Innovative Online Catholic School Proposed in Vermont


The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont has announced its intention to open an online Catholic school this fall. St. Thérèse Digital Academy will be the third Catholic school in Vermont and the second digital Catholic school in the country.

The driving force behind the initiative is Bishop Christopher Coyne, who arrived at the Diocese last year. He said, “My purpose is to grant proper Catholic education to children who either cannot afford it or live in remote areas,” in an interview for The Times Argus. He added that he was amazed by the quick, positive response he received from Catholic families in the area.

Bishop Coyne, an active user of social media, proposed the school be named after St. Thérèse of Lisieux after reflecting how her teaching applied to online culture.  St. Thérèse showed how to love God in all stages of life, Bishop Coyne explained to The National Catholic Register, and continued: “… and being present in the digital culture is really being present in a lot of small moments in a lot of small events.”

As mentioned on its official website, St. Therese Digital Academy will offer a full 4-year online Catholic high school.

“Our goal is to well-grounded disciples of Jesus Christ, who possess 21st-century skills that equip them to fulfill their roles as members of the Body of Christ within today’s society.”

Students will attend e-classes four days a week. On the fifth day, they will get together to discuss the lessons and meet each other in person.

The exact amount of the tuition fee is not defined at this point, but it is expected to be about $ 5,000, write Jenn Hatfield and Max Eden of The American Enterprise Institute. The tuition fee can be still an issue for lower-income families, noted Hatfield and Eden. According to them, Vermont should follow Nevada’s example and introduce Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).

In doing so, families would be able to allocate funds for their education of choice, afford supplemental classes for their children or cover the expenses for a community college class not offered in school. If ESAs were an option in Vermont, Catholic families might use it to pay the tuition, or attend the school part-time and use the rest of the amount on other education services.

The flexible model of the digital Catholic school is getting an additional twist in Vermont. For instance, next to full-time students, the school is planning to bring home-school students as part-time pupils, explained Sister Laura. This innovative approach already attracts attention outside the state and even internationally. Bishop Coyne confirmed that officials in Hawaii were interested in the project and that some Canadian Catholics also expressed interest. The Academy also expects prospective students from New York, Massachusets, and New Hampshire.

Bishop Coyne, Sister Laura and the diocesan officials are sure the public interest will be high enough for the school to open. However, they first need to earn accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, then prepare their coursework and to attract their first class of students.