Private school moving to Edina

BY LISA KACZKE – Sun Newspapers

After two years of sharing a building in St. Louis Park with three other schools, Chesterton Academy is moving to a new location in Edina.

The private high school will open its doors at Calvary Lutheran Church in Edina for the 2012-2013 school year. The school will occupy five classrooms at the church.

Chesterton Academy began four years ago with 10 students and plans to accept 80 to 90 students for next school year. The school is still accepting applications.

The growing school needs more space and the classrooms at Calvary provide a junior college feel to the school, Chesterton Academy co-founder Tom Bengtson said. The buildings the school has occupied so far have been designed as elementary and junior high schools and have a younger feel to them, explained. The school has a seven-year lease with the church and they hope to stay there permanently, co-founder Dale Ahlquist said.

Chesterton Academy teaches a classical curriculum that includes philosophy, Latin and reading Plato, Homer and Aristotle. The goal of the curriculum is for students to see the big picture of how all the subjects are connected, Ahlquist said. As an example, he pointed out that philosophy teaches thinking and reasoning, which can then be applied to problem solving in math classes.

The focus is on not only gaining knowledge, but also to have morals and wisdom.

"Knowledge is great, but if you don’t have a moral compass, you’ll back yourself into a lot of corners," Bengtson said.

Each student is required to take philosophy, choir and theater for four years. Ahlquist noted that being on stage gives students confidence and teaches them about enunciation, which helps them in discussions in other classes.

The school is named after 20th century writer G.K. Chesterton and Ahlquist is president of The American Chesterton Society. Chesterton wrote on a variety of subjects and the school tries to emulate his broad knowledge, Ahlquist said.

The school also weaves theology into each class. It’s an independent Catholic school and is not part of the Archdiocese. Every school day begins with Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church in St. Louis Park. They’ll continue to bring students to the church for Mass once it moves to Edina.

The school began as a grassroots initiative when Ahlquist and Bengtson were considering the options of high schools in the Twin Cities for their children. After floating the idea around, they received a donation to begin the school in 2008.

The school began modestly and modesty is one of the virtues it tries to instill in the students, Bengtson said. They teach that students can do a lot with a little.

Bengtson said he noticed when looking for schools for his children that it would cost close to $250,000 to put his four children through private high school. Chesterton Academy purposely offers one of the lowest tuitions in the Twin Cities. He said a disconnect exists between promoting morals, but then charging a high tuition rate.

"We just trying to educate our kids and believe it’s important to pass our faith along to our kids in the classroom," he said.