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

Learning Together Blog

Middle School Day of Service: Connecting Lessons Learned in the Classroom to the World Around Us
David Fischer, Dean of Students

Last Wednesday, the Middle School division gathered in the Commons for an annual tradition; the Thanksgiving Assembly. The program offered time for student leaders and teachers to share reflections on holiday traditions and experiences, but perhaps more importantly, to celebrate the communal effort and positive outcomes from the service focus of the week of Thanksgiving. Before heading outside to enjoy a fun hour of tacocat competition, we took the time to recognize the power of the individual to make a difference and the value, both to the individual and the community, of our efforts to serve.

The middle school years are an ideal time to teach the positive power of "one"

The adolescent years can be chaotic, as young men and women struggle to construct a more defined sense of self. It is during these years that students begin to recognize their role in an ever-enlarging circle of personal connections. They are members of families, peer groups, academic classes, sports teams, neighborhoods, and even community citizens. Service opportunities offer middle schoolers the chance to develop and use relationships in a positive way. They understand that their individual actions can have value and impact, though they can also collaborate with others to bring about even greater outcomes. They begin to understand the challenges that exist in our society and the responsibility they hold in helping others overcome such challenges. By acting on this growing sense of civic responsibility and witnessing the fruits of their efforts, they develop confidence and self-esteem, while feeding their very natural hunger for connections and significance.In the hands of an adolescent, this realization has the potential for great power. Fortunately for all of us, Fredericksburg Academy is well equipped to unlock this potential and channel it toward a greater good for our community.

At FA, service opportunities connect the dots between classroom learning and the real world all around us

Encouraging community service work with our middle school students also yields additional benefit in the classroom, as such activities provide pathways for teachers and students to connect classroom experience to the world right outside the window. Stories they read in English class, global issues of adversity they learn about in Geography or Science, difficult times and events they read and discuss in History class—these experiences frequently play out in small though meaningful ways in our own community. Connecting lessons learned in school to the real world on our doorstep makes new knowledge a living, breathing thing that is naturally linked to a student's daily life—both the one that exists in the classroom and school hallways, and the one lived in one's town, on one's street, or in one's home. It connects intangible words and ideas to real people and real challenges that can be seen and experienced all around us. In many ways, service activity in our community gives meaning to learning and draws students in for more.

This time of year provides a wonderful opportunity to bring real world, recognizable community challenges to the the attention of Middle School students. Not only can they empathize with those in our community who deal with the many kinds of adversity existing all around us, but every student, even in very small ways, can have a tangible and positive impact.

The Fredericksburg area, and Fredericksburg Academy alike, is fortunate to have organizations such as the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank to partner with in seeking solutions to diminish need in our community. The power of such community connections is immeasurable, impacting not only the learning of a child in the classroom, but also the many lives of those around us challenged by need. By actively seeking connections with such community organizations in our area, Fredericksburg Academy fulfills a promise of true learning to our students, but also establishes a commitment for positive change in our area. We know the commitment is real, because Fredericksburg Academy is lucky to have the most enthusiastic and energetic volunteers available -- our students.

Replay the Down: FA Traditions Teach Students that Success in Learning and Life Often Requires a Second (or third, or fourth...) Chance
Colin T-H '19

"Replay the Down" is a term in football that means exactly what it sounds like it means; an opportunity to repeat the play. The opportunity is the exact same, the ball is at the same line of scrimmage, however, the team has a chance to repeat the play with hopefully better results. As a student at Fredericksburg Academy, I am always excited to participate in the FAmily Feast touch football tournament. It is great to be a part of an ongoing tradition.

Each year students get to form teams to compete against one another. My first year participating, I was on a team with other freshman boys. We were so excited that we held mini-practices during which we ran specific plays. A few of my friends and I are pretty competitive, and we really wanted to win, so we were exclusive in who could play for our team. We lost (of course).

The following year as sophomores, we came in second. My junior year, we opened up our team and allowed some of the junior girls to play and - lo and behold - we won! This year as seniors, we are proud to boast that almost every member of our class participated in some capacity. We finally understood that this tournament is not about who wins the game; rather, the purpose of this tradition is to build community and for all students to take part in this annual event.

In fact, my closest friends on the Student Life Committee worked extra hard this year to make this event even more inclusive than in years past. I know appreciating the communal aspect is not something freshman may grasp (we certainly didn't); it can take almost four downs, so to speak, to achieve this understanding.

