A church with class: Virginia Academy
The megalithic structure off Route 7 in Ashburn has heard the sermons, songs and prayers of the congregation that calls the building home.
But the non-denominational Community Church hosts an entirely different group of people when the summer days are over and the school bell rings. On Sept. 2, students will flock to Community Church's Virginia Academy, a private faith-based school that was created by the church.
The fully accredited K-10 school has 800 students enrolled this year. They plan to add an 11th grade next year and a 12th the year after that. It will finally be the K-12 school that the church's founder, Joseph “Arlie” Whitlow, envisioned when he first set about planning the church almost 25 years ago.
“My dad founded the church, and he always wanted a Christian school to be a part of the church and a part of tone of what the church would offer,” said Charlie Whitlow, Arlie Whitlow's son and the church's current lead pastor.
This week, approximately 100 teachers have been hard at work preparing their minds, hearts and classrooms for the open house on Aug. 28. But the focus of faculty and staff is mission.
“Much like our church, we really are here to be a blessing to people,” said Mike Taylor, principal of Virginia Academy and Student Ministries pastor for Community Church. “We're preparing students for their future academic success but also preparing them for life, a life that chooses God ...”
According to Whitlow, the majority of students aren't from the church congregation or even necessarily from the Christian faith.
“We find that they have no problem with us teaching Christianity,” said Whitlow. “In fact they welcome it. What they welcome is … that moral standard.”
But what also draws people to the school is the standard for academic excellence.
“We want to be the best academic school in the area,” Taylor said. “We do our best to provide academic excellence on top of that. We want to be the Christian school that is able to offer athletics and art at a high level so that if a student attends our school … they can really discover their God-given gifts and grow in those areas as well.”
On the academic side, students of the academy scored nearly two full grade levels above the national average on last year's SAT results, which Whitlow said testifies to the school's commitment to excellence.
Moreover, this is the school's first year with football and basketball teams. Administration has partnered with In Between the Lines, a sports training nonprofit led by ex-athletes Jim Larson and Delbert Cowsette, to help young athletes grow.
Virginia Academy also wants to bring fine arts to their students. One of the outlets they give to students from all grades is the production of two plays every year.
The benefits to the Loudoun community, said Taylor, is offering parents a Christian environment and more individualized education for their children. It also economically benefits the county, according to Whitlow and Taylor.
“We're educating over 700 students that the county doesn't have to educate but still receives tax dollars for,” said Taylor. “We're saving the county money, in that sense, by providing quality education for several families in Loudoun County.”
While the county might not have to worry about funding these kids' educations, Virginia Academy does. Tuition covers a portion of the cost of educating each individual student. But the school is holding a fundraiser this year to fill the $500,000 hole in their budget.
Because the school hopes to add two more grades, it's looking to expand. They've maxed out the space in the church building and are looking to build or secure a preexisting building.
“We are the largest private school in Loudoun with over 700 students, and we need more room to grow,” said Taylor. “Right now we're raising funds not just for our annual operating budget but trying to secure the means to be able to expand the school. We want to be a school that has 2,200 students, and to do that we need more space.”
But the priority remains academic excellence with a faith base.
“Providing a Christian education at a high level enables just the opportunity to bless people and reach more people and help people,” said Taylor. “That's really what our church and school is about.”