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Virginia Academy adds high school

Virginia AcademyTimes-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny Virginia Academy has space designated for its inaugural high school class starting in the fall. The 40 freshmen will have a lounge with TVs, foosball tables, air hockey, ping pong and a snack bar. Three classrooms and a gym are adjacent to the lounge.
Sixteen years ago, Virginia Academy, then called the Ark Academy, opened in Sterling with just a smattering of young students. In 2006, a move to Ashburn enabled the school enough space to begin a middle school program. Eight years later, Virginia Academy is reaching its new goal.

This fall, Virginia Academy, located off Route 7 in Ashburn, and sharing a building with Community Church, will welcome 40 freshman in its inaugural high school class.

“An upper school has always been part of the dream,” Academy headmaster Fred Snowden said. “We've been working in that direction for a long time.”
Snowden says the majority of eighth graders elected to return for the new high school and dozens of new students registered as well. The 40 available high school slots filled in just three weeks.

While the Academy has hired new teachers to help academically, they've also hired other faculty to assist with sports, art and drama.

“We're trying to offer as broad a program as we can so kids don't feel cheated because they come to a small Christian school,” Snowden said.

In its opening year, the school will offer freshman football, basketball and track, with the help of former Redskin Antwaan Randle El, as well as music, art and drama.

Current middle school teacher Kristy Nicolette is moving up to teach high school and is also going to run the school's drama program.

Nicolette said the advent of the high school has generated enthusiasm and an even bigger sense of community for her middle schoolers.

“Now that we have high school, there's a greater sense of community,” Nicolette said. “The kids don't feel they're making temporary friendships but friendships that go into high school.”

The community is evident in the increased retention; according to Snowden, at one point, the school lost nearly 50 percent of its students during the transition from fifth to sixth grade.

“One of the reasons is that parents kept saying if we're going to have to move our children, we'd rather move them in middle school so they'd have some friends and not go into ninth grade totally green,” Snowden said.

This year's middle school class includes 16 sixth graders as opposed to just six eighth graders. But with the new high school, retention from fifth to sixth grade is up to 90 percent.

The growth isn't without concerns. The new influx of students brings space concerns for Virginia Academy, part of why the school delayed starting a high school for so long.

“Our problem was our preschool, elementary and kindergarten programs were so popular we just packed the building with kids and didn't have space remaining for our upper school,” Snowden explained.

To help rectify space concerns, the Academy renovated an 8,000- square-foot self-contained area on the ground floor of the Virginia Academy campus, a building that also hosts the Community Church. The redone area includes classrooms, a small practice gym, food, couches and even table games like table tennis and foosball for the kids to sue during down time. The area houses the middle school; ninth graders will join them next year.

But Snowden's vision for the school is much bigger; he anticipates a freshman and sophomore class of 60 each in the fall of 2015.

“Hopefully by the time we graduate our seniors we will have 400 students in our school,” Snowden said.

Virginia Academy already has preliminary plans to build another facility on its campus and has mailed a letter of intent to its neighbor, the Telos Corp., to purchase its property.

“We're going to meet the needs,” Snowden assured. “We're just not sure how yet.”

For now, Virginia Academy is looking toward the fall and how to ensure success as one of just two Christian high schools in the county.

“We're looking forward to seeing students who spend their entire educational careers at Virginia Academy,” Snowden. “We think the results will be something to be proud of.”


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