Unity aims to address these issues as it grows. The Fall 2019 semester was the inaugural semester for the school, which is located at Mary, Mother of the Church Parish in Burnsville. To start out, the school will only teach high school freshmen, but it plans to add a new grade each year, until the first incoming class graduate as seniors.
The school's leaders acknowledged that it is starting small, and said they hope to discuss recognition from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis down the road.
Unity will focus on practical opportunities for students to develop skills in academics, character, leadership, and service.
Birk said the school will “be vigorously Catholic,” including opportunities for students to engage with an instructor who can foster “interior life and their personal relationship with Jesus.”
The former NFL center's own faith is central to his life, he said. He is especially active in pro-life work. In 2013, after Birk's team won Super Bowl XLVII, he declined to attend a reception at the Obama White House.
“I have great respect for the office of the presidency, but about five or six weeks ago, our president made a comment in a speech and he said, 'God bless Planned Parenthood.' Planned Parenthood performs about 330,000 abortions a year. I am Catholic, I am active in the pro-life movement and I just felt like I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't endorse that in any way,” Birk said.
He said he hopes Unity High School will form students who are committed to faithful Catholicism.
“We really want the faith to be alive, to really be a part of the kids’ lives, not just taking a religion class,” said Birk.
Citing the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude, Birk said the Catholic faith has a great framework for building character. To foster character development, students will be involved with regular service projects, like monthly outings to nursing homes, where the teens can get to know the people they are serving.
A major component of the school will be its “Real World Wednesdays.” On those days, the students will take “life skills” classes and character development, including opportunities to listen to guest speakers and attend field trips and service projects.
The teens will learn entrepreneurship, leadership, interview techniques, resumes, and financial literacy skills. The students will also be exposed to trades, through courses and workshops in auto maintenance, metal or wood shop, or home economics.
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The school will also partner with an organization called Pursuit Academy, which teaches ethical enterprise, encouraging students to become entrepreneurs, to plan and manage their future goals, and to be leaders in their communities. Among other things, the teens will learn about engaging with peer pressure, managing risk, and public speaking.
Birk said a focus of the “Real World Wednesdays” will be developing what he calls “the-other-people-matter” mindset.
By identifying the good in themselves and in other people, students will establish better relationships in the community and a better relationship with God, he said.
Developing leadership skills and character “might not necessarily help them get an A on a test or score higher on their SAT, but they are going to be equipped with skills that they can use in their lives, whether it is in the careers or their marriages or as parents or as communities members.”
“Let’s get them some of that stuff,” he added.
In light of the school’s emphasis on both academic and practical skills, Unity has chosen two patron saints: John Paul II and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These saints are not only modern figures for students to model after but fantastic examples of the school’s goals, Bengtson said.