St. Bernard Prep – Private Education in a Serene SettingLocated in the beautiful Appalachian foothills of North Alabama and tucked away on the east side of Cullman County is Alabama’s only Catholic boarding school – St. Bernard Preparatory School. St. Bernard Prep is a residential and day school for grades 7-12 that was begun by the Benedictine Monks at St. Bernard Abbey in 1891, the year the monastery was founded. Since that time the call to educate has been central in the work of the monks, including high school, college and seminary education.
For over 1,500 years Benedictine Monks have been involved in the business of education, keeping alive the love for learning and a deep appreciation for God’s creation and world cultures. With that solid foundation, the Cullman, Alabama school has declared its mission: “St. Bernard Preparatory School is committed to fully engaging students in learning for the whole person – body, mind and spirit.”
In the year 2005, St. Bernard opened Founder’s Hall and created a wonderful learning environment for students in grades 7 and 8. The Middle School contains six classrooms, including a music room, science lab, and a newly purchased mobile computer lab.
The Upper School offers most classroom instruction in the Swisher Classroom Building, with music, art, drama, and physical education located at other campus locations. Classes are taught by highly certified veteran instructors with vast experience at both the high school and collegiate level. Most have been educated beyond the master’s degree level.
The Middle School academic program is structured for the purpose of improving academic achievement in the 7th and 8th grades. The concepts and skills taught in the middle grades provide the necessary foundation for the college preparatory curriculum of the Upper School.
The entire school curriculum is based on the liberal arts: languages and literature, history, mathematics, science, the social sciences, theology and the arts. The teaching philosophy emphasizes the ability to think, to read with understanding, to express oneself with precision and confidence, and to solve problems creatively. Courses encourage the development of mental and physical discipline, of breadth and depth of knowledge, of responsible thought and action, and of critical thinking.
Benedict Dorm is home to the young men of St. Bernard, and the young ladies reside in their dormitory located in the Administration Building. Whether students choose to reside on campus or commute daily, they are taught to acquire good study habits and develop daily routines that lead to personal growth and development.
School President, Fr. Joel Martin, who served as Headmaster for 15 years, says he is proud of what he has witnessed from the students who have graduated and who are currently enrolled.
“We have high expectations for our students. We believe in a full life of true involvement, overcoming fear and taking risks, but most of all responsibility and self-control,” he said.
Teaching students how to budget time, study, set goals, get along with one another, and limit their time on the internet, cell phone and TV, are part of the school’s overall philosophy. Students are encouraged to make good decisions and accept consequences, solve problems, clean their room well, do laundry and learn to accept the joys and difficulties of life with others.
Chuckling, Fr. Joel said parents often comment on the changes they see in their child who enters the residential life. “Parents have said on more than one occasion, they have experienced first-hand an increasing closeness to family, a greater depth of communication, appreciation and love, as well as self-discipline, self-respect and self-confidence. It all comes from St. Bernard Prep’s belief in teenagers and in our expectation that they think for themselves and make wise choices.”
The school currently has 22 international students enrolled from five different countries: Germany, Korea, China, Vietnam, and Taiwan. That makes for a breadth of experience: a school that mirrors not just the local population, but the world community of which we are a part.
St. Bernard offers a broad athletic program and boasts facilities seldom seen in a school population of less than 200. Competing in the AHSAA 1A Division, The Cross Country team created a 5K running trail though the 800 wooded acres of St. Bernard’s treasure forest, and has become known as a dominate powerhouse in the 1A Cross Country competitions for both male and females.
The Fazi-Richard Athletic Center completed in 1996, allows students to participate in volleyball, basketball and other athletic activities. The school’s out-of-doors athletic facilities consist of a fine tennis complex, fields for baseball, softball, archery, etc., and a state-of-the-art soccer field that was home to the Argentine Olympic Football Federation in 1996.
John Schneider, a resident of Decatur and current Student Body President, experienced the life of a St. Bernard student through his older siblings, a sister and two brother, all graduates of St. Bernard. “St. Bernard is our home away from home,” Schneider said. “We chose St. Bernard for the educational aspect, but received so much more . Our life-long friends, the memories of the dorm, the dining hall, Abbey Church, the quad, Blue and White Day, the Grotto, Bloomin’ Festival, the routines, and hard work will remain in our hearts forever.”
Fr. Joel says St. Bernard should strongly be considered if one is academically capable and willing to prepare seriously for the life that lies ahead of them in college and university studies and beyond. He went on to say that St. Bernard is not equipped as a therapeutic setting for students with serious personal, social or academic difficulties.
St. Bernard offers a commuting bus service daily to the Decatur, Alabama area and is prepared to expand transportation services to other locations in the future as needed.
Anyone interested in learning more about St. Bernard Prep should attend Open House on Sunday, March 3, 2013 beginning at 2 p.m. or call (256)739-6682 for a personal tour of the school. Visit online (www.stbernardprep.com) or like us on www.facebook.com/stbernardprep.