A Visit to Hózhó Academy

Second grade at Hózhó Academy poses for a picture.

Is classical education really for everyone? I’m writing to you from New Mexico, where I’m spending the day at Hózhó Academy, perhaps our most remote affiliated charter school. Hózhó is in Gallup, New Mexico, just under 3 hours outside of Albuquerque. The school, now in its second year, serves a student population that is 80% Navajo.

As in many schools that serve economically disadvantaged populations, these students come from very difficult backgrounds, and for many of them, school is the main source of stability in their lives. There are students at this school who live in orphanages, and students who have no electricity at home, and students whose parents can’t take them to school because they don’t own a car.

Yet, this is a classical school where the good, the true, and the beautiful drive everything, and the students are thriving in their academic life. They have so little here, and yet because the teachers and staff are so focused on giving these students what they need and so skilled doing it, there is joy, there is virtue, and there is heart here.

What makes a good school? Is it high academic achievement? Is it the credentials of the teachers? Is it the curriculum? Is it the parents? Well, yes, ideally, it is all of these things. But first, I think, it is treating students as if they are worthy of studying the very best that civilization has to offer. That is what is happening at Hózhó Academy, and that’s what makes it such a beautiful place.

As with any classical school, the first priority is helping students build the moral and intellectual virtues they will need for success in life. Our day began with morning assembly, which was one of the best I’d ever seen. The space is tiny, but teachers and students pack in together for the pledge of the allegiance and a moment to reflect on the school’s mission every day.. Together with their teachers, they also recite the Preamble to the Constitution, listen to snippets of classical music and name the composers, identify a classical piece of art, name the U.S. presidents, and then recite the Declaration of Independence. Often one grade performs a recitation, too. On the way out, each student shakes Mrs. Hillock’s hand as she greets him or her by name.

Think about what that means for a minute. Every one of these students hears and can recite the Declaration of Independence every day. The same is true for the Constitution, Puccini’s Turandot, and classical paintings. Later in the day I asked a group of students if they knew how to recite the first two paragraphs of the Declaration, and almost instantly the whole third grade lined up to recite it. It was amazing.

Mrs. Hillock, the school’s founding principal, leads the students and faculty with strength and kindness. Here she is shaking the hand of each student after morning assembly.

In a place where only 56% of the population is likely to complete high school and 38% live below the poverty line, a school like this could change an entire community. But more than that, it many ways it is a model for all classical schools because it does the most important things so well.

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