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Junior, Julia, on choosing the right school for her

My name is Julia and I am junior here at Notre Dame Academy. This is my third year at Notre Dame, and I couldn’t be more happy with my choice to attend NDA for high school. Three falls ago, my family went through the same process that I assume many of you are in the middle of now; visiting different schools and eventually deciding on an academic “home” to be a part of. Coming from a variety of schools including a larger public school and tiny school with only 3 seniors in the graduating class, I wasn’t 100% sure what I was expecting, but since my first day at Notre Dame, it was clear that this was the right school for me.

The benefits of the NDA Upper School are more than I could ever hope for, with certain opportunities that would not be available anywhere else. It is almost unheard of for a high school student to play three sports, star in four theatrical productions, take all IB classes, and obtain leadership positions through his or her school; but Notre Dame made it possible for me to do all that in only my freshman year.

When I was looking at high schools, I was seeking a school that houses an excellent academic system with a variety of course levels and programs, so that I could achieve a balance of “challenging coursework with strong instruction, yet not completely overwhelming.” My parents were concerned that I would be incapacitated with the sheer amount of homework on top of my extracurriculars each night; but I assure you, this is not the case. All of my teachers have been extremely beneficial to my studies, and if I ever have a question about any of the material, I know that I don’t have to hesitate to ask them.

As far as sports, clubs, and activities, I love the initiative that is for everyone to participate in something; whether that be basketball or Thespian Society, or even a club such as Model UN for Upper School students. Nothing is “off-limits” as far as opportunities for students. All of the clubs are student driven which make for great leadership opportunities. NDA Upper School is very encouraging for anyone to be a part of any of the many programs it has to offer. This fosters a sense of undefeatable school spirit and pride, which in my opinion is irreplaceable.

Looking back, I am so glad that my family took the time to consider many high schools, but I am positive that we made the best decision by choosing Notre Dame Academy. I wish everyone luck on your school search and discernment. Thank you so much and I hope to see you all in Kavanaugh Hall next fall!

  • Academics
  • Extracurriculars
  • IB
  • Sports
  • Upper School
Upper School – To continue the journey or not?

It has been said that education is the greatest gift you can give your child – so it should come as no surprise that our decision to enroll our son in the Upper School is a very serious one. The Upper School still new and developing. It is only four years old and is graduating its first inaugural class. This newness can lead to all kinds of questions that impact the decision to attend or not. After all, for us parents it is “high school” – well high school as we know it – and this is where the decision can become challenging and clouded with doubts and uncertainty. This was the case for us as we both attended large and established schools with a rich history. This was not an easy decision.

As I write this, I am struck by how quickly this decision has arrived. So how did we get here? Carolina and I have two children attending ND Academy. Andrew is in the eighth grade, and Rebecca is in the fifth grade. Throughout the course of the year and at the end of each school year we sit down and discuss the progress of our children. Both have attended ND Academy since Kindergarten; however, the yearly questions remain the same - Are they being challenged? What are they struggling with? What do they do well? How is their emotional state? Overall, are they developing into the young adults they we aspire for them to be in the future? We discuss not only the good points but also the bad points and then decide if we want them to continue with ND Academy for the upcoming year and with each year the decision has been to continue with ND Academy.

Throughout the years what we have come to recognize is that we tend to focus on the journey with an awareness of the process. What? Journey? Process? Key the mystical background music! What we mean is that we do not ignore or devalue the educational process relating to the application of math, science, social studies, religion, language arts, etc., but instead focus on the holistic, well-rounded approach that comes with an IB and faith-based education. 

I think we can generally agree that what you “learn” today might not be all that relevant in the future; however, what will be relevant is how you learn. The process of researching, asking thoughtful questions, documenting your findings, and presenting your outcome will always be relevant. There will be the need to be comfortable with not knowing the right answer right away and having the confidence and perseverance to obtain the solution. We believe that the future will be about continuously learning. This is where we see the value of a Norte Dame IB education.

