"In what ways was it brave or cowardly that she committed suicide?" Bill Jenkins asked his class of ninth-graders on the second day of their Great Books class.
The class of six students at Christiana Homeschool Academy sat back and thought for a minute about a character, who was suspected of murdering a Roman senator, in their assigned summer reading book, "The Ides of April."
Many of the students agreed it was cowardly for the character to commit suicide, but a few understood that character's actions were to protect her son.
Throughout the year, the Great Books class would be looking at ways characters in their novels are courageous, Jenkins said, to his students.
"The search for truth, often comes at a great personal cost," Jenkins told his class.
The novel was the student's first taste of literature based during the ancient Greek and Roman empires and philosophical theories that evolved from the time period. It is a theme students could expect to continue throughout their time at Christiana.
Christiana, a small religious-based school in Westminster, is different than your typical church-based private school.
The students, who range from kindergarten to 12th-grade, wear uniforms and discuss religion in classes similar to many other programs. Tough topics such as euthanasia, however, are debated in classes, as Protestant and Catholic students sit side-by-side. The curriculum is based on the classical ancient philosophies. Students are also home-schooled three days out of the week.
Christiana was founded 14 years ago by administrator Catherine Milstead and two other women, who are no longer part of the program.
"It started because I was home-schooling my kids when they were all younger and it got to be overwhelming," Milstead said. "The youngest one was a baby and the oldest one had so many needs."
Initially, Milstead sent her children to a school similar to Christiana, where students were home schooled a few days a week and had in-school instruction the other days. This is where Milstead first learned about classical education.
Classical education is based on the classical ancient philosophies, said Milstead; the teaching method is based on the ancient Roman and Greek cultures.
"A lot of our own culture stems from Roman and Greek cultures," Milstead said. "Here we study the way they did."
The school is based on the trivium stage of classical education, which incorporates grammar, logic and rhetoric.
"Classical education is geared toward all classes being integrated and centers around the Christian faith," Milstead said.
Eventually, Milstead and a few other mothers who home-schooled started a program where they rotated teaching different subjects with their children a few times a week.
"When I first started home schooling I realized I would not be effective teaching my kids math and science," said Milstead. "I am good and language and English. At this school we put people with their strengths."
The educators at Christiana behave more as tutors, Milstead said. Of the 40 tutors, the majority have students who are in the program.
At the elementary and middle school level, tutors teach in a subject they have interest in or some specialization. In high school, the tutors have real-word experience or a college degree in the subject. None of the teachers, however, is certified.
Nancy Moorman, who teaches middle and high school physics and math at Christiana, has a degree in mathematics from Loyola University of Maryland.
The school's philosophy
Students attend classes at Christiana Homeschool Academy at Crosswinds Church in Westminster on Mondays and Wednesdays. The other days, the students have their instruction completed at home.
The school is also a hybrid religious environment, where Protestantism and Catholicism are equally integrated into the school's teachings.
The integration of the two religious traditions was spawned by Milstead's family life. She grew up practicing Catholicism and her husband is Protestant.
At the beginning of each in-class school day, students spend 15 minutes in devotions before they begin their lessons.
"Catholics and Protestants can come together here, but we don't teach doctrine," Milstead said.
Students at Christiana have a variety of classes to take including several levels of Latin, music, art, Spanish, history, mathematics, and science. During the senior year, students also take a leadership class and complete a thesis on a debatable topics.
Classes are kept small at the school, capping out at about 12 students. Tuition for this year is $1,350 for elementary school, $1,475 for middle and $1,800 for high school.
What students learn
Jenkins, one of two male teachers in the school, is in his sixth year of teaching at Christiana.
Armed with a bachelor's degree in fine arts and minor philosophy from Loyola and a master's in theology, Jenkins has taught Great Books, Latin, pre-algebra and logic classes to various grades.
"The school reached out to a friend of mine to teach a class," said Jenkins, of Pylesville. "He was working on another project and he recommended me for the position."
One of his favorite classes to teach is Great Books, which many of the students also expressed as their favorite class.
In the ninth grade, students are introduced to the great classical writers such as Homer, Plato, Socrates, Herodotus and Sophocles. In the class, Jenkins is less of a teacher and more of a moderator of philosophical discussions.
The two-hour class counts as both a literature and a history class for students.
"In class I moderate and, as the literature gets harder, I step in places where they get confused," Jenkins said. "We expect them to do difficult reading there. I didn't read a lot of these writers until I got to college."
Jenkins said it is good that students at Christiana get the exposure early. He said the discussion helps the students develop the skills to listen and reflect on opinions and alternative thoughts.
There are no tests; instead students write essays based on their in-class discussions.
Unconventional setting allows other freedoms
Colin Burden, a junior, was given the choice by his family to go to public school for high school. But Burden said he stayed at Christiana mostly for the Great Books program.
"In Great Books we have the ability to discuss things like moral dilemmas like euthanasia and ecumenical discussions," said Burden, who is a Protestant.
According to Burden, in the Protestant church, most of what is said about other religious, especially Catholicism, is propaganda. He said through Christiana he was able to get a better understanding of Catholicism and it helped him heighten his own religious beliefs.
Since Christiana is a small school, it does not offer Advanced Placement classes, so on days when Burden is home schooled, he takes a chemistry classes at Frederick Community College.
"We have goals to accomplish [at Christiana], but we aren't handicapped by a strict schedule," Burden said. "This allows us to pursue other things like me going to the community college."
Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or email@example.com.