In a year that has been so challenging for our children, students from Williamsburg Christian Academy have been fortunate. They have been able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the halls, camaraderie with their fellow students, and direct teacher-to-student interaction- even if masked and spaced 6′ apart. As a result, the school’s enrollment has soared. As of the end of January, the school had 50% more students than this time last year…and they have early enrolled over 100 students only halfway through their early enrollment period in February.
This year, many families new to the school flocked to WCA based merely on a desire to have their child experience that in-person instruction after a 2nd half of last school year spent in remote study. But many of those families are finding out what families who have been at the school already know: that WCA does a fantastic job equipping students to become lifelong learners in an environment of small class sizes and low teacher-to-student ratio, which helps them thrive academically, emotionally, and spiritually. “It is such a blessing to be able to look at our student database and see so many families that are already re-enrolled for next year with some classes are already approaching classroom capacity,” says Director of Enrollment Michelle Flanagan. “We also have a strong pool of prospective families that have already contacted us regarding next year- many of whom have started the enrollment process.”
In the latter half of the 2019-2020 school year, when COVID was merely a sturdy virus floating around China, Head of School Johnny Graham heard WHO and CDC warnings and saw something different: the potential for that kind of outbreak to escalate into a full-blown pandemic that could force students home. The school had already started to design some remote learning activities, but Graham started preparing his faculty for that exact scenario. When the Governor gave the order to shelter in place beginning on Monday, March 16, 2020, WCA transitioned to remote study and was one of the only schools to execute their full curriculum through the end of the year. Shortly after quarantine, seeing the potential for schools’ limited capabilities in the fall, WCA got to work developing the educational program for the fall. The “Your Child, Your Choice” reopening plan was hatched in the next few months. Using their newly introduced Brightspace Learning System, Your Child Your Choice gave parents the option to keep their children learning at home or have them in a hybrid learning environment to start the school year, with the promise of going entirely onsite if families and students could properly follow their published health mitigation plan to limit the potential spread of the virus. “We give the credit for this year and the success we have had as a school first to God. We are thankful for His plan and His guiding hand over the school all year long,” asserted Graham. “But a lot of our ability to open, stay open, and eventually go fully onsite for our students has been because of our community of parents. We have asked a lot of them, and they have dutifully answered the call.”
The move to partial or fully remote learning capacity dovetails perfectly into another planned change at WCA: the school’s approval as an International Baccalaureate World school. The highly lauded program was incorporated into Graham’s last stop, Springdale Preparatory school, and is largely viewed as a significant plus for students seeking college admission, according to many admissions officials at selective universities. The school is currently in the final stages of approval for the IB program’s crown jewel- the Diploma Program or “DP.” The two-year program demands students take deeply immersive courses from all disciplines and infuses additional broadening curriculum items like the required Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course and the Extended Essay. The DP has shown statistically to improve the chances of students to gain admission in America’s finest collegiate institutions by up to 25% (at highly competitive Ivy League college Cornell University, for example, 47% of successful IB DP students gained admittance in 2018 versus their overall admission rate of 14.2%). IB final exams are treated almost identically to Advanced Placement (AP) scores in terms of the granting of college credit. In some cases, there are immense benefits for graduating with a Diploma Certificate from IB, such as Mcgill University, which awards a full 30 credits for completing the DP, enough to skip your freshman year of college.
There are a handful of schools in the Greater Hampton Roads area that offer the IB program. But WCA will be implementing IB throughout its entire curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade, which would make them an IB Continuum school, one of only a handful of such programs in the country. From Kindergarten through fifth grade, students are enrolled in the Primary Years Program and then graduate into the Middle Years Program in grades six through ten. These precursor programs’ goal is straightforward: to develop students capable of taking progressively more responsibility and engagement in their own learning, preparing them for eventual advancement into the Diploma Program. WCA is planning for approval for the PYP and MYP next year.
Another aspect of WCA’s current educational approach incorporated into IB, which has also aided in remote learning objectives, is the school’s addition of a flipped classroom. In the traditional classroom, teachers have talked, and students have listened (hopefully) to what is being taught. Flipped classroom approaches require the student to take a greater level of responsibility for their learning and focuses classroom time to deliver more dynamic content designed to reinforce concepts already introduced in online preparatory exercises or reading assignments. The distinction is that the faculty moves from a role of teacher- teaching to students- to Learning Facilitator- helping students in the learning process. “COVID truly ramped up our timetable on incorporating flipped classroom techniques and remote learning into WCA. Stemming from a need to be able to deliver content remotely, our selection of the Brightspace LMS allowed us to roll out that shift in in-class instruction philosophy immediately,” explains Graham. “Our Learning Facilitators (LF’s) now deliver content modules that students are required to complete so their class time can be used more effectively to reinforce topics and concepts already introduced.”
Grounded in the Lord
Despite all the changes at WCA, its focus on developing the students’ Christ-centered walk is still front and center. WCA remains a school where every student is seen, known, heard, valued, and embraced regardless of their spiritual experience. The daily praise and worship tradition for their lower school continues, and small group Bible studies led by community and church leaders for the Upper school allow students to learn from God’s word, worship corporately, and then have the opportunity to process truths and apply God’s word. Although a lot does look and feel different in this season, what doesn’t look different is the celebration of the life of Jesus Christ and a steady reliance on the Word in every classroom during instruction.
The excitement surrounding WCA’s continued on-site learning, International Baccalaureate, and Flipped classroom learning has accelerated early enrollment at the school. Families who would like to investigate WCA and enroll are encouraged to do so as early as possible. Class sizes will be capped, and waitlists will be started until numbers are suitable to open an additional classroom for each grade. Families who complete enrollment before February 28th will also receive a $500 discount off next year’s tuition per student enrolled. To get more information and to schedule a tour, please email our Director of Admissions at email@example.com or call 757-378-5263. Interested families can also explore WCA through their website (https://admissions.williamsburgchristian.org/organic/).