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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

Loving Words and THE WORD

October 05, 2022
By Heidi Stevens, Rockbridge Academy Board Member

The following is adapted from a speech delivered by Heidi Stevens on September 29, 2022, at the Rockbridge Academy Library Grand Opening. 

Long before Rockbridge Academy opened its doors in 1995—with three teachers and just shy of two dozen students—a small group of families gathered to dream and plan what a school like this could be. The founding families met together, read together, and prayed together, talking about building a place where our children could thrive and grow, where they could learn in an environment committed to academic excellence that encouraged them to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

We loved our own children, of course, and dreamed of how a school like Rockbridge could come alongside and complement what God called us to as parents: training the children He’d given us to love their Creator with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

We also spent a lot of time talking about how what we were building should be built on a firm foundation that reached beyond our own generation. We spoke of cultivating a “500-year vision” for a place that would serve the parents of our community in educating our children’s children, and their children, and the children for generations beyond, if God would graciously bless and prosper the work.

In addition to talking about those things, you might be surprised to learn how that group of men and women regularly prayed for YOU. They prayed for you, and for your children, even as they went about the arduous work of building a school for their children.

Of course, we who were part of that younger Rockbridge Academy prayed fervently for our own children. But we knew that it was the next generation—and all the generations to come, long after we were gone - that would prove whether our work had been built on the right foundation or on shifting sand.  Consider the communion of saints—across time—who prayed for YOU, the Rockbridge parents of the future! You were prayed for: that you would be found faithful in seeking to raise your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. 

There were so many other things prayed for, But one thing—of particular significance for this night—was the prayer that the future students at this school would be lovers of the Word … and lovers of words. 

● Words! The means by which God chose to reveal Himself to His people, even before His incarnation as the Living Word.  
● Words! The amazing vehicle of language through which so much of our learning happens. 
● Words! The mysteriously powerful, beautiful medium through which we can bless or curse, bring healing or hurt, speak life or death.
● Words! The avenue of our understanding, the tool through which we read and speak truth, and the stuff of which stories are spun to captivate, delight, and lead.

And so, we dreamed of a library: of the smell of books and the lure of comfortable chairs; of a repository of the most wonderous stories and the greatest ideas of mankind; and of a gathering of the collected knowledge of God’s good Creation that has yet only begun to plumb the depths of its extravagant complexity.  

We envisioned our children, and the many children to come, being enamored by tales of adventure that would whet their appetites for the real adventure of reigning and ruling as dearly loved sons and daughters of our Eternal Father King.  

We smiled to think of our students being brought up on tales of bravery and valor, of justice and love, and all the other noble things that the truest and best stories are both made up of and point to. 

We longed for our children to recognize the great Story behind all good stories: the story of a King who is making all things right again and restoring his original pattern of what’s Beautiful, Good, and True.

I was listening to an interview the other day with Carolyn Weber, whose memoir, Surprised By Oxford, is currently being made into a motion picture. Dr. Weber has been on the faculty of prestigious colleges across the United States and Canada, and she was the first female dean of St. Peter’s College, Oxford. She recently moved to middle Tennessee to begin teaching at New College Franklin, a small college that teaches the seven liberal arts—the trivium and the quadrivium—from a Christian perspective. 

Knowing her vast experience but recognizing that many of the students she now teaches would likely have been classically educated, the interviewer asked Dr. Weber if she saw much difference between those young men and women and others from more traditional school backgrounds. Her answer struck me.  She said that the classically educated students, for the most part, could “think in the dark”  in a way that many of her past students couldn’t. 

“They know how to think in the dark. They can think unplugged,” she said. “They don’t need Google and they don’t need gadgets.” 

That description struck me, because it’s what we hope for in our students, isn’t it? We want them to be able to engage with what they read, regardless of genre, on its own terms. We want them to be able to open a book without opening their computers. To be able to dive in without needing the “light” of predigested information that will tell them what to think before they’ve even begun. 

Will this library create that sort of student by itself? Will a library ensure that we have students who can “think in the dark”? No. But it’s evidence that we believe that sort of student will routinely inhabit these halls.

We want our students, who’ve been trained to read in such a way, to have this place to come and experience the riches you see around you. To be lovers of words who come here to be with—to pursue—ideas made incarnate on these printed pages. May they do so, reminded of that more excellent Word and truer Incarnation who came to be with—to pursue—us.

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

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