Influence of Church academy system felt today

While primary schools for children were among the first institutions founded whenever Church members settled during the 19th century, secondary schools often waited until meager financial resources improved.

The first secondary school sponsored by the Church in Utah was started in 1875 when Brigham Young founded Brigham Young Academy in Provo, Utah. This first academy was charged to educate each student with a full course, and each young man taught some "branch of mechanism (trade) that suited his taste and capacity, along with the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants."The Brigham Young Academy, like others founded a short time later, struggled during its first years. It is now the Church's flagship institution of higher learning, Brigham Young University.

In 1877, Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, was founded with a generous parcel of acreage to support it. Brigham Young envisioned "a free educational institution to accommodate from 500 to 1,000 young people where they can spend all their time for a period of four to six years in acquiring a liberal literary and scientific education." This institution is now Utah State University.

Brigham Young's death in 1877 halted the addition of more academies for a time. Another was created in Salt Lake City in 1886, Latter-day Saint Academy (now LDS Business College); and the Fielding Academy in Paris, Idaho, in 1887. Adding to these academies, the general Church Board of Education, created in 1888, immediately expanded the number of academies. Under its direction, 18 more academies were started within the year. About 35 academies were started, though some functioned only a short time.

Some of the more long-lasting academies founded included: Ricks Academy, Rexburg, Idaho, 1888; Snow Academy, Ephraim, Utah, 1888; Oneida Academy, Preston, Idaho, 1888; Snowflake Academy, Snowflake, Ariz., 1888; St. Johns Academy, St. Johns, Ariz., 1888; Uintah Academy, Vernal, Utah, 1888; Cassia Academy, Oakley, Idaho, 1889; Weber Academy, Ogden, Utah, 1889; Emery Academy, Castle Dale, Utah, 1890; Gila Academy, Thatcher, Ariz., 1891; Juarez Academy, Colonia Juarez, Mexico, 1897; Murdock Academy, Beaver, Utah, 1898; San Luis Academy, Sanford, Colo., 1905; Summit Academy, Coalville, Utah, 1906; Big Horn Academy, Cowley, Wyo., 1909; Millard Academy, Hinckley, Utah, 1910; Knight Academy, Raymond, Alberta, 1910; and Dixie Academy, St. George, Utah, 1911.

Several of the academies eventually "graduated" into institutions of higher learning. These include, besides BYU and Utah State University: LDS Business College (Latter-day Saints Academy); Weber State University (Weber Academy); Ricks College, (Ricks Academy); Snow College (Snow Academy); and College of Eastern Arizona College, (Gila Academy).

Of the 35 Church academies, only one continues in its original role as a Church-sponsored facility of secondary education: Juarez Academy in Mexico, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

On a typical day, school in the academies opened with singing exercises followed by prayer. Theological studies were held the first hour. Strict rules of behavior were followed, but abundant recreational activities, carefully supervised, provided a "friendly human and character-promoting influence that seemed to permeate these schools which had religion as their foundation."

Although the academies had a religious orientation, the curricula offered at each was similar to state high schools that began emerging after the turn of the century. One of the major differences was the study of scriptures at the academies.

The rise of state high schools provided secondary education at lower costs to students. It also added extra financial burdens to Church members who found themselves supporting two school systems. By 1911 half the Utah high school students attended public schools. In 1920, the Church Board of Education recommended eliminating seven academies and by 1923 recommended entire elimination of high school work from Church schools.

Snow College was transferred to the state of Utah 1932, followed by Weber College and Dixie College in 1933. Gila College was transferred to Arizona also in 1933. (From Mormonism and Education, by Milton Lynn Bennion, 1939.)

The founding of seminaries at public high schools and institutes of religion in colleges and universities continued the Church's emphasis on religious education.

Even though the period of Church academies was brief, these institutions illustrate the high regard for education held by the Saints. More than half a century after the general demise of the academy system, the influence of academies in emphasizing higher education continues to ripple through the lives of the Saints.

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