By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Learning how to learn

Marcus Larson/News-RegisterDelphian School students Colin Koenig, left, and Mac Feilmeier work together on a physics experiment using a toy car to test acceleration compared to force. The private school’s teaching methods attract students from around the world.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Delphian School students Colin Koenig, left, and Mac Feilmeier work together on a physics experiment using a toy car to test acceleration compared to force. The private school’s teaching methods attract students from around the world.
Marcus Larson/News-RegisterLexie Lensgraf, left, and Cassidy Malick, across table, collaborate on a solid geometry problem during class. Delphian School students often work together independently with only periodic input from their instructor.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Lexie Lensgraf, left, and Cassidy Malick, across table, collaborate on a solid geometry problem during class. Delphian School students often work together independently with only periodic input from their instructor.
Submitted photoDelphian graduate Natasha Ortega with friends made during her 2014 visit to India, where she tutored children and gave aid in a leprosy colony.
Submitted photo
Delphian graduate Natasha Ortega with friends made during her 2014 visit to India, where she tutored children and gave aid in a leprosy colony.
Submitted photoHannah Robertson, class of 2014, teaches a class to Nepalese children.
Submitted photo
Hannah Robertson, class of 2014, teaches a class to Nepalese children.

You could read the most thoroughly descriptive and explanatory book ever written on how to drive a car, even memorize it word for word. But you still wouldn’t be able to get behind the wheel and expect to do it right the first time.

That analogy sums up the first of three “barriers” that must be overcome, according to Study Technology, a learning method formulated in the 1960s by writer, philosopher, thinker and educator L. Ron Hubbard.

In the crucial area of youth education, adherents of Study Technology are producing real results at the Delphian School, a stately structure perched high atop a hillside north of old Highway 99W overlooking Sheridan.

Delphian School educators say that “Study Tech,” as they call it, allows anyone to learn anything by delineating methods for recognizing and resolving difficulties in the mastery of study materials. Its ultimate goal is to teach students to teach themselves, thereby becoming lifelong learners.

A charismatic but controversial figure, Hubbard is best known as founder of the Church of Scientology and author of “Dianetics,” a metaphysical philosophy that asserts the necessity of clearing negative thoughts from the “reactive” mind.

For some people, the connection to Hubbard creates a misconception that Delphian School educators are quick to point out: It is not an institution for the teachings of Scientology, but rather a private school based on Hubbard’s theories of education.

Standing in sharp contrast to its rural surroundings, the Delphian School’s impressive, orange-brick building reflects the symmetry of the art deco style. Its two, three-story wings extend equidistant from either side of a four-story central core whose tower-accented entry tops out another two stories above the rest.

This edifice was erected in 1933 as a Jesuit Novitiate, a monastery for young men studying to become members of the religious order that anchors the educational aspects of the Roman Catholic Church.

At the time of its construction, the Jesuits’ regal retreat was far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization. It served as a place of contemplation, meditation, inner growth and learning.

Much of that atmosphere has been carried over to the present day by the private Delphian boarding school now occupying the campus.

As its numbers declined in North America, the Society of Jesus no longer needed such an elaborate facility. In 1974, the order sold the building and surrounding acreage to Delphi Schools Inc., which is licensed by the nonprofit group Applied Scholastics to employ Study Technology curriculum.

The former novitiate proved ideally suited for conversion to a boarding school, as it already featured dorm rooms, classrooms, and a dining hall with a commercial kitchen.

Opening in 1976, the Delphian School instituted a curriculum serving the full range of grades K-12. To round out the school experience, a gym, baseball diamond, soccer field and set of tennis courts were added to the grounds, which encompass 800 acres.

The campus also serves as headquarters for Delphi Schools Inc., which operates seven schools in the U.S., three in California and one each in Massachusetts, Illinois, Oregon and Florida.

Describing the school’s mission, Assistant Headmaster Mark Siegel said, “At Delphian, students continually develop their ability to study independently. They routinely dive into dictionaries, reference books and online sites to fully clarify concepts. They constantly test information against the real world.

“Though subjects range from the more theoretical to the very practical, students study to acquire information they can use. They don’t just learn facts; they gain abilities that prepare them for the realities and challenges of life.”

As its reputation for graduating high-achievers has grown, the school is attracting students from across the country and around the world with its highly disciplined and self-directed approach. Currently, almost half of its students hail from foreign lands, predominantly in East Asia.

Another major thread of the Delphian approach is community service. And the school never does anything halfway.

As a result, it’s not unusual these days to see yellow Delphian buses parked in downtown McMinnville, or in the communities of Sheridan, Willamina and Grand Ronde. Over the past several years, all of these Yamhill Valley communities have been beneficiaries of community service work performed by student volunteers from the Sheridan-based school.

Cassie Sollars, manager of the McMinnville Downtown Association, said, “Delphian students have been amazing volunteers for us. They always seem to be looking for community-service opportunities.

“During the Main Street Conference this year, they helped to set up the ballroom for our opening reception, and they helped out at the reception. We set up a work plan for about a dozen of them, and they carried it out perfectly.”

She said, “I’ve never seen a more eager and accommodating bunch of kids. They are bright, open, social and conversational.”

For the past five years, Delphian students have also helped serve dinner to residents of Parkland Retirement Home on Highway 18, next to Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

For the second year, Delphian students have assisted the Salvation Army in serving Thanksgiving dinner at St James Catholic Church in McMinnville. Students help set up for the event, serve food, clean up and visit with diners.

In Sheridan, Public Works Director Kie Cottam said, “Three years ago, Delphian School students joined our citywide clean-up team on Earth Day to cover all the main streets in town. We’ve had from 20 to 40 students here at any one time, and they’ve been a big help. They’ve also done a beautification project out on Rock Creek Road, planting bushes and flowers to enhance the area’s appearance.”

Another Sheridan outreach program brings Delphian students to town for dinner and tutoring sessions, with family members in attendance.

Other Delphian students have been reading to kindergartners at Willamina Elementary School. And every Thursday, Delphian students serve as volunteer readers at the Grand Ronde Learning Center.

Outreach and assistance aren’t limited to neighboring communities, either. Delphians have ventured far and wide in quest of ways to make a difference.

South Africa was Andrea Romero’s destination in 2011. She worked at the Welgedacht Wildlife Game Preserve outside Johannesburg, learning conservation practices, and helped care for animals in the Lion Whisperer’s Sanctuary.

Mikai Karl went to Afghanistan in 2014 to produce a video documentary on Afghani life, viewable on YouTube and Vimeo. Deirdre Keough and Hannah Robertston traveled to Nepal together to volunteer at a school.

Natasha Ortega went to India earlier this year to tutor children and give aid at a leper colony.

“These people are social outcasts,” she said. “There is almost no help from the Indian government, and because they are not allowed to work, they are reduced to begging in the streets.”

Summing up the value of these outreach efforts, Siegel said, “Delphian students are eager to get to know their neighbors. They want to dispel misconceptions and demonstrate through deeds the kind of responsible and respectful citizens they are becoming.

“Beyond that,” he said, “the first-hand, practical-life experience they gain in the process helps fulfill the primary philosophy behind Study Tech. They are doing (those things) to learn, which imparts a fuller understanding than traditional classroom teaching can provide.”

And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — having the pleasure of interacting with teenagers who are bright, engaging and well-grounded.

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at kklooster@newsregister.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS