An independent, coeducational PK-Grade 12 private school located in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia

Learning Together Blog

Continuous Effort for Every Student
Head of Middle and Upper Schools Tony Durso

Hoops.

No, not as in the Cavs and Warriors or Celtics and Lakers but hoops as in those we have to jump through and more specifically those students have to jump through when trying to meet graduation requirements and, of course, position themselves for college.

Whether a total number of credits or even a specific course, the vast majority—in fact, the overwhelming majority—of schools require students to complete a set program to earn a diploma. While some will occasionally allow exceptions, they really prefer not to. This is not out of spite for or ignorance of an individual's needs but rather properly rooted in the philosophy, research, and experience of the particular school.

At FA, we believe a liberal arts education, with its rock-solid and interconnected foundations in all the academic disciplines, in combination with a healthy mix of artistic, athletic, service, and leadership opportunities is the best possible program for preparing students for college and for life. Every decision we make is born of the continuous effort to make our eclectic program meaningful and manageable—for every student.

In practice, this means balancing what we know is generally "right and good" for all students with what we know is specifically "good and right" for the individual student. We "know" the former from our twenty-five years of experience as an institution and we "know" the latter from our daily experience with each student. The amount of individual attention each student at FA receives teaches them to reflect on and decide what type of learner-citizen they want to be. As a result, FA has to be willing to listen to each student's hopes and dreams and adjust when and how appropriate.

Right. Hoops. Almost forgot.

This means that we'll lower, raise, enlarge, shrink, eliminate, and/or add hoops if needed. Ask politely, and we'll even set 'em on fire too—the low temperature fire they use in the circus, though, and we'll have a fire extinguisher handy.

Those schools that are larger and wedded to the Governor's School, AP, or IB programs for example just don't have that luxury. Not their fault. (Well, kind of their fault). The scale on which they have to operate mandates more rigid policies but the programs they choose to follow are not about individuals seeking and setting goals for themselves. Those programs are about state or globally set standards that must be maintained or they run the risk of losing credibility. They are about categorizing students into "achievement groups"—you made the cut so you belong here, you didn't make the cut so you belong there.

Quite the contrary, FA's credibility is enhanced every time one of our students picks a path that makes them the best learner-citizen they can be—categories of one, where each student is assessed first and foremost on individual merits. Sam, the author of the blog post previous to this one and member of the Class of 2018, is simply and powerfully Sam. (No, we don't rank our students either.)

I'll be the first to admit that we can't do it all but I'll also be the first to declare we are sure going to try. Well prepared because they have discovered, engaged, and imagined the limitless nature of themselves and the world around them? You betcha.




"Coming from FA, It Feels Natural"
Sam Schoedel '18

I'm happy to say that my transition to college has been smooth. Other than my class size abruptly jumping from thirty to 6,400 students, nothing seems out of place. At FA, I formed strong bonds with my teachers, and that makes a huge difference in college where each classroom is filled with three hundred kids. When I need help, I go to the professor and ask for it. When I don't understand a concept in class, I raise my hand and get clarification. FA taught me to ask questions, and it taught me to sit at the front of the room, a good combination for someone who doesn't like to speak in front of hundreds of people. If I don't turn around, it feels as though I'm back in Ms. Wilson's room, learning calculus with only two other students sitting next to me.

My favorite part about college, however, has been the extracurriculars. There are so many opportunities to do amazing things that it's hard to choose what to dedicate my time to. I can make off-roading vehicles, design a hybrid motorcycle or race car, program an autonomous drone, drink chocolate milk with a club of like-minded chocolate milk lovers, or work on the bleeding edge of transportation technology in Elon Musk's hyperloop challenge. Many people I've talked to have said they aren't going to pursue any of these, but, coming from FA, it feels natural to seek out these enrichment opportunities. I know that dedicating time to one of these teams is what sets someone apart from the majority, and FA has prepared me to dedicate a lot of my time to doing what I love.

The only disappointment has been that the chocolate milk club only meets on Mondays—but they're working on fixing that.

Sam on his first day at Fredericksburg Academy (left), and Sam on his first day at Virginia Tech (right).


Getting Into the School Routine as a JK Student
kbeardsley

While the start of the school year is always an exciting time, getting back into the swing of school after summer vacation can also be a difficult transition for students and families. Junior Kindergarten teachers Ms. Kolotos, Ms. Fischer, Ms. Hazel, and Ms. Wilcox understand just how important the first few days and weeks are for establishing routines for some of our youngest Falcons.

The JK teachers know that an important factor to creating a positive classroom environment is how well and how quickly the routines become adopted (Appleton 293). Establishing these routines begins with the morning greeting: each student is greeted at the front door by Ms. Estes and again by a teacher at the classroom door. This helps each child feel accepted and clearly communicates that each individual is valued while also modeling good manners (Manning 115).

