Barat Academy Founder and President Debby Watson says she always dreamed of starting a school based on the tradition of Sacred Heart education, which began in 1800 by Sister Madeline Sophie Barat in France.
Her dream came true in 2007 when she opened Barat Academy, a private, independent, Catholic college preparatory school recognizing both the worth of each student's intellect and the importance of fostering caring citizens who become lifelong learners.
The vision is to create a learning community of citizens transformed in Christ and who will change the world, says Debby. Located at 17815 Wild Horse Creek Road in Chesterfield, Barat Academy serves the Chesterfield and St. Charles populations, along with surrounding communities.
Explaining what differentiates a Sacred Heart education from other forms of Catholic education, Debby says while there's some overlap, "the difference lies in the spirituality of the Society of the Sacred Heart to make known to the world God's love for humankind revealed in the heart of Jesus in history class, English class, theology class and sports, so it's part of the culture of the school, not something you teach in religion class."
The academy's small classes facilitate the students' gifts and talents, and are the St. Louis area's only co-educational college prep high school with gender-specific classrooms. "We have a culture of growth and learning with a schooling model that embraces kids in what we call an asset-based way. You can't do that with 35 kids to a class, so we do it with 15," she says.
In many schools, the bright students and those who learn at a different pace are placed in classes where they do well. However, the majority are in the middle. For those students, Barat Academy's model is built around learning that fosters courage, confidence and integrity.
"You can't teach to the average because you have to teach to the individual within the context of their heart, and for us, because it's a Catholic institution, it is the heart of Jesus," Debby says.
Barat Academy's model teaches the child's social, emotional and intellectual growth with the teacher as a coach and student as a worker, causing lifelong relationships to develop.
"Schooling and learning are two different things, and everyone thinks it's the same thing," she says. "You don't have to go to school to learn because you're learning every day. The pandemic has demonstrated that children can learn and not be in a building."
"Your career path isn't something where you have to be good at English, history, science, and math," she adds. "You usually go to college in the area that you like, and you get a job doing something in that field, but you don't work in a workforce where you do eight different things every day in eight different silos."
Debby believes most schools are teaching in the same model taught during the Industrial Revolution, where people came to work, ate lunch and went home at the ring of a bell.
Times have changed, and that model should, too, she suggests. Data shows that most people will have seven different jobs in their lifetimes. Barat Academy teachers and staffers say they are poised to help students adapt to the changing times.
"Now, companies are looking for innovative people, people with intuition, people with problem-solving ability, people who can work within a team, and people who have courage and curiosity in their conversations," she says.
With a representation of eight different countries, Barat provides the student body with a "true global experience," as Debby says. International students have a one-of-a-kind opportunity to live and learn with American classmates in a safe and supportive environment as they prepare for the next step.
While the academy now has 85 students, they aim to double that number.