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Saturday, September 25, 2021

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Fredericksburg Christian School: Educating Christian Leaders for Life

FCS Assistant Superintendant Dr. Heather Lee

Since it was founded in 1979, Fredericksburg Christian School has been a destination for families who want an educational experience for their children that mirrors the faith and values they teach at home. The school has forged a reputation for delivering academic excellence in an environment where students are encouraged to find their strengths, and where high-performing students are challenged. FCS opened its doors for five-day-a-week in-person learning following all public health guidelines in August 2020 with something big to celebrate. The completion of a new elementary building has now brought all grades—from preschool through high school—together on one campus off of U.S. 17 in Spotsylvania County. As our April Expert, FCS Assistant Superintendent Dr. Heather Lee talks about how the school lives its mission as an evangelical, non-denominational Christian school.

Q. FCS started this school year by opening a brand-new building for the elementary school that brings the entire school—from 3-year-olds to 12th-graders—together on one campus. What are your favorite parts of the new facility?

Heather Lee: It really helps our school community, and it’s very convenient for parents. Siblings are now on the same campus throughout their school career. The new building has a wonderful neighborhood feel, with different colored halls for the different grade levels. We have a beautiful new library, computer room, music, art and other special-area spaces.

But if I had to take a picture of one feature to highlight, it would be our Resource Center. It’s a beautiful, colorful environment that is engaging for our students with learning differences. 

Q. The Resource Center allows FCS to work with children individually and in small groups in specific educational areas. How do you identify students who may need this help?

Heather Lee: We work in close connection with teachers to identify student needs. In the Lower School, every quarter, teachers are asked for input on how students are doing, who might need extra help and in what areas. Our resource teacher coordinates all of that information, gives teachers ideas to try for some students, and if necessary, begins working with those who need extra help. She begins pulling those students and working with them individually or in small groups. We are in the active planning stages to start a model like this in our Upper School. We think this approach will work well for our older students who have specific needs for extra academic help.

Q. The pandemic school closures that have been ongoing for the past year have left many parents worried about whether their children will be behind in academic subjects. I know FCS is seeing increased interest from new families at this time. How do you approach the question when parents ask, “Is my child behind?”

Heather Lee: We do have a lot of new students coming to us with needs, but those needs are to be expected. I would want to lower a parent’s stress level by saying that even among the students who are already here, we have a wide variety of needs. We are looking for those needs from day one, anticipating them. Some of our teaching strategies, such as teaching reading and math in small groups, are geared toward being able to reach students at their current level. We work in partnership with families to help students catch up where that may be needed, as both home and school have an important role to play.

There are so many ways our teachers work to make sure new students can come in, feel welcome and have a smooth on-ramp to our curriculum. Take cursive, for instance. While we teach cursive, many other schools today do not. So when a student comes in not knowing cursive, teachers are very quick to say, “You don’t need to worry about this right now.” We will step it up gradually, in a way that makes the student feel comfortable.

Q. What do new student evaluations look like at FCS?

Heather Lee: To a parent or student, a new student evaluation can sound intimidating. The purpose of our evaluation is not to determine, “Can your child get in?” What we are doing in that evaluation is building a bridge—we want to know what the needs are-—making sure the school can meet the needs of the student and in some cases suggest strategies or summer activities that might help. We want to make suggestions for how to make coming to FCS the smoothest transition possible.

The evaluation is also the way we begin our relationship with the family, and that is a hallmark of the FCS experience. The atmosphere in our classrooms is meant to be very relational. We want to know each child as an individual. We want them to know that they are loved and a child of God. It’s not this high-stakes question of, “Am I behind?” Our number one strength is having strong relationships with our parents and students, and this begins in the evaluation.

Q. How do you build strong relationships with families?

Heather Lee: New families each have an interview with an administrator that is really a getting-to-know-you process. The focus is on your child, your family, and what you are looking for. Our mission is really clear. We are not just academically driven. We are a strong Christian school—that’s very important to us; it is part of everything we do. We want to have families come who want the same thing. When the home and school are focused on that same mission, it results in a strong partnership that benefits the students. 

Q. What is the learning environment like at FCS?

The relationships and sense of community are really definitive for us. It’s in the day-to-day interactions. Teachers are intentionally trying to have comfortable classrooms where students can share about the real stuff that is going on in their lives. At the same time, we know students thrive on structure, routine, and well-planned days.  We excel at clear expectations for our students, and in a loving and safe environment, students rise to those high expectations.

Our goal at FCS is to help students find their God-given talents and skills to impact the world in mighty and meaningful ways. We take a bigger-picture perspective on life, and bring together the spiritual with the social and academic. We use that perspective to walk students through challenges, whether it be struggling in a class or having a setback in their home life.  It is about the whole child. We believe that sets our students up for a successful life that has the potential to impact the world for God.

To learn more, visit fredericksburgchristian.com. 

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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