Once greeted, students take responsibility for their own personal items: putting their backpacks on hooks, separating their snacks from their lunches, and placing these items in their respective labeled bins. These simple tasks empower children and equip them with a sense of confidence and independence for the day ahead.

In the classroom, they are encouraged to engage in a free-play activity, to tackle a warm-up academic task such as writing a letter on the board, or to share a book with a friend. "Both free-play opportunities and an abundance of casual literacy experiences are the core of good early childhood programs. In either case, this two-step routine—cubbies followed by play or books—contributes to children's sense of well-being and social development and keeps things tidy and relatively calm," (Polly 56). Though each day the academic task may vary slightly or the free-play station may rotate, students expect some element of choice and control in their school day.

Just three weeks into the school year and the four-year-old Falcons engage these routines with confidence and joy. This smooth transition is in large part because of the clearly communicated expectations of teachers and the burgeoning sense of independence fostered in partnership with parents.


*Works Cited*

Appleton, Ken. "Routines and the First Few Weeks of Class." The Clearing House, vol. 68, no. 5, 1995, p. 293.

Greenberg, Polly. "The Value of Classroom Rituals & Routines." Scholastic Early Childhood Today, vol. 15, no. 1, 2000, pp. 52-59.

Manning, M. Lee., and Katherine Toth Bucher. Classroom Management: Models, Applications, and Cases. Pearson/Merrill Prentice Hall, 2007.


Head of School Karen Moschetto

I attended a conference this summer that focused on creating productive environments that reinforced learning, and created an atmosphere of wanting to gain even more knowledge. Speakers touched on the fact that accessibility to the Internet and handheld devices allow modern learners the ability to obtain and absorb content in ways that had not been utilized before in schools. We are facing an educational shift that potentially alters what students need from their teachers and classrooms.

With this in mind, coupled with the news surrounding the decline in SOL scores in our local public schools, and the decline of reading skills among elementary age public school students, I could not be more proud to be a part of Fredericksburg Academy.

This summer, FA spent time discussing the conditions that must exist for students to learn deeply, and powerfully. I wanted to share a few highlights of those conversations:

  • "Learning" is a series of experiences throughout our lives that shape who we are, and open opportunities for who we can become.
  • "Learning" is acquiring knowledge through experience, study, and teachings to shape how you relate to the world.
  • A group of teachers pointed out that throughout our discussions there was no mention of learning being tied to grades or test scores; these are measured in a moment, and true learning takes place over time.

Given this perspective on learning, we concluded that teaching demands a learning environment in which the teacher:

  • Supports each individual to participate in purposeful learning opportunities by building personal relationships.
  • Provides students with the opportunity for choice, risk taking, and mistakes while collaborating with colleagues to broaden the scope of instruction beyond curricular bounds.
  • Emphasizes depth over coverage, and is flexible and responsive to changes in the classroom and in the world with the greater purpose of enabling students to discover, engage and imagine.

In two short weeks, I have seen firsthand how the faculty is delivering on these promises, and so much more. I see students throughout all levels of the school who are excited to be here, who are being challenged, and who are confidently going about their day as if school has been in session for months. I can't wait to see what the faculty has in store for the rest of the year!


Head of School Karen Moschetto

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When I talk with friends and neighbors in education outside of Fredericksburg Academy at this time of year, the conversation inevitably turns to the standardized testing that will soon be taking place in local schools. Their libraries and music rooms will close for classes to accommodate the testing process. Students will face the pressure of recalling content that was learned only to maximize their test score. Teachers will anxiously await the results that tacitly demonstrate how well they taught their students. These conversations sadden me because collaboration, creativity, and resourcefulness are an integral part of assessments and are lost when valuable time and resources (not to mention teacher talent!) are focused on standardized testing.

It is in these instances that I revel in FA's independence and our focus of always putting the student first in all that we do. Rather than choosing answers to multiple-choice questions, students share what they have learned with peers, parents, and our community in various ways across all divisions, incorporating creativity, technology, self-confidence, and communication skills critical to future success in school and life. Through our student-centered, integrated program, we value content and skill development and recognize that the best way to quantify authentic learning is when they are measured together.

Consider the pros of standardized testing in this article and ask yourself if they are valuable enough to outweigh the cons. At our private school in Fredericksburg, VA, teachers are in constant communication with students and parents, giving real feedback, so that no one has to wait for a test score or a report card to know how they are performing.

If you're a parent of a child who will essentially be losing a month of authentic learning, I want you to know there is an alternative. Throughout all three divisions, our focus is on balancing a meaningful, challenging program with a nurturing, age-appropriate learning environment. I have no doubt that if you visit our campus, you will see the difference an independent education at Fredericksburg Academy can have for your child.

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