Again, the educational process is important, and we watch it very closely, but I can feel the value of the journey when I introduce Andrew to someone, and he stands up, makes eye contact, shakes the individual’s hand, and says it is nice to meet you. I have seen all I need to see.  You can instill and communicate the importance of values, respect, and morals as you sit around your kitchen table at home, but to have the opportunity to have these communicated and immersed at Notre Dame Academy is a not only the icing on the cake for us, but also makes the greatest gift you can give your child a gift that lasts a lifetime. Quite possibly even one that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren. Now that’s a legacy.

We recognize that the decision process to enroll in the upper school is different for each family. Not better or worse, just different. We feel very blessed and humbled to share a little of our story and experience with you. We thank you for taking the time to read this. So, with the holiday season approaching and as reflect and give thanks we have decided to continue to the journey, and we hope that you will too. 

God Bless,

John and Carolina Murphy


  • high school
  • IB
  • Upper School
Reflecting on the Father Colin Program's First Year
We welcome our first guest blogger, Father Colin Program Director Ms. Beth Bourneuf. 


As the 2017-18 school year comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the first year of the Father Colin Program (FCP). FCP students became an integral part of everyday life at Notre Dame Academy as soon as they stepped foot on campus. Like all of our students, FCP students come every day ready to learn, get involved with extracurricular activities, and participate in sports. I want to highlight some of the first year successes of the Father Colin Program and its students.
1. Several students moved out of the Father Colin Program and into traditional classes with minimal support.
2. Students in the middle school increased their Lexile score an average of 310 points since August through their participation in the Language Live program. The average Lexile growth in a year is between 50-100 points.
3. Our students participated in a variety of extracurricular activities as well as sports alongside their typical peers. Several of our athletes competed in the state playoff games in basketball and volleyball, representing the Irish Nation with pride. 4. Students received recognition not only for academic achievements but their artistic talents as well. One of the FCP students won the GISA state competition in Extemporaneous Speaking.
5. Our Upper School students started a very popular after school club called Artistic Expressions, which has a wide variety of Upper School members and actively meets weekly.
6. Our peer leader program started and maintained the very popular kindness tree in Schroeder Hall, which highlights the kind deeds and acts witnessed by our students throughout the year.
These are just a few examples of the great collaboration and community we’ve witnessed throughout this school year. The Father Colin Program not only brought in new students, but it also brought in new ideas and perspectives to our entire school community. I’m looking forward to another great year with all of our students and cannot wait to see how all of our students continue to grow and show others how differences don’t define you; they add color and light to the world.
  • #FatherColinProgram
  • ndacademy
What is Academic Rigor?

As an academic institution, the term academic rigor is used quite often.  We communicate to parents and students that our program has academic rigor, but what exactly is academic rigor and why is it important?  Academic rigor, as we use the term, refers to an academic program that has critical components that interact together on a daily basis.  Academic rigor is the combination of a student-centered, challenging academic curriculum with long-term goals and opportunities for improvement.  One without the other creates an empty academic program; it’s the interfacing of these aspects that creates academic rigor.  

A traditional education program is teacher-centered.  The teacher is the center of the physical space with the desks lined up in rows facing the center of the room.  The teacher delivers an assignment, the students all complete the same assignment and they are all measured on whether the answers are right or wrong.  Rarely is the student encouraged to reflect on mistakes and asked to correct the errors.  A student-centered classroom encourages group work and has flexible seating.  Throughout the week the desks will move in different configurations all designed to allow for students to work either independently or in groups.  The teacher delivers assignments with choice.  There is an opportunity to correct mistakes, and checkpoints for achievement are built into the assignment.  Student-centered classrooms create a higher level of student engagement.  It is human nature that a student will work harder on a task they choose because there exists a higher level of interest in the assignment.  It is also human nature, although individual personalities vary to a degree, that if mistakes are allowed, and there exists an environment that provides an opportunity to correct mistakes, greater risks will be taken.  Research shows that with choice there is higher student engagement and higher student engagement produces high achievement.  

