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The Roots of Rockbridge Academy

January 24, 2024
By Olivia Reardon, Class of 2022

Like most great things in this world, Rockbridge Academy was born out of a problem. In 1994, a few like-minded couples with children reaching school age began to ask the question, “How are we going to educate our kids?” These parents desired a Christ-centered education for their children, yet as they surveyed Maryland's education landscape, they found it severely lacking. Not willing to settle when it came to their children, and especially their children’s relationship with the Lord, these couples set out upon a journey that led to the founding of the school we know and love today. Out of prayerful consideration, dedicated work, and God’s faithfulness, Rockbridge Academy came to be.

Out of prayerful consideration, dedicated work, and God’s faithfulness, Rockbridge Academy came to be.

Rockbridge Academy was founded by Rob and Laura Tucker, Dave and Kim Hatcher, and Mark and Kathy Lease: six parents with strong faith and a clear mission. One of these founders and mother of two Rockbridge graduates, Laura Tucker, says she and the other parents “desired to have a Christ-centered education for [their children] and godly training that reflected their training at home.” Tucker imagined a situation in which the training her children received at home and at school flowed seamlessly together, all pointing toward Christ. Jana Trovato, a parent of five Rockbridge graduates who became a part of the Rockbridge family in its third year, explains that this would look like “subjects taught under the Word of God, from teachers and staff that love God, who loved what they taught, who were aiming to live faithfully to him and to encourage their students in their relationship to Christ.” Clearly, an education in which Christ is foremost was important to Rockbridge founders and early families.

Clearly, an education in which Christ is foremost was important to Rockbridge founders and early families.

With this mission in mind, these parents began to prayerfully consider their options. Trovato cites Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson as a resource that greatly influenced the start of Rockbridge. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning provides a practical approach to the principles of classical education as outlined by Dorothy Sayers in her essay “The Lost Tools of Learning.” Trovato explains that Rockbridge is “classical in the sense of teaching all subjects via the Trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric stages, consistent with the ages of the children and their development stages, in giving the students tools of learning, a love for learning, for life-long learning.” These concepts come straight from Sayers’ essay. Additionally, classical education is focused on educating the students’ hearts and minds. Heidi Stevens, who began teaching at Rockbridge in 1997 and is now a board member, says that “the emphasis on human formation that runs through classical education's content-rich curriculum invites students to seek wisdom and virtue while maturing as whole and able people.” Here was the model of education that would both teach their children academics and nurture their character in submission to God. Now that these couples had their mission and their plan, all that was left to do was pray that if it be His will, God would provide the means to build a school.

Here was the model of education that would both teach their children academics and nurture their character in submission to God.

As one might imagine, starting a school from nothing and no money takes much time and hard work, and the path to establishing Rockbridge was far from straight. Nonetheless, God provided at every turn. Tucker explains that “in July before Rockbridge Academy opened, God provided three teachers with one as a Head of School, and they knew they were not promised a paycheck. Nonetheless, they were convinced that classical Christian education was crucial, and they desired to be a part of it.” One of these teachers was Jen Schingeck, who was convinced to join forces with these founders by reading Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. In addition to teachers, the founders were searching for a building to house their school. Schingeck explains that the Baldwin Educational building was willing to rent the bottom room of their building to Rockbridge, but it needed renovations. So Rockbridge met at Riva Trace Baptist Church until the renovations were complete. Tucker says, “God provided everything just in time for the doors to open in September 1995. It was truly His work, and He made it clear by keeping the six founders on their knees until the last minute asking Him to provide.” Through the hard work of these founders and God’s faithful hand, Rockbridge Academy opened its doors in 1995 with 23 students K-4th grade.

Through the hard work of these founders and God’s faithful hand, Rockbridge Academy opened its doors in 1995 with 23 students K-4th grade.

Although this was a momentous occasion, it did not mark the end of difficulty and hard work. The first year proved exhausting for these teachers as they taught many subjects and grade levels and developed curriculum. And the teachers were not the only ones sacrificing time and energy for this school; it truly was a community endeavor. Tucker comments that “throughout the first year, [parents] volunteered to sweep the floors and clean the classrooms because they were grateful and delighted to watch their children learn in this classical Christian setting.” But in the midst of these hardships, God continued to provide. He provided people happy to serve their children and their community, the resources needed for the students to continue learning, monthly paychecks for the teachers, and enough students to keep the doors open. In fact, by the second year, God had tripled student attendance. And Rockbridge only continued to grow from there.

