Rockbridge Academy Blog
The Athens Eagles are winning 14-13 against the Siena Rams in an intense volleyball game. Senior Timi Akinyelu executes a flawless jump serve that is received by Miss Knoll in the back row, the ball floats to 9th grader Ella Spraul who sets up junior Linus Salada and he spikes it down right past 7th grader Parker Chason as she dives for the ball. But what is this? Linus Salada calls a net violation on himself; the point goes to Athens! The Eagles continue their volleyball dominance and the entire house erupts in cheers. The school bell rings and all of the students quickly clear out of the gym as they head to 5th period. This fictional scene describes the atmosphere that can be found at Rockbridge’s campus on most Fridays during Conference Time when intramural sports take place. Capture the flag, volleyball, and ultimate frisbee are the fall, winter, and spring intramural sports respectively.
In 2021, Rockbridge Academy introduced a new House System. Every upper school student, 7th-12th grade, and the upper school teachers were assigned one of five houses. The houses are named after cities visited by Rockbridge seniors on Grand Tour. Each house has a symbol and colors taken from 5 of the 17 historic contrade, or districts, of Siena. There is the house of Athens (blue and yellow with an eagle symbol), the house of Rome (black and white with a wolf symbol), the house of Corinth (white and sky blue with a dolphin symbol), the house of Florence (pink and green with a dragon symbol), and the house of Siena (red and yellow with a ram symbol). Once in a house, the student will remain in that house for all of their years at Rockbridge. The houses are evenly divided between the grades and sexes. The House System was primarily designed to encourage and organize service among all of the upper school Rockbridge students. For example, each house is assigned mentoring with the grammar students based on the day of the week.
The Rockbridge house intramurals program was born in November of 2021 when teachers and administrators were discussing how to best use the new 30-minute Conference Time following the upper school lunch period. Now, on almost every Friday starting at noon, four out of the five houses are found competing in various sports. Each sports season consists of 6 weeks of competition. In the sixth week, the two teams with the best records play in a championship competition to determine the Intramurals House Champion. Intramurals give Rockbridge students the opportunity to play sports not already offered in the athletic program.
House Intramurals allow students to engage in physical activity, experience the crucible of self-governed competition, and enjoy the community God has placed them in.
Hours of sitting in a chair, no matter how engaging the subject and the teacher nor how diligent the student, is bound to produce restlessness. God created the human body for movement and when students are able to get away from their desks and participate in physical activity the benefits abound. Exercise reduces stress and increases cognitive function. Exposing students to a variety of sports contributes to the larger goal of developing well-rounded students. While 30 minutes of physical activity in a week is not nearly enough for a healthy upper school student, it fulfills part of the daily recommendation and helps build a positive relationship with physical activity. Volleyball in particular has shown to be a favorite activity among the students which led to a weekly volleyball night over the summer.
House Intramurals are a student-led activity. The students decide who gets to play and who does not, and the students are responsible for following the rules and keeping score. The competition between houses should be spirited, meaning everyone wants their team to win. This combination presents a low-risk but real-life opportunity to practice St. Augustine’s idea of rightly ordered loves. A senior team captain in charge of creating the team lineup may desire to win this game of capture the flag while also desiring to see an enthusiastic yet unathletic 7th grade student get to play. Another student may desire to score the go-ahead point in ultimate frisbee, but she also wants to tell the truth about stepping out of bounds on the catch. None of these interests are wrong, but having the choice to do the one that is more God-honoring is difficult. When a player gets their loves out of order they experience the consequences and hopefully, a teammate is there to encourage them in the truth and wisdom of the Word. This student-led sports competition also provides room for growth in conflict resolution. Conflicts between students have and will continue to bubble up when competing, which opens the door for following the teaching found in Matthew 18. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus lays out a preferential sequence to follow when faced with sin between Christians. First, go to your brother alone and point out their fault, next, bring along a witness or two, and finally, if needed, raise the issue to the Christian leaders. Rockbridge staff members will step in when necessary, but the desire is to see students working through these challenges.
The house system assigns teams within a community which often results in groups of otherwise segregated individuals. Even in a school as small as Rockbridge, an 8th-grade girl might not choose to interact with an 11th-grade boy, but when they score a point together in volleyball they naturally turn and give each other a smiling high five. A student involved in theater that does not normally associate with a basketball player can earn an out together on the kickball field. Even when a teacher rolls up his sleeves and whips a dodgeball across the gym at a student, that teacher begins to create a unique bond with his students. God has brought every Rockbridge student and staff member together in a Christian community. Rockbridge is more than just a school, it is a body of believers living life together. God charges His people to have fellowship with one another, and extracurricular activities are a wonderful way to build relationships and create memories among brothers and sisters in Christ.
In order for house intramurals to have the greatest impact on the culture at Rockbridge Academy, there has to be involvement. Participation from every house member, from 7th-12th grade, boys and girls, students and teachers, athletes and non-athletes is vital! Not every house member will be able to play every week, but they should at least try to play at some point in the school year. Even so, competition on the field is not the sole avenue for student involvement; the cheering section adds to the atmosphere and a lively mascot raises the excitement. Each team needs artistic students to contribute their skills when designing house swag and banners. It comes down to every house member having pride in their house and a desire to see their house rise above the rest, whether in their play, their cheers, or their designs.
