Great Minds Combined: The Collegio Approach


A newspaper article from the first year the Collegio program was implemented.

Eamon Mohrbacher, Staff Writer

What do Xavier, Gonzaga, Loyola, and Bellarmine have in common? You may be thinking March Madness, but they are the Freshman collegio class names at Seattle Prep, honoring saints. Collegio is a unique class that combines English, History, and Theology. Not only does it offer an environment that helps students make connections between subjects, but also creates a space in which students have a variety of options for seeking guidance and advice.

According to sophomore collegio teacher Mr. Barmore, the idea “started in the mid 1970’s when Seattle Prep collaborated with Seattle University to create the Matteo Ricci Program. Students went to Prep for 3 years and then SU for 3 years, graduating with a BA in humanities.” Barmore continued, “Collegio was created to integrate subjects and skills to 1) allow for integration and the development of higher order thinking skills, and 2) eliminate some of the redundancies that occur in high school so as to allow students to matriculate from high school into college after 3 years instead of 4.”

Obviously, this is not the exact collegio experienced today. According to “They Call This Collegio,” a 1975 Seattle Prep Panther article, collegio was designed to limit repetition in subjects between the high School and College level. There are obvious similarities between the first year of Collegio and today, such as a block schedule, lots of group work, and integrating English, History, and Theology. Prep students might be surprised to learn that the original block was 2 and a half to three hours long. That’s almost 2 hours longer than today’s collegio! Class size was larger at 75 students, compared to today’s 50 with three teachers and three aides.  Around 2004, the program evolved, requiring only an English and history teacher in charge of each class. What’s better: the 1975 original collegio, or the current version in 2021?

Why combine the classes at all? Freshman and Junior collegio teacher Mrs. Vincenzo pointed out, “A major priority is making the curriculum more diverse. It’s really fun to teach jointly like as part of a teaching team. I learn something every day from my teaching partners. Sometimes that’s content. Sometimes it’s a teaching strategy. Teaching is always better when you can collaborate with someone, and we do that every day.”

Vincenzo’s Gonzaga collegio teaching partner, Mr. Butler added, “It is a program that is really quite unique to Seattle Prep, and I really appreciate how it runs counter-cultural to the prevailing momentum toward test-driven curriculum.”

There’s no doubt that when encountering multiple subjects, an abundance of units and topics will come up. However, both Mr. Butler and Mr. Barmore claimed the first sophomore collegio unit, “Changing the Social Order” as their favorite collegio unit. Mr. Butler explains that this unit, “brings in some important ideas about the balance between law and order and individual freedoms and covers social change from a few different perspectives.”

Mr. Barmore adds, “It’s timely because there’s always social disorder in the world that we can refer to as the unit progresses, and the material is really good.”

A class of this size that involves so many moving parts cannot be without challenges. Mr. Butler expressed, “One big challenge is the commitment of resources it takes on the part of the school.”

When asked what challenges he recognized, Mr. Barmore shared, “The number of students in a class and trying to decide the material of most worth.  You can’t teach it all.”

All teachers agreed on one thing: the advantages of this approach to teaching and learning far outweigh the disadvantages. Mrs. Vincenzo agreed with her colleagues and summed up, “The biggest challenge is also the biggest advantage: Collegio is a multidisciplinary course which requires a lot of collaboration between teachers.”

“When teachers can collaborate and approach the material holistically, the wonder of integrated learning across subject areas is a thing to behold. The BCM — “beautiful Collegio moment” — is one of the joys of any Collegio teacher’s job!” according to Mr. Butler.

Whether it’s diving into ancient history, analyzing The Great Gatsby, or pondering religions throughout the ages, Collegio offers a collective experience that leaves one thinking.