Education is a touchy subject and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. Private or public? Small or large? Faith-based or secular? The only thing most people can agree on is that education is individual, that one size doesn’t fit all, and that “fit” matters when choosing the right school for your kids.
Jean Pickering and Marlene Thompson, two lifelong educators who served in almost every capacity in various educational environments, recognize the need for choice. They wanted to build a school that served a special segment of the population and provided individual attention. They wanted to build a school that was a safe haven for students. And they wanted to build a school that took the best from public, private, and charter schools and left behind the worst.
They opened the doors to Capstone Classical Academy eight years ago in Old Katy and welcomed their first four students. Now, less than a decade later, they’ve enrolled up to 55 students a year, and with open enrollment year-round, they continue to build their student base.
Their students represent a wide range of learners. Some seek a safe environment free of bullying and negative peer pressure. Some have high-functioning autism and are brilliant students who need a less stressful social environment. Some simply crave smaller classes and individualized instruction they could not receive in a huge public school. All are in grades 5-12 and enjoy a 1:10 teacher-student ratio, so it’s safe to say that they know each other’s names and enjoy a family atmosphere in their school environment.
Pickering, who is Director of the Academy, explained, “Public school works for a lot of students, but one size doesn’t fit all anymore. Teaching and learning at Capstone is like it used to be back in the 70’s. Everything is so much smaller with less pressure, which works for a lot of students, not all.”
Within the classroom, Capstone gets its Classical Academy title because it uses the classical model of teaching around a Harkness table. Every classroom is fitted with a round table where students gather in a circle to discuss the day’s lesson. The teacher does not lecture and does not stand in front of the room leading the lesson. Instead, the kids use the Socratic Method to learn by discussing, discovering, hearing others’ viewpoints, adjusting their own, and developing understanding. The teacher guides and facilitates, but the students do the hard work applying critical thinking skills to their tasks.
Capstone also takes a unique approach to homework. While many schools see homework as a necessary component to learning and even brag about the number of hours their students spend on at-home study, Capstone provides time in the school day for self-directed enrichment work. Their philosophy is that kids need time at home to rest, spend time with their family, and be involved in extracurricular activities. They do not need to study all day and then go home to study more.
Likewise, Capstone operates a Monday-Thursday schedule, and their smaller class sizes and individualized attention allow students to cover the same amount of material within a 4-day week. Since they meet with each class twice a week and follow a syllabus for their assignments, they learn time management and get an excellent feel for what college will require. In fact, Capstone requires more credit hours than the state requires, yet every weekend is a 3-day weekend for these students, and they appreciate it!
“I had a parent refer to us as a home school on steroids,” explained Pickering, “because in addition to our unique schedule, we provide comfort for our kids. They bring their own chairs and blankets and make themselves comfortable while they’re here. In this way, the kids feel a part of their education.”
Thomas shared a story that illustrates the close-knit nature of the Academy. “We took in a new 7th grader who had been in her previous school since 2nd grade. She was nervous and convinced she would be unhappy at Capstone. I made her and her parents a promise that by the end of the week she would love it. And by the end of that very day, she was smiling and in love with our school. That same child advanced so quickly that she was taking upperclassmen classes by 9th grade. In her own words, ‘Anything is possible at Capstone.’”
While the school does not offer the AP program, it does provide Honors classes and a close relationship with Houston Community College, located within walking distance of Capstone. Students may take Dual Enrollment courses not at their high school, as most do, but at HCC in actual college classes. Five to six students a year take advantage of this opportunity. One of last year’s graduates left Capstone with 36 college semester hours already complete upon high school graduation and is now majoring in business.
Capstone is able to challenge its students academically without spending time on standardized test preparation or allowing the state to dictate which tests must be taken and passed. Instead, all students take Aspire as part of the ACT as a way to measure progress and guide teachers toward better instructional methods. Capstone doesn’t even make prospective students take an admissions test. “If students want to be here, we want them here,” said Pickering.
A member of the National Association of Private Schools, Capstone employs fully certified teachers, most of whom came from the public school system and felt the need for change in the way they teach and interact with students. The small staff of nine brought with them the best methods and strategies in their experience and left behind the elements of education that often frustrate teachers.
Located in a business complex on Park Rd, Capstone keeps expenses down by occupying a 12,000 sq ft space with junior high and high school in separate sections of the suite. They’ve never advertised until now, attributing their success to “word of mouth and divine intervention.” Capstone is a faith-based school but does not teach religion and is not affiliated with any one denomination. Instead, faith is expressed through their motto: Manners, morals, and motivation. They have an Honor Code, not a discipline code. And all of their seniors take a Christian Ethics class to prepare them for the larger world they are about to enter.
Price is another point of pride for the school. “We have the lowest tuition of any private school in the area at $8,620 per year. A lot of parents cannot afford the price of private school, so we provide a unique educational experience for parents who need their child in a smaller setting but don’t want to have to take out a loan to pay for it,” Pickering said.
She added with a smile, “We have been called the best kept secret in Katy.” And for many, Capstone is just that.
If you are interested in what Capstone Classical Academy can offer to your child, please call them at (832) 314-1400 or visit their website at www.cca-edu.com.