By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published November 21, 2013
ATLANTA—Sophia Academy in Atlanta is officially an independent Catholic school with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory granting the status in November.
The academy, which serves nearly 90 students, began the process of seeking the independent Catholic status 22 months ago after affiliating with the Society of Mary and Marist School.
“The administration, staff, board and students have worked hard to achieve recognized Catholic status,” said Dr. Diane Starkovich, superintendent of Catholic schools. “I congratulate them on this milestone and send my best wishes for continued success.”
Starkovich said that the Archdiocesan Schools Advisory Council recommended a defined process for schools to be recognized as independent Catholic schools after several inquiries about new schools. The archbishop and Starkovich accepted the council’s recommendation and the process is now part of archdiocesan protocol.
Another independent Catholic school, Cristo Rey, is slated to open in August 2015.
“This will bring to seven the number of independent Catholic schools in our archdiocese,” said Starkovich.
The approval process includes 12 steps or requirements, including having secured school accreditation; offering religious education daily to all students, with Catholic identity also infused in all secular subjects; regularly offering the sacraments; having on-site visits and review of budgets; the head of school being a practicing Catholic in good standing; and having ongoing reviews of Catholic status.
Sophia Academy, which is located on Dresden Drive in Atlanta, has accreditation from both the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the Southern Association of Independent Schools.
Marie Corrigan, Sophia Academy’s founding and admissions director, started the school in 1999 to meet the educational needs of her daughter Caroline. She was born prematurely and ultimately had developmental delays that affected learning.
The academy supports students with mild to moderate learning differences as well as those whose families want smaller class sizes or a specialized learning environment. At the school, assistive technology, the Orton-Gillingham multisensory method of instruction, and a maximum class size of 12 students all help the children learn and thrive.
“There’s no other non-denominational school that’s made this transition,” noted Corrigan upon receiving the news of independent Catholic status.
Corrigan views the academy as the “jewel in the crown” or a model of what can happen when “we live our faith.”
A parishioner of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Corrigan said the ultimate goal is to get to heaven and help others to do so as well. “I think faith is the most important thing,” she emphasized.
“We take students of all faiths,” said Corrigan. She added that since Sophia Academy affiliated with the Marists, the percentage of Catholic students enrolled has risen sharply from 21 to 46 percent.
Corrigan hopes that the total number of students will also continue to grow.
“We can serve so many more,” she said.
Sophia Academy’s teachers hope to create global citizens who are Christ’s hands and feet.
“We have required community service here,” said Corrigan. The week of Nov. 9-16, more than half of the school’s high school students were on a mission trip to Nicaragua, while others were doing mission projects in Atlanta.
When a parent suspects a child may have a learning disability, Corrigan says early intervention and total immersion are the keys to success.
At Sophia Academy, Curriculum 21 was implemented to cut outdated practices and make subjects overlap more with one another, as well as help students develop critical thinking skills. This method focuses on 21st century skills.
One example of crossover between subjects is when the high school religion students learned communication and presentation skills by creating and presenting a play about St. Juan Diego. They learned the story, the symbols, the culture and the faith of one simple farmer who brought thousands to Christ.
“Read & Write Gold,” a literacy software program, helps academy students who have dyslexia and dysgraphia or anyone struggling to read or write. The software converts text into speech to help students improve fluency and comprehension.
Parent Jennifer Wallace determined Sophia Academy was the right place for her middle school daughter after extensive research and meeting with Corrigan.
“I have never seen her with this much self-confidence,” said Wallace about her daughter. “Her enthusiasm and desire to learn has returned. She is happy and excited to go to school.”
Corrigan’s own daughter, Caroline, is another success story as the school approaches its 15th anniversary. Caroline now directs the assistive technology classes with students learning to handle traditional items like large crayons, shaped pencils and flash cards, or today’s technology including iPads. Sophia Academy is a BYOD or Bring Your Own Device School.
Caroline clearly enjoys her daily interaction with the students. “It’s so fun,” she said.
The school will have a day of celebration for its new status, “Marking a Miracle” on Jan. 16, 2014.
A celebratory Mass will be held with Archbishop Gregory as celebrant that morning. The Mass will begin promptly at 9:50 a.m. A luncheon and program will be held from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. in celebration of the school’s Founder’s Day and Grandparents Day.