KAPAA — For Ceci Lindsey, continuing her education at St. Catherine School was only natural.
“I’ve been here ever since preschool, I couldn’t possibly leave,” she said.
Lindsey is one of three freshman enrolled in the St. Catherine High School Program, which rolled out for the first time this year.
The school, which will be turning 70 in October, previously offered classes from preschool to eighth-grade.
In April, St. Catherine School received permission from Bishop Larry Silva to open a high school. But because of financial constraints, a brick-and-mortar high school couldn’t be built.
So officials turned to an online program, the Archdiocese of Miami Virtual Catholic School, or ADOM-VCS, which offers accredited classes, taught by certified teachers, said Maria Ballesteros, director of the high school program.
“It’s the best choice to offer an affordable Catholic high school choice to our rural community,” Ballesteros said.
The program offers a choice of honors level classes, in addition to the general course load. It also requires a theology class for all four years of high school and service hours. When the students graduate, they will have a degree from the Archdiocese of Miami. St. Catherine School pays $600 per year to use the ADOM-VCS program.
Tuition for the high school program is $6,410 a year, which is the same tuition paid for eighth-grade, Ballesteros said.
Every day, Lindsey, along with Lola Buick and Gabriel Ballesteros, go to the St. Catherine High School Program building, laden with their personal laptops, to take online classes.
Classes taught include: algebra, English, biology, theology and world history. A different teacher instructs each of the five classes.
Gabriel Ballesteros, who has attended St. Catherine School since sixth-grade, said he likes taking online classes because he can work at his own pace.
“Unlike regular classes where you must wait for everyone else, online courses give you the opportunity to move ahead and possibly not have homework,” he said.
Buick, who has attended St. Catherine School since seventh-grade, said she likes taking online classes because it keeps her organized.
“You can’t lose your work,” she said.
Another draw to the high school program was the lack of freshman honor’s classes at Kapaa High School, Buick said.
“I want to be challenged in school, so for freshman year, I wanted to get ahead,” she said.
While adjusting to a self-guided model was challenging, Buick said she’s enjoying her high school experience.
“It’s something new, and it’s good to try new things,” she said.
Gabriel Ballesteros, Maria’s son, agreed.
“The courses are both interesting and challenging, and there’s a lot less people than at Kapaa or Kauai High, which means there’s less distractions,” he said.
A perk of online learning is that it promotes collaboration, Maria Ballesteros said.
“Our students collaborate on group projects with students from the Mainland, so it teaches them how to work as part of a group,” she said.
Online classes also teach self-discipline, Ballesteros said.
“It’s up to them to stay on top of their school work and communicate with teachers,” she said. “I guide the students along, and encourage them, but I’m not their teacher.”
For classes like music, physical education and art, the students are instructed by faculty at St. Catherine School. Sometimes they grouped with the middle school students.
While there are only three students currently enrolled in the high school program, it has the capacity to teach students through senior year, Ballesteros said.
Because the school didn’t get approval for the school until April, most students had already chosen what school to attend for high school, she said.
“Getting used to this program for three students gave us time to get used to the program,” Ballesteros said. “It’s better to start slowly.”
She hopes enrollment numbers increase in the coming years.
“Anything is possible,” she said. “I hope the high school will grow in order to serve the Catholic youth on Kauai, and indeed any student who wants to be a part of a caring, nurturing environment of a challenging school.”