Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill Schools 1

Oak Hill students participating in an art exchange interact with their counterparts in Taiwan.

Every year, Sr. Lucie Nordmann, head of school at Villa Duchesne, is happy when she hears the same story from recent graduates who have gone off to college. “They’re sitting in class and they see another female with their class ring. They instantly connect and realize they’ve both had a Sacred Heart education," she says. "Our most recent senior class has gone to 48 different colleges and universities. It’s amazing to me how that one simple symbol, their class ring, is recognized universally across the country. The students here belong to something much bigger than this one school in St. Louis.”

Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School are part of a network of Sacred Heart schools that spans 43 countries, and the school uses that extended community to teach students understanding of many varied cultures, Nordmann says. “We can no longer educate our young people to live and work only in St. Louis or even the United States; it’s about educating them for the  global community. The world is very complex, and part of our job is to help prepare them for their future, which includes learning new things in innovative ways, and preparing them for careers that don’t even exist yet. Sacred Heart education has been doing this for years—teaching the skills of critical and creative thinking, problem-solving, relational skills and collaboration.”

That goal of teaching students to live as part of the global community permeates the school’s curriculum. For students as young as 3 years old, it starts with learning a foreign language such as French. “They study language not only to conduct business around the world in French—which some of our graduates have done—but it also provides insights into how other nations think about and respond to issues in the world,” Nordmann says. “Lack of understanding of one another causes most conflicts in the world, and the more we as human beings talk to each other, it makes for less judgment of others.”

Students also begin at a young age to have interactions with people from other places. Nordmann says fourth-graders recently did an art exchange with students in Taiwan. “Art is a common language, regardless of culture, and a force for change in the world. Our students learned how to share this experience of art from their vantage point, and it allowed them to better understand another culture.”

The school also has a reciprocal relationship with other Sacred Heart schools that allows students to both come from other states and countries to St. Louis, as well as allowing students here to study abroad. Students have come from Mexico, France, Hungary, Spain and Australia, to name a few, Nordmann says. And when students study abroad, it’s at another Sacred Heart school, she adds. “That’s a huge difference for the parents—it’s one community with the same values. They’re not going to some place where the teachers won’t know their child from Adam.”

Students also can take service and learning trips with faculty, Nordmann adds. “Our school nurse just took her 20th trip with students for service in rural Mexico,” she notes. Teachers also have taken students to Greece while studying mythology and to England while studying British history.

“So much has been written about 21st century education and the skills that are needed, but this is what Sacred Heart education has been about for 200 years,” Nordmann says. “It’s not just education of the head, but how to educate the heart, as well as the mind. That’s at the heart of Sacred Heart education.”

More Kids & Parenting articles.