivates, excites, and interests a boy, that helps him think he is involved in his learning,” explains Mr. Kalkus, who also enjoys teaching a weekly seminar for eighth graders on decision-making and how the brain works.
The school is committed to academic excellence, and the curriculum is challenging, beginning in kindergarten. “Today’s kindergarten is more like first grade,” notes Mr. Kalkus. “It is all-day, and focuses on reading and writing, not just play and activities. Throughout all grades, we have small class sizes, with 12 to 16 students. In kindergarten and first grade, there is a teacher and assistant, so there is a lot of individual attention. Also, teachers are available after class to give extra help.
“Our curriculum is similar to that of many independent schools, and additionally there is a spiritual aspect to our school. We offer very broadly-oriented religion classes. We study the Old Testament, the New Testament, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other faiths.”
An added feature in the Middle School is “Tea Time” in the religion classes. “ The idea is that with one cup of tea, you may be a stranger, with the second, you are a friend, and with the third cup, you are family,” explains Mr. Kalkus. “The boys really look forward to this.”
A love of reading is encouraged from the earliest grades, and the school has an excellent library. The boys often spend time there after school finishing homework assignments or reading. “We definitely try to introduce boys to the pleasure of reading at a young age,” says Mr. Kalkus.
Of course, technology is a major focus in most schools today, including at Princeton Academy. “We do a lot with technology,” he continues. “In the lower schools, iPads and lap-top computers are available in Junior kindergarten through fifth grade, and our fourth graders are creating power point presentations. We provide sixth, seventh, and eighth graders with iPads, and there is a clear reduction in paper use. The iPad can become a text book, note book, and library. The possibilities and versatility are amazing.”
“Also, we focus on instructional technology with the first year of the iPad. We want to emphasize appropriate use of technology. We currently have four mobile lap-top computer labs. Each mobile lab contains 16 Apple Macintosh wireless lap-top computers. The mobile labs enable teachers to bring the ‘computer’ lab into their classrooms to enhance the subject matter of the current lesson. Thus, the computer is used as a tool of the curriculum rather than becoming the curriculum. We are building content knowledge and 21st century skills.”
Princeton Academy has an innovative approach to learning another language; it focuses on only one: Spanish. Junior kindergarten students start leaning Spanish, and continue through eighth grade. “I believe it is more important to know one other language thoroughly,” notes Mr. Kalkus.
As part of its curriculum, the school offers classes in the arts, such as music and visual arts, and the students also perform in a musical production every year.
After school programs and sports are important at Princeton Academy. The sports program includes soccer, cross-country, basketball, squash, wrestling, baseball, lacrosse, and tennis. Boys in the Middle School have an opportunity to be on a team and compete with other schools in the area. “The boys learn how to compete appropriately,” points out Mr. Kalkus.
Other after school programs include computer programming, strategic games, music, and drama, as well as a homework club.
“The boys can do their homework after school,” says the headmaster. “We believe in academic excellence without piling on homework. It’s finding the right balance.”
Caring for other people and the world around them is emphasized at the school. Helping others through community service is stressed at all grade levels. As Mr. Kalkus points out, “We have all-school projects in which the boys gather produce and give it to food kitchens. And we also have division projects, when every grade level establishes its own service project. The Middle School has a relationship with HomeFront, and invites HomeFront children here to play games.
“Some of the students come up with their own ideas. For example, the boys have a fundraiser for SAVE, and have created animal toys. Also, the Chaplain let us know about a family that had lost everything in a fire. The boys decided to adopt the family for Christmas, and collected food and gifts for them.”
Instilling a sense of gratitude among the boys is another focus at the school. Each Friday, the entire student body and faculty gather to offer “Friday Thank Yous.”
“The time of thanks begins with words of welcome and reminds everyone of this wonderful week of exploration and learning they have experienced,” says Mr. Kalkus. “It is good to go through life with a healthy sense of thankfulness. I believe that this thankfulness (not guilt) can guide us to become more compassionate people and a more compassionate community.”
The boys come up with gratitude for everything from “thanking my dad for driving me to school” to “thanking my teachers” to “thanking Tommy for sharing the swing with me” to “thanking my classmates for welcoming me into the school.”
Many of the parents (who occasionally join in the Friday Thank You sessions) are also very pleased with Princeton Academy’s combined focus on academics, character, and values. As a non-Catholic parent of a Middle School student explained: “It’s the values and the education that are so important. I’m a Hindu, but love, kindness, and compassion are emphasized at Princeton Academy, and these don’t belong to just one religion.”
Respect and Brotherhood
Added the father of a Lower School boy: “There’s a strong sense of brotherhood and respect for others. The school is consistent with the values we are trying to instill at home.”
Princeton Academy has recently completed phase one of a renovation of many of its buildings. New state-of-the-art science and prep labs, 10 new classrooms, a Junior K/K suite, and larger student common areas are now available.
Geothermal wells were installed on the school’s grounds to provide an alternative source of energy. All of the building and renovation projects will reinforce Princeton Academy’s commitment to environmentally-responsible and sustainable designs. In addition to the new geothermal heating and cooling system, the project includes features such as skylights for improved natural light and state-of-the-art insulation and energy efficient electrical fixtures. When combined with plans to add on-site solar energy, these features will create an opportunity to reduce the school’s energy consumption requirements.
“We try to express the importance of this to the boys,” remarks Mr. Kalkus. “To change behavior, you need immediate feedback. For example, if boys fill up their own water bottle at the water fountain in the Middle School, a register shows how many plastic bottles have been saved from going to a land fill. Recently, the number was 4,659.”
Remaining renovation work at the school will include a new music wing with both instrumental and choral music rooms and practice rooms, a new infirmary, a larger space for the visual arts, and a technology center.
In honor of its upcoming 15th anniversary in 2014, the school plans a series of celebratory events, which will include speakers and various happenings throughout the year.
Princeton Academy prides itself on its commitment to providing a diverse student body, and financial assistance is available to students. It is the school’s mission to extend its educational philosophy to a broad community of students.
“We’re about educating boys in the best way to help them grow into young men of character,” points out Mr. Kalkus. “It is so important to offer the timeless values of the Sacred Heart. You need an anchor to navigate the storm of change in the world today. The pace of change keeps increasing so rapidly.
“We want our boys to become critical thinkers, problem-solvers, communicators, and collaborators. The school recognizes that both the successes and failures of students is an opportunity for development. We offer an environment in which students have the freedom to learn how to accept responsibility for their actions, to feel pride in their achievement, and to grow from mistakes. In order to have innovative discovery, you need to have a strong foundation. The school’s mission is to develop young men who, when faced with the challenges of these times, will make the right choices.”