Participation in house intramurals is about far more than playing games; it results in character growth, interpersonal skills, camaraderie, and growth in conflict resolution, discretion, and sound judgement.
Eighth-grader Theodore Grev had a problem. Every time he camped, his sleeping hammock gave him trouble. Setting up at night in the woods, he couldn’t see to secure the knots for his tarp covering. Sometimes the tarp would blow away in the middle of the night, leaving him cold and wet.
Something had to be done.
When he saw the invitation for the Rockbridge STEM Club (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Theodore decided to turn his problem into a science project. Quarantining at home during the summer COVID shutdown, he built one configuration after another, carefully recording the amount of time it took to set up each model. He finally settled on the best one: it took 8 minutes and 30 seconds to assemble and stayed up all night without fail. This winter, he entered it the Regional Science and Engineering Expo. He and his friends have also started using it on their camping trips, with great success.
Theodore is just one of several participants in the STEM Club at Rockbridge Academy.
Other projects this year have included creating an accurate clock with a 3D printer; designing a walking robot; building a low-pollution cooking stove to save lives in the third world; and testing the safety of personal passwords. The club’s record is strong. Last year, freshman Josh Phillips took home 6 awards for his “Cooking Shouldn’t Kill” cookstove design. The year before that, junior Ryan McDowell took his computer security project to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and won a “Cyber Pioneer” honorable mention from the National Security Agency.
How does this work at a classical, Christian school of only 165 middle and high school students? As STEM fields are promoted more heavily in the culture, classical, Christian schools—usually much smaller than their public counterparts—are often questioned about their ability to measure up.
At Rockbridge Academy, the curriculum includes a strong STEM track of earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics; algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus; and analytical science and logic, which train students to test arguments and formulate proofs. For several years, Rockbridge students have also participated in the American Math Competition and regional and state-wide Science Olympiads, placing well in both.
The study of science and math is historically classical and Christian—grounded firmly in the liberal arts and driven by a desire to comprehend Creation. Classical educators like to quote Apple founder Steve Jobs: “Technology alone is not enough…it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”
“Technology alone is not enough…it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.” Steve jobs
At Rockbridge, watching students at work DOES make the heart sing.
Cathy Phillips, a graduate of the US Naval Academy with a degree in aero engineering, started the Rockbridge STEM Club when her son Josh was entering high school. Josh had always had a scientific bent, and she wanted to provide an opportunity for students like him to pursue that bent beyond the classroom.
Mrs. Phillips sees excellence in math and the sciences as flowing naturally from a classical education, which girds students with a strong foundation in facts, then invites them to ask the “why” behind those facts—and equips them to present their findings with skill and winsomeness. She notes that classically educated students typically have a strong desire to learn and a strong background in critical thinking. This translates into excellent questions and the persevering spirit to bring their projects to completion.
This year’s participants are competing in a variety of events: the Maryland Engineering Challenge, the County Regional Science and Engineering Expo, and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium,
Freshman Michael Grube is building a remote-controlled model cargo ship for the Maryland Engineering Challenge. He’s grappling with college-level math and nautical design, but Rockbridge has trained him in fundamental math concepts that are serving him well. Also for the Challenge, sisters Kait and Maddie Atwood are working with Sean Fitch to design and build a walking robot that walks on 2 legs over uneven terrain. And Josh Phillips created a bridge design for the “Wood Bridge Challenge” category of the competition and won first place!
Theodore Grev entered his practical hammock design in the County Regional Science and Engineering Expo. Seventh-grader Micah Farris, who has always had a bent for engineering and enjoys experimenting on his own, decided to create his own clock with a 3D printer. Both of them took 2nd place. The printing took about 100 hours, and there were long days (and nights) of assembling and disassembling the clock, testing different springs, recording the results again and again. Thankfully, he says, his training at Rockbridge had already trained him to be persistent.
Josh Phillips, who won 6 county awards for his “Cooking Shouldn’t Kill” cookstove design last year, has improved his design and is taking it to the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (a DOD competition) in 2021. Juniors Emma Williams and Hannah Skwarek decided to examine the effectiveness of common password security questions. After winning the approval of an Institutional Review Board, they conducted multiple interviews, collected online data from their subjects, and determined which questions offer greater security. They are off to compete on the national level.
Writing and presenting the final project for a panel of experts is a major component of all of these competitions. Yet the students consistently expressed that that was the “easy part.” At Rockbridge, they’ve been honing those skills for years.
While small classical schools may not offer a wide array of specialized math and science classes, they do offer classes that are rigorous, deep, and integrated with one another. In a STEM world that changes with blinding speed and often denies the existence of God, classical Christian education trains adept and willing learners—all while affirming the beauty of creation and greatness of the Creator. These competitions don’t just introduce students to a STEM network of friends and colleagues; they also give them opportunities to shine the light of Christ to a world that needs Him.