Come visit the Ad Fontes Upper School and you will see the rarest of things: teenagers thinking and enjoying it. Considered to be one of the top private schools in Virginia, Ad Fontes has a special way of making education exciting and rewarding. As students move into the rhetorical phase of their education, the classroom shifts from simply accumulating knowledge to mastering the arts of careful argument, diligent reasoning, and skillful persuasion.
In reading this, we do not want prospective students to be intimidated or discouraged. Our student body has wide range of gifts and abilities. Through the educational process, students mature intellectually and accomplish academic goals previously beyond their (or parent’s) expectation. You will find Ad Fontes to be serious in its studies, yet a relaxed, supportive and enjoyable place to learn and grow.
Core Classical Curriculum – A Well Educated Person
Ad Fontes offers a core classical liberal arts and sciences curriculum that develops a truly well educated person. Students engage in discussions of the great ideas through interacting with the Great Books and the best thinkers of history, and their teachers and classmates. AFA students are not taught to a test, but towards an ongoing maturity of thinking and effectively articulating their ideas in Math (advanced classes and Computer Programming), Science, Literature, History and Theology. Students study Latin from 4th grade through high school to strengthen language and thinking skills, as well as gain access to ancient texts. Classes are taught at honors level and above, yet through an interactive, engaging approach that requires student’s full participation. Students develop confidence and lifelong habits of hard work and preparation.
The ideal of education is a good man speaking well.
Unique at Ad Fontes, students are trained in Logic in 8th grade with the foundations of valid reasoning, and have five years of training in writing and oral presentation through distinctive courses in Classical Composition (Writing) and Rhetoric. The teachers teach with passion and purpose, leading their students in developing the tools of learning, thinking and communicating that prepares them for a faithful and fruitful life.
In his Republic, Plato described the process of education as a man being reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun. Indeed, the growth that accompanies true learning can be painful and difficult. A constant temptation for teachers is to smooth out the path for their students, to tell them the answers to the difficult questions that they face. At Ad Fontes, we believe this over-smoothing of the path foes not really serve the student well in preparing him or her for a fruitful life. We believe education should be challenging, yet must be purposeful, enjoyable and life-giving.
Student Discovery – Beyond the Facts, Learning for Yourself
Great education engages students in the learning process, and prepares students to actively engage ideas, the world, and others. Done well, this process requires discipline yet is joyful in the process. True learning happens when a student is an eager learner. At Ad Fontes, you have an active, participatory education. The teachers require students to go beyond factual knowledge to understanding, explaining what they know towards subject mastery. This begins with a teacher who loves learning and students, and asks more questions than provide fill in the blank answers so students are ready to give an answer. Teachers force students to think for themselves, not spoon feed the answers to answer multiple choice tests. Indeed, if we examine the teaching of Jesus, we find that he himself often taught indirectly, through parables –answering questions with questions. His questioners had to think, and to grapple with truth, and that is our goal at Ad Fontes Academy.
Do you ever find that young people, when they have left school, not only forget most of what they have learnt (that is only to be expected), but forget also, or betray that they have never really known, how to tackle a new subject for themselves? The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.
Dorothy Sayers, The Lost Tools of Learning, 1947
For example, in Mr. Mathwin’s Government class, the Seniors study the Peloponnesian War, fought between Athens and Sparta during the 5th century B.C. Once they have read through the account provided by Thucydides, Mr. Mathwin assigns the students to one of the pre-eminent Greek poleis of the time: Athens, Sparta, Corinth or Chios. The students then re-enact the war, responsible for fashioning a grand strategy for their polis. Each Friday they move their forces around the map, recruit troops, and negotiate alliances. The ebb and flow of battle forces the students to realize that destroying the enemy on the battlefield is only one small part of war. They learn that diplomacy, careful attention to economic matters, and political stability are all necessary to the successful waging of war. To be sure Mr. Mathwin has told them all of these things, but when they discover them on their own, the lesson becomes much more real and much easier to comprehend.
The Senior Thesis – The Capstone Project Integrating Logic, Rhetoric and Biblical Worldview
As a graduation requirement, each twelfth grader must successfully navigate the Senior Thesis project. This capstone of an Ad Fontes education brings together the utilization of practiced skills of logic, writing, oral discussion, and presentation on a research topic of interest to the student. During their junior year, students examine Aristotle’s Rhetoric, review the principles of logic, and practice many forms of writing and presentation. As seniors, they research contemporary topics of their own choosing (approved by their thesis advisor); each student subsequently completes a fifteen to twenty page paper and presents it to a three-person panel, consisting of an expert in the applicable field of study and faculty members, in addition to classmates and parents. Though a daunting task, completing the project highlights each senior’s preparation, bestows a significant sense of accomplishment, and instills confidence for meeting the rigorous future demands of college.
College and Life – Equipping Students to Pursue God’s Calling
A common comment from an Ad Fontes alumnus is that they felt very well-prepared to take on college academics in various ways. Receiving an education from a top private school, graduates are confident in knowing how to learn and think, in being able to read difficult texts, in the ability to write and present well, and in the ability to pursue various majors and careers. We have found that about 50% of our graduates pursue science and technology majors and careers, and these skills prepare them well. We also recognize that our first priority is to develop a living faith that results in a faithful Christian commitment. With these academic foundations woven with a commitment to Christian character and community, students are well equipped to be servant leaders for Christ in any vocation and community to which they are called.