The idea of replaying the down is true for academic traditions as well. Taking foreign language at FA is unique. Each year I get another opportunity in the same room, with the same teacher, and often with the same classmates to learn Spanish. Yet each year I build off what I learned the year before to hopefully achieve better results. An especially meaningful tradition is the annual dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, celebration. Each class is tasked with creating a alterar, or alter. The first year my classmates and I focused on aesthetics only. Our project was literally flashy (think Christmas lights), and we thought for sure we would win. When we did not win, we questioned our instructor, Ms. Escotto, who explained we had not followed through with all the components on the scorecard/rubric.

We had the opportunity to redo the same assignment with the hope of improvement each year. We improved each year. Just last week we wrapped up our project on Magellan and our class earned the highest marks! We had all the required components (which clearly included more than just flashy lights). Henry and I engineered an archway, Jonah baked goods and brought in candy, Shelby made paper flowers, Ashton built a model boat, and Meghan included a section with important background information on Magellan. We also included a poster size map of Magellan's explorations. We recently learned that Ms. Escotto awards points to groups that work cooperatively, something we finally did after years of trying.

These are just two examples of traditions at FA that foster community and allow students to learn from their mistakes. Now if only I could have one more chance to "replay" the English class tradition of Poetry Out Loud. My poem this year from 21 Jump Street apparently missed the mark. Oh well, you can't win them all!

A Colonizing Day Reflection: If You Could Turn Back Time, How Would You Do?
Dana J.

Editor's note: Colonizing Day is the ultimate cross-curricular, experiential day of learning during which students use the skills and tools they've acquired in the classroom to mirror colonial life and government by creating their own colony. Eighth-grader Dana takes us through this meaningful experience in this week's blog post and explains how she utilized teamwork, time management, critical-thinking, effective communication, conflict resolution, and problem-solving skills to complete the challenges created by the faculty and to build a thriving colony.

On November 5, my entire grade and I participated in Colonizing Day. Colonizing Day is a day-long activity where we, the eighth-graders, participate in different challenges and projects to learn what it was actually like to be a colonist. Each colonist has an assigned job which might include a trader, farmer, or apothecary. Each job involves specific challenges that had something to do with a different aspect of our classes. For example, we had directions written in a foreign language to find the physical location of our colonies. For another activity, we had to find different objects around campus that matched certain lengths, weights, and volumes we've studied in our science class. Yet another activity had a member of our colony solving math and logic problems. In addition to these tasks, throughout the day we had to learn to work as a team. Getting along and being productive in our tasks was the most important aspect of the activity. Working together helped us with our time-management, as well as making sure all of the tasks we needed to get finished, got finished. Sometimes, however, collaborating as a team wasn't so easy.

Time-management was a very important aspect of Colonizing Day. Each task that we had to complete had to be done by a certain time, and if wasn't completed by then, you didn't get credit for it. Working together as a team really helped us with our time-management. We would all remind one another of when a task needed to be completed by, and we would then help each other to complete that task. If we hadn't been able to work as a team, then we wouldn't have been able to make sure that all of our tasks were finished and turned in on time.

The week before Colonizing Day, our history classes were dedicated to preparing for the actual day of the event. One of the first things that we did was choose our jobs. Each job had two or three tasks that they would complete on Colonizing Day, so it was important that we picked the right people for the right jobs, so we could adhere to people's strengths. There were more jobs that had to be filled than there were people in each "colony", however. This meant that there would be challenges that had to be completed that no one person was assigned to. To make sure that these challenges got completed, we had to work together as a team to get them done. Whenever one of us didn't have a task they needed to be done, we would pitch in to get the tasks finished. Most of the time, multiple people had to work on these tasks, especially if we needed to get them done quickly, which we usually did. Teamwork was really important when it came to getting these tasks completed.

Sometimes, throughout the day, it was hard to work as a team. There were times when we didn't communicate with each other when a certain task had to be completed by, so we had to rush to get it done, which was stressful. There was another time when we completed a task, but by the time we realized it had to be turned in, it was already too late. We didn't end up getting credit for completing it. In times like this, we could have communicated better. Getting challenges completed was the most important part of the day, and not completing things, or with only five minutes before they were due, didn't help us earn points for our team.

Even though we didn't always work as a cohesive team, on the whole, we worked together well. By being respectful and listening to others, we never got into any fights among ourselves. No one was overly power-hungry, and even though we did have a couple of designated leaders, everyone in the group had an equal part in the success of our colony. Without our teamwork, I don't think our colony would have been near as successful. By working together, our group was able to make Colonizing Day a successful activity; learning about the past while having fun with one another.

