The two year program’s initial education will be centered on Machine and System Technology, which includes experience in electrical, machine operation, and 3D printing. The school will eventually add other skilled trades, including HVAC and plumbing. The curriculum is split into three parts: lessons, apprenticeship, and humanities.
Classes will take place both online and on the Kuyper campus, which can house 300 people. Students will work part-time in a particular trade as part of a paid apprenticeship. After two years, graduates will receive a certificate in their trade and be half-way through the completion of their journeymen card.
In addition to their education in a trade, students at Harmel Academy will receive spiritual formation through a two-year long humanities course. They will study history, philosophy, theology, and politics, with texts including papal documents and the works of Aristotle.
Black said the humanities course will not include lengthy written assignments, but is still designed to be challenging to the students, though classroom discussions and light reading.
“It's going to be very practical. It’s going to be rigorous and vigorous at the same time. We are planning on challenging and [investing] into some of this stuff because there are a lot of issues that young men have to face now.”
The humanities course will be split into four sections: the self, the other, the family, and the community, which includes courses on the nature of work, economics, politics, taxes, the structure of the state, and military service.
Students will also gather daily for the Divine Office’s morning prayer. Bishop David Walkowiak of Grand Rapids has approved the project and is helping the school find a priest so the campus can eventually hold Mass and retreats.
Black said the school wants to remain small to help to ensure strong relationships among the students and with the staff. The campus environment will be conducive to building genuine friendships, he said, noting that college relationships are a considerable aspect of formation.
“We want faculty and students to know each other well,” he said. “The key thing here is to foster a physical environment that fosters community. The college experience is a unique opportunity to form lifelong friendships.”
Tuition at Harmel Academy is $18,500 per year, which covers room and board. To apply, candidates must have their GED or High School Diploma, a car, and letters of recommendation. The students must also take a personality test, pass a criminal background check and drug test, and undergo an interview process. The school’s accreditation process is in progress.
Black said he and Pohl came up with the idea for the school several years ago, upon noticing that some men were uninterested in a four-year college but still wanted to prepare for a career while in a Catholic environment.
“[Some] young men struggle with what to do when they had a strong mechanical interest. They don’t want the enormous debt of college and they didn’t feel called to spend that much time at something that didn’t really have a direct relationship to their lives,” he said.
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“[These] men are more mechanically minded and it seemed like there really wasn’t anything in the Church [for them].”
Across the U.S. the skilled trades industries are seeing a labor shortage, as the number of workers retiring far outstrips the numbers entering the field.
Black said many young adults are a good fit for the typical four-year university experience, but others are more naturally suited for skilled trades, working with their hands, and seeing the results of their labor. He noted that Christ himself was a carpenter.
“I think the trades give young men a unique ability to truly imitate Christ and that’s pretty powerful stuff.”
Black is enthusiastic about the opportunities Harmel Academy will provide for its students. He said the goal of the academy is not only to lead young men to a career, but to form their understanding of work and faith.
“The key thing we are looking at here is forming a fully integrated man who knows what he is about [and] knows how God built him.”