Now, 29 years later, it is easy to look back and see God’s faithfulness throughout the life of Rockbridge Academy. The Lord faithfully provided our own campus where over 400 students now learn and fellowship together. Trovato echoes the six founders' vision when she says, “From the beginning, the desire and vision was to build a school that would be for generations, not only for our children, but for our children's children; for generations to come.” Mr. and Mrs. Trovato are able to see the beginnings of this vision as they have a grandson currently in 3rd grade at Rockbridge. Additionally, the Lord continues to provide amazing faculty and staff who all desire to train up the next generation in submission to Christ, of which Jen Schingeck and her husband, Bob, are still a part. The Schingecks’ five children now attend Rockbridge, and Jen notes that “one of the sweetest most amazing things was realizing that in those years that I sacrificed my time and resources to the Lord by working at Rockbridge, the Lord’s plan was for my children to eventually benefit from that work.” God’s faithfulness is always at work, often in ways that we cannot even imagine.

 “From the beginning, the desire and vision was to build a school that would be for generations, not only for our children, but for our children's children; for generations to come.” 

These founders’ vision, mission, and hard work as upheld by God’s faithfulness are the roots of Rockbridge Academy. Although the founders’ idea began as a little mustard seed, their tender care and God’s providence sent its roots down deep and branches high. As our branches continue to soar heavenward, as Rockbridge continues to minister to God’s people, it is my prayer that we never forget the roots that uphold us, for without them this school would never be. In the midst of the Lord’s abundant blessings, let us remain on our knees forever, thanking and praising God for His faithfulness.

 As our branches continue to soar heavenward, as Rockbridge continues to minister to God’s people, it is my prayer that we never forget the roots that uphold us, for without them this school would never be. In the midst of the Lord’s abundant blessings, let us remain on our knees forever, thanking and praising God for His faithfulness.

 

Olivia Reardon, class of 2022, currently attends Messiah University where she studies English, education, and dance. When she is not tutoring at the Writing Center or performing with Messiah's dance ensemble, she can be found reading, spending time with friends, and eating ice cream.

Posted in School Culture

Making Room for Beauty

April 27, 2023
By Heidi Stevens

“Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.” If you’ve been around Classical Christian Education for more than a minute, you’ve probably noticed that we love to say these words. These three transcendentals, lauded by the philosophers of classical antiquity and rightly located by theologians in the very nature and being of God, are an apt rallying cry for the work of classical Christian education.

Still, some of us may have a more ready apology for truth and goodness than we do for beauty. We point to God’s Word as the source of truth and acknowledge Him as the One who defines all the reality of the cosmos. “All truth is God’s truth,” we rightly say. We recognize how God reveals Himself as we happily pillage the best sources of knowledge from across the ages. Likewise, we acknowledge that goodness is in and of God, both in terms of morality and blessing. The Greeks conceptualized “good” as that which fulfills its own purpose, and we find in our Creator one whose perfect purpose is actively revealed to us in His character and His work of redemption. Just as with truth, we recognize God wants us to know and explore His goodness; in fact, we cling, like David, to the comfort that “surely goodness and mercy” will pursue us all the days of our lives.

But what of beauty? Do we defend and cleave to beauty with a similar conviction? Do we remember that this third member of the triumvirate is also located in God and that He uses beauty in His pursuit of us? After all, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” rolls so easily off the tongue, and experience tells us that there is variety and gradation in people’s aesthetic preferences. Since there’s no accounting for taste, don’t we hit a dead-end with beauty?

Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar commented on this tendency to quietly sideline considerations of beauty when he said:

Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendor around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty … without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, [is] a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world.

Even many Christians, Balthasar says, have functionally jettisoned beauty from the realm of the essential. He gives a somber warning about the consequence of this devaluing:

We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.

We can be grateful that there is a conscious intention at Rockbridge Academy—and in the broader classical Christian education movement—to guard against the easy “disposal” of beauty about which von Balthazar soberly warns. “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty” isn’t just a catchy slogan. It’s a shorthand reminder of a Trinitarian truth: we are made in the Imago Dei, with intellectual, moral, and aesthetic sensibilities and desires. Thus, in the classroom, asking “What is Beautiful?” is just as worthwhile as asking “What is True?” and “What is Good?”.

Classical Christian education allows breathing room for such discussions. On the one hand, our “classical” bent reminds us that, in the tradition of the best thinkers from across the ages, pursuing a better understanding of beauty helps us explore what it means to be fully human. On the other hand, our unapologetically “Christian” emphasis reminds us that the answers we seek are ultimately found outside ourselves. While God created us with individually nuanced tastes and pleasures, He is our ultimate reference for what is beautiful. Embracing this juxtaposition of imminence and transcendence in the beautiful, good, and true (and valuing their inescapable connection to one another) is a part of the very good work—the “courage and decision”—going on at Rockbridge Academy, by the grace of God.