From Barbecue to Boardroom: The Fredericksburg Private School Difference
Fredericksburg Academy

Editor's note: Fredericksburg Academy teachers seize every opportunity that has the potential to expand a student's learning experience. In this post, a fifth grade teacher shares a recent opportunity where her teaching team empowered their students to set business, marketing, and sales strategy using many of the same techniques chief executives employ in their own businesses for an entrepreneurial venture of their own. This is the FA difference at our private school in Fredericksburg, VA.

Master teachers know the most successful students are those that take ownership of their learning and develop a sense of independence and responsibility for their own growth and improvement. At Fredericksburg Academy, we are constantly reflecting on and developing strategies for fostering these sensibilities in our students. When two school parents volunteered to make barbecue for a fundraiser, our fifth-grade team quickly recognized an opportunity to engage students in executive skills and function in a fun and fruitful way.

The fifth-grade team let their students assume the role of Chief Executives from the very beginning in several ways:

  1. Students set their business plan by discussing the objective to raise money for their classroom redesign and overnight trip, and the best strategy to achieve that; ultimately deciding that it would be best to sell the BBQ as concessions during the Varsity Homecoming games in order to raise the most money.
  1. They conducted market research with school administrators to understand attendance, and the needs and preferences of game attendees.
  1. They then created a financial plan and applied the math skills they study in class to define start-up expenses, estimate revenue, and predict net profit.
  1. They thoroughly researched pricing in their supply chain by shopping in stores with parents and came to a notable and surprising discovery when they realized that the advertised "best deal" is not always what it seems when considering things such as quality, quantity, and price per unit. They took this field research and developed the pricing model for their barbecue sales that would deliver value to their consumers and generate profit for their strategic objectives.

Finally, they executed their marketing plan by canvassing FA's three academic buildings and afternoon carpool with collateral materials they created by hand.

Fifth-graders took turns running the sales table at the games, overseeing every aspect by totaling sales, managing the cash box, and calculating change on the fly while putting their classroom study of adding and subtracting decimals into practice. In taking charge of their own work from start to finish, these students not only reinforced the classroom skills they study but learned powerful lessons in responsibility, critical thinking, and autonomy.

The real-world learning applications didn't end there. Lastly, students calculated the sales revenue and determined their net profit—applying such concepts from their math study as decimal operations and multiplying by multiples of ten. When all accounts were settled, the Class of 2026 raised over $700 for their projects! Most impressively, though, they got to experience the value of hard work and created a deeper understanding of the skills and concepts they have studied in class.

We can't say where this entrepreneurial experience will take the Class of 2026, but we do know that similar experiences await them down the road at FA. Student groups and classes throughout our Middle and Upper Schools utilize these same principles when planning for class trips and organizing student dances and events. It's all part of the FA difference at our private school in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

If you want experiences like this for your own child's education, click here to schedule your personal tour of our private school today.

How Our Small Pond Prepares Big Fish
Cara Simpson '09

Editor's note: Each journey our students take as they experience learning the FA way continues to shape them long after—in ways they could not have imagined at the time. In this post, Cara Simpson '09 reflects on her 2004 seventh-grade trip to the Chesapeake Bay—and on where it's led her.

I visited Port Isobel and Tangier Island with my Fredericksburg Academy seventh-grade classmates in 2004. By that time, I had already developed a strong interest in environmental science and loved being on the water. All year, the trip was something I looked forward to. It was more than just a normal field trip: it was a rite of passage and something the older kids had all raved about. Besides playing a girls-vs-boys game of tug o' war in the waist-deep wetland muck, what I remember most vividly is hearing from the Tangier Island boat captain. He talked about life on the tiny island of Tangier and some of the difficulties of being a waterman. He showed us how crab pots were baited and set and gave us a chance to try ourselves. It was incredible.

For the past two years, I have been working with fishers and waterman in the Philippines as a United States Peace Corps volunteer. Though it's easy to point out differences between the American and Filipino cultures, people living and working on the water are experiencing similar struggles. A changing climate and rising sea levels threaten an already inherently risky source of livelihood. Future generations have to decide between preserving traditions or modernizing and moving to more urban areas. My brief glimpse into island life in the Chesapeake Bay over 14 years ago provided a unique perspective rarely observed in the US today. When speaking with Filipinos about life in America, I often share a story or two about the islands of the Chesapeake where American fishers are making a living from talaba (oyster) and kasag (blue crab), much like many fishers here.

Left: Cara '09 and some of her classmates after a game of tug o' war in the wetland muck at Port Isobel. Right: Cara, only a few months ago, studying the underwater ecosystems off of the coast of the Philippines.