Author photo

By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi 

Classical education, Latin, logic, in-person classes: Heritage Oak School principal addresses Kiwanis

Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi


December 19, 2020

Photos provided

Heritage Oak Secondary students bellringing for Salvation Army (l-r) Lincoln Smith, Logan Gallardo, Samantha Upperman, Jamie Lee, Aiden Salazar, Kane Harding, Carter Lee.

At Tehachapi's Heritage Oak School, a (HOS) private Christian school, students learn to argue.

No, they are not shouting at each other. Their arguments are more dignified, as the students learn to use critical thinking skills to communicate their positions.

It's a millennia-old method of education.

Based on the three-step "Trivium" Veritas Press classical curriculum, HOS students study the academic basics (Grammar, grades K-6), logical thinking (Logic, grades 7-9) and how to effectively express their convictions orally and in writing (Rhetoric, grades 9-12).

The curriculum, Secondary Principal Lorena Semerenko told a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi, "is Latin-based, classical, heavy on Western culture history and literature. Students begin Latin [language] training in the fourth grade."

Semerenko coached the debate team last year.

"To win an argument, you have to study all sides. We make the kids take the opposition side," she said.

HOS students study an array of original source material from both ends of the political, religious and social spectrums.

She said one debate topic last year was, "Should everyone be required to serve in the military, both men and women?"

Heritage Oak School segued seamlessly to digital teaching on March 13 in response to the COVID pandemic and re-opened to in-person instruction on September 8.

"We did not lose one day of school," she said.

There are 126 students enrolled in the K-12 school and the class sizes range from five to 15 students. They receive four to six hours of live instruction a day from 16 teachers. Seven of the teachers are K-6; the rest are secondary. The school adheres to COVID guidelines, with a temperature check every morning and the students grouped in "cohort" pods throughout the day.

The elementary grades (Grammar) emphasize memory and repetition, utilizing music, word puzzles and chanting.

At that age, Semerenko said, the brain is like a sponge.

"A lot of critical thinking begins each lesson," she said. "They learn something every day that is complex."

The school uses the India-based Saxon match curriculum.

Later, in the Logic years, they start to question more, Semerenko told the Kiwanis meeting.

"We move away from memory to apologetics," she s aid. [Apologetics is the use of reasoned arguments to justify a position].

In the final stage of the Trivium, "the students learn to think like an adult."

HOS produces three to seven high school graduates a year, Semerenko said, and 90 percent go on to university.

While the school lacks high school sports like football and soccer, it has a cross-country track team, a mountain bike team and a shooting club (rifle and archery). The debate team is temporarily on hiatus.

The school also teaches cursive, which most public schools have abandoned.

The tuition- and donor-based Christian school takes no public funds. The tuition is $475 a child each month, with sibling discounts. The annual cost is $5,100 for one child, $8,850 for two children, $11,950 for three, and a cap at $13,450 for four siblings. The families commit to $1,500 in fundraising per family a year, and local businesses participate in community scrip fundraising.

Photos provided

Heritage Oak High School Secondary Principal Lorena Semerenko with her children Natalia and Zachary.

Semerenko, 36, a 2002 graduate of Quartz Hill High School, began college at age 17 and started teaching at 18 under a liberal studies program that sought emergency teachers. At 19, she taught first and second grade at the Palmdale School District. Semerenko earned two master's degrees – one in Curriculum and Instruction from California State University, Bakersfield, and one in Educational Leadership from Western Governors University.

Her husband Tobias is an IT administrative manager at Northrup Grumman. Their children Zachary and Natalia are both students at Heritage Oak School.

Heritage Oak School is located on the Country Oaks Baptist Church campus on Schout Road. For information on the school, call (661) 823-0885.

The Kiwanis Club of Tehachapi is a service club of Kiwanis International, which is dedicated to serving the children of the world. For information, please call club President Tina Cunningham, (661) 822-4515.


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