Embracing this juxtaposition of imminence and transcendence in the beautiful, good, and true (and valuing their inescapable connection to one another) is a part of the very good work—the “courage and decision”—going on at Rockbridge Academy, by the grace of God.

Heidi Stevens taught art and humanities courses for twenty years and now serves on the Rockbridge Academy Board of Directors. She and her husband, Rick, have two grown daughters, both Rockbridge graduates.

 

 

Posted in School Culture
1 comment

Why NOT Latin?

March 10, 2021
By Melissa Lentz

At some point (or multiple points) during the school year, every Latin teacher will be asked the same question. Sometimes we encounter it at parent-teacher conferences, in the classroom, or we are asked to speak on it at back to school nights. We reach for our perfectly scripted and practiced answer that we have used time and time again when asked “why learn Latin?” This answer usually includes a list of 5 - 10 reasons ranging from the connection to English grammar and etymology, the integration with literature, history, and philosophy, and the different levels of practicality for future studies. While all of those reasons are true and valid, the reasons to study and even master Latin are far more significant and rewarding than those already mentioned. Before I go into what they are, let me point out a few things about education in today’s schools.

There is a shift happening in education. This shift is not a new one, but a slow and gradual progression spanning many decades. The progression is a movement away from education for the sake of character and well-roundedness to education for the sake of specializing and salary. The purpose of education in today’s schools is becoming increasingly utilitarian. If subject X does not directly yield a certain dollar figure in the student’s future paycheck or a tangible increase on the SAT, then the benefit of spending time and effort studying subject X is called into question.

I think it is safe to assume that those reading this article find value in the classical model of education. Classical education strives for a balance and unity of a student’s character and their functional intelligence. By equipping students with a multi-faceted and dynamic curriculum, classical education and, especially, Christian education offers students a humble appreciation for the beautiful world around us and the intellectual aptitude to grapple with it from all vantage points. Focusing on the utilitarian benefit of education alone quickly eliminates many studies and practices that have immense benefit to the formation and education of children. I'll give an example.

Most children in America grow up learning an instrument and playing a team sport. The reason for this is not, in most cases, because their parents feel confident that their children will be professional musicians or athletes one day. The reason they are enrolled in these programs is for a less utilitarian, but equally beneficial reason. Those programs equip and train children in skills that they will find rewarding in all areas of life down the road. The skills of teamwork, discipline, attention to detail, leadership, and even humble failure will not only give them greater success academically, but also socially and professionally as well.

In the same way, Latin equips students with equally important skills, not to mention that it unlocks more depth and integration with their other areas of study. Latin encourages the cultivation of indispensable character values as well as more practical, educational skills. Memorizing Latin vocabulary requires discipline and hard work. Understanding Latin grammar and parsing sentences requires logic and deductive reasoning.

Translating original Latin texts requires attention to detail, critical thinking, and the humility to continue to grapple with the text even if you fail the first several times. Going beyond these practical skills, the integration, depth, and richness that Latin offers should not be overlooked.

These values not only benefit the character of each student, but also serve to broaden and deepen their understanding of the world around them. One might ask the question though, “why not spanish or french?” While the study of any language yields immense benefits to students, Latin links us with history, art, philosophy, literature, and theology in ways that no other language can. Consider the following question.

How many parents would be impressed and would deem the education “worth it” if our students could do the following: If they could walk into the halls of Harvard and be able to read the Latin inscriptions of the walls? If they could leave their biology, pre-med, and pre-law classes with a deeper understanding because all the terminology is in a language they already know? If they could travel abroad and pick up the language easily because of their foundation in Latin? If they could read T.S. Eliot with a greater appreciation because they understand the mythological and historical references? If they could hold their own in a political or philosophical discussion because they had not only read, but translated Cicero, Livy, and Caesar? All of these examples to say, how many parents would deem their child’s education successful if their student were practically and philosophically prepared for any area of study or conversation? The utilitarian benefits of a subject have their place, but fall flat when divorced from its connection and integration with the rest of the world. The practical skills that Latin affords students as well as the part it plays in the broader conversation of western heritage make it a seamless and natural addition to the classical curriculum.

When I think about all the skills and richness that my 15+ years of studying Latin has brought to my education, all I can think in response to the question “why Latin?” is “why not Latin?”

Melissa (Caton) Lentz, ‘08, graduated Rockbridge as the first female to attend K-12. After studying English and Latin at Hillsdale College, Mel came back to teach Latin at Rockbridge for two years. She now lives in Dallas, TX with her husband, Jon, her two boys, Jackson and Calvin, and their daughter, Penelope.

Posted in Upper School
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