The Story Had a Place to Go: HBU Alumni Bring Classical Education to Houston Families

The News Magazine of HCU

By Patti Hinze, advisory board member for Trinity Classical School

In January 2009, HBU alumna Olivia Ober ’98 was walking the halls of the NICU. Her 3-year-old son, Joshua, was gravely ill, and had been in and out of the hospital since birth. While Ober walked, she did not allow herself to be overcome with despair over Joshua’s future. Instead, she thought about curriculum. She educated herself on the fundamentals of the Trivium. She wrote a handbook. She had hope that Joshua was going to get better and finally go home. She had hope that there was a way to educate her children that would allow her family to spend as much time together as possible. Ober and her husband, Eric, along with three other like-minded families, had decided to start a school.

Neil Anderson, MLA ‘17, head of Trinity Classical School, works with students.
Neil Anderson, MLA ’17, head of Trinity Classical School, works with students.

Trinity Classical School began that fall with 22 students, including the Obers’ two daughters, Elizabeth and Rebekah. The founding families had three priorities: that their school be Christ-centered, classical and collaborative. Today, students are taught by campus teachers on Mondays and Wednesdays, and at home by their parents on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. This hybrid model appealed to the Obers because it meant having flexibility to treasure more time together as a family, while working around Joshua’s frequent hospital stays. Ober says, “Having a medically dependent, terminally ill child makes you realize you don’t want to miss anything. I wanted to play a significant part in their education, but I didn’t want to be solely responsible. I didn’t want to plan; I wanted to spend my time teaching and being with my kids.” This time became even more valuable when the Obers adopted a sibling group in 2011, and Hannah, Isaiah, Leah and Eli joined their family.

The distinctive Christ-centeredness of Trinity Classical School was also important to the Obers. Olivia, who played volleyball at HBU and earned a dual degree in Christianity and Business Management, had several professors who encouraged her in her faith, while challenging her academically. She confesses that the classical distinctive of Trinity Classical School was not initially important to her. She had a light bulb moment when, early in their first year, her daughter was reading about Julius Caesar. She looked up from her book and said, excitedly, “Julius Caesar! He’s going to be assassinated by senators in 44 BC!” The timeline she had been memorizing was no longer just a series of facts. “The story had a place to go,” says Ober.

Neil Anderson speaking onstage
“I believe classical schools need school heads who don’t just love the idea of what goes on in their classrooms, but who also embody and practice those ideals because they love them.” – Neil Anderson

The classical model is based on the Trivium, the ancient mode of educating children following a pattern of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The grammar phase generally coincides with the elementary grades, and takes advantage of a young child’s mind to absorb great quantities of information. These years are characterized by the memorization of facts and rules — the building blocks. The logic years, which coincide with the middle grades, focus on critical thinking about the learned facts. Students are encouraged to ask, “Why?” and to formulate well-reasoned arguments. The rhetoric stage is the culmination. Students have the facts, they can think about them critically, and they then learn to use these tools to write and speak with originality, clarity and skill.

In its second year, Trinity Classical School hired a head of school. Neil Anderson, MLA ’17, and his wife, Marian, had been seeking a different path for educating their four children, Antonella, Jeremiah, Samuel and Augustine. Anderson remembers, “We were interested in ancient paths of wisdom. We were interested in the great books. We were interested in pedagogies that all the thinkers we admired had gone through. We began to embrace a view of education as the pursuit of godly wisdom and virtue. We wanted the human flourishing vision of the liberal arts, even though we didn’t quite have that language at the time.”

While serving as head of school, Anderson completed his MLA at HBU in 2017. He says, “I believe classical schools need school heads who don’t just love the idea of what goes on in their classrooms, but who also embody and practice those ideals because they love them.” He mentions that Dr. Robert B. Sloan, HBU president, is a role model. “His talks on organizational leadership were infused with spontaneous references to figures, storylines and ideas from the classics. It seems organic – not filled with pose and pretense. I want to be like that when I grow up.”

Anderson says his coursework at HBU only deepened his love for the liberal arts tradition. “Dr. Gordon revived a passion for scientific thinking, and helped a non-scientist to remember that scientific investigation cannot be separated from the study of the history of ideas. Dr. Davis gave me Erasmus, a thinker I most likely would never have exposed myself to, and I would have missed out. Dr. Hemati took me through the hard discipline of logical thinking. Dr. Garbarino taught me that every sentence matters. And Dr. Boyleston … I already had a hunch that poetry creates, sustains and renews the world, but he brought that idea to its consummation in me. The MLA at HBU made me more convinced that I was on the right track. I want this for myself. I want it for my kids. And I want it for other people’s kids.”

Anderson’s zeal for continued intellectual growth has been contagious among his faculty. Pam Jackson, MLA ’18, who has taught first grade and worked in administration at TCS for seven years, says this of her HBU coursework, “The Roman World class, with Dr. Garbarino, deepened my appreciation of the Roman influence on our country’s culture, not only in government and architecture, but in education as well. Many of the ancient practices (copywork, recitations, poetry) are practices we use at TCS today. It was illuminating and affirming to know that what worked then works today too.” Another HBU alumnus, Joseph Christopherson, MLA ’17, teaches second grade and is also the Memorial Lower Campus Director.

This year, Trinity Classical School celebrates its 10-year anniversary with its first graduating class, including the Obers’ oldest daughter, Elizabeth. The 22 students and 3 teachers have grown to 667 students and 93 staff members on three campuses. The model has attracted parents in other cities, and Trinity Classical School of Houston has started the Trinity Classical Network as a means to generously share its resources, systems, and experience to see that other Christ-centered, classical, collaborative schools experience the same level of flourishing. The Classical School of Dallas began classes for the first time this fall, opening their morning assembly with student, teacher, and parent voices raised, just as they are at Trinity Classical School of Houston, in the opening lines of their first quarter hymn:

“Come thou fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace. Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise!”