Any curriculum has common key parts.  All schools teach the core subjects and core content.  Each course has fundamental skills that need to be taught.  The distinguishing parts of a curriculum are not what is taught but how it is taught.  The classroom must be an environment that encourages students to take risks, to reach beyond where they currently are performing.  The classroom must have a growth mindset where the conclusion is not that the student cannot do the work but just not yet.   When the classroom pushes the student outside of their comfort zone, growth in ability occurs.  Today we live in a world whereby we avoid anything that feels negative, parents want to protect their children from failure, but rigor comes through overcoming the failure.  Creating a classroom environment whereby students are allowed to fail and successfully overcomes the failure creates rigor.  The process of taking a risk stretches a student, and it is the “stretch” that strengthens the learning environment.  The IB grading program allows for students to take risks and overcome failure.  The process of overcoming failure creates resilience that produces long-term success.  

An integral part of the International Baccalaureate ( IB) Program is long-term assignments.  At the end of fifth grade, the final grade of the Primary Years Program (PYP), the students complete an Exhibition project whereby students conduct personal and group inquiries into an area of their own choosing.  The project spans over several weeks.  At the end of tenth grade, the final grade of the Middle Years Program (MYP), the students complete a Personal project.  The Personal project is a student-centered practical exploration of a topic of choice. The goal of each of these projects is to have the students participate in sustained, self-directed inquiry.  The rigor of the project is the ability to persevere for an extended period of time.  In a world where everything is instant, the ability to focus on a sustained task over a period of weeks creates rigor.  

Academic rigor is an important distinguishing part of an academic program.  For long-term success, there are key outcomes from an academic program with rigor.  With rigor, students are taught grit.  Angela Duckworth has researched the power of grit.  She left a consulting job to teach seventh-grade math.  While in the classroom, she was struck by the fact that intellectual ability did not necessarily equate to high performance.  She went on to become a psychologist and has dedicated herself to understanding what key factors determine success in life.  While her conclusions are somewhat controversial, my teaching experience aligns with her conclusions; success in life is not based on good looks, great personality, intellectual ability, etc.  Success in life is determined by stamina, the ability to work hard and approach life as a marathon.  A student who engages daily in academic rigor learns how to persevere.  The student learns that while he or she might not understand the concept now, it is possible to learn the concept with time.   Dr. Duckworth defines this as grit “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort towards very long-term goals.”  The academic program at Notre Dame Academy has academic rigor because the program offers a combination of student-centered environment,  high academic standards with long-term goals and opportunities for improvement.  Our desired outcome from this rigor is to produce students who develop grit and become successful, productive citizens.  

Check out these links:

Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance


  • ndacademy
  • rigor
Shape of the Nation Report

The Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE America) released their 2016 Shape of the Nation report, their first report since 2012, last year. The disappointing news is that in this country only Oregon and the District of Columbia require the minimum amount of physical education (PE) recommended by national experts. More than 62% of the states permit school districts to substitute other activities for their required physical education credit.

Unfortunately, this is not news. We have known for years that there is a direct correlation between the amount of physical activity a student receives and his or her ability to focus and achieve in the classroom. This study confirmed what we know:

1) when students participate in daily physical education there is an immediate benefit to their ability to learn,

2) students who participate in daily physical education achieve higher test scores,

3) students who have a daily opportunity to run around have improved classroom behavior, and

4) daily physical exercise lays a foundation for a lifetime of fitness.

One of the injustices in schools has been that those students who need to go outside and run around are often the very students whose PE and/or recess is taken away as punishment. As Head of School, I have always had one steadfast rule - a teacher is NEVER allowed to use PE or recess as a form of punishment.

The current recommendations are 150 minutes per week of physical activity for elementary school students and 225 minutes per week for middle and upper school students. At Notre Dame Academy, we exceed the requirements in elementary school by offering 225 minutes of physical education every week and 75 minutes of recess. In the middle and upper school, physical education is an elective for students. Those who select PE as an elective receive an average of 225 minutes per week.

Offering daily physical education is a burden on schools. Daily physical education naturally requires more PE teachers, and this additional personnel is a burden on a school budget. Daily PE is also a complication to a school schedule. Despite these complications, the results are worth far more than the burden. As Head of School, I will always remain committed to daily PE and the belief that children benefit academically from having time outside “running around.” As educators, it is not an option to choose between PE and strong academics; we must remain committed to daily PE in order to achieve our academic goals.

Debra M. Orr
Head of School

  • health
  • physical education
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Shape of the Nation Report

There is a direct correlation between the amount of physical activity a student receives and their ability to focus and achieve in the classroom.

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