How Does a Rigorous Curriculum Benefit Your Preschool-8 Student?

At Sacred Heart Schools Chicago, a rigorous curriculum prepares students not only for high school but for the future. An expert shares insights.

When faced with choosing a faith-based school for your child, curriculum is a big part of the equation. How do academic excellence and a challenging curriculum fit into that decision?

Sacred Heart Schools Chicago believes that it has found the perfect balance.

“As an independent school, we have more flexibility,” says Blair Hanson, Director of Curriculum for Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago. “We have rigorous expectations for our curriculum, but we also have the freedom to adapt.”

A rigorous curriculum evolves

Educators are learning that being able to change course is helpful in reaching successful outcomes.

Sacred Heart has embraced this approach. As an independent school, it offers students a course of study that adapts to the changing academic landscape. The curriculum also targets the specific interests and needs of their students.

“At Sacred Heart, we have end-of-year goals, end-of-unit goals and even end-of-day goals,” says Hanson. “This approach ensures that our students are engaged and learning at all times. This also prevents the curriculum from growing stale or outdated.”

An interdisciplinary approach enhances learning

The interplay between subjects is something that Sacred Heart students learn from the youngest grades.

“We make connections between each subject. This helps students build critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” says Hanson.

For example, first graders embark on a unit called “How Can We Be Good Citizens and Best Care for the City?”

“In this unit, students learn about Chicago’s history and explore the city’s impact on natural resources such as Lake Michigan. They propose local landmarks and even take part in beach cleanups,” Hanson explains. “This philosophy isn’t about check-boxing subjects. It’s about filling students with knowledge so that they can have agency and take ownership of their own education.”

Hanson says that Sacred Heart students are strong advocates for themselves and others by the time they reach middle school.

“Our middle schoolers have the confidence to ask their teachers to learn about what interests them. They even feel comfortable reaching out to local leaders. This is because they had practice doing this in a safe and fun environment starting in first grade,” says Hanson.

Innovative STEAM topics keep students up to date

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) is more important than ever in today’s educational environment. Sacred Heart is staying ahead of the curve and committed to helping students learn how to use and embrace new technologies. The goal is to teach how technology can benefit and enhance many areas of study.

Sacred Heart has fully incorporated STEAM into its challenging curriculum. Students learn about robotics and other up-and-coming technologies including Dash Robot, Mouse Code and Go. STEAM units begin in first grade to get students comfortable with it. By the time they reach fifth grade, students are ready for more complex STEAM learning.

“We focus on technology that supports humans and doesn’t just add more screen time to our students’ day,” says Hanson. “We want our students to learn to be innovative and responsible technology users.”

A holistic education empowers students

It isn’t only a rigorous curriculum that sets Sacred Heart apart as an independent faith-based school. Sacred Heart students participate in co-curricular activities as part of the regular school day.

Performing arts and athletic activities are not only fun; they broaden students’ interests and abilities while fostering a supportive school community.

“By offering our fourth-grade students subjects like theater, we saw so many students blossom. Eventually, we found ways to include them in our school-wide musical, which used to be for the upper grades only. It’s great community building for our students,” Hanson says.

Some students may be reluctant to sign up for after-school activities due to shyness or uncertainty about the activity. By including co-curricular activities as part of the regular school day, Sacred Heart students can explore interests in a low-pressure environment.

“It’s exciting to see students tap into interests that add so much enrichment to their lives,” Hanson says. “They often discover passions and talents they may not have found otherwise.”

Future success is the focus

“We are always planning for our end goal,” says Hanson. “We know what we want the portrait of our graduate to be. By the time our eighth graders leave us, we want them to be critical thinkers and articulate speakers who are able to advocate for themselves and others.”

For more information about Sacred Heart Schools of Chicago visit

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.


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