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Stepping into a classroom at Covenant Christian School could be compared to entering the study of a great scholar — the rooms are gently illuminated, the walls are adorned with impressionist paintings and the students work around a dark wood table.
Creating an environment where students feel comfortable learning is just one aspect of the new Williamsburg private school’s approach to education — the Charlotte Mason method — which educators say has already influenced their charges since the school opened last month.
“We all want to see our children raised up in a way that they not only achieve academic excellence but also grow in their faith,” Head of School Erika Jordan said.
Jordan said she and fellow administrative leaders Karen Koob and Shirley Timmer, as well as a group of community members that formed the school’s ministry team, came together in April to start the school.
Although they faced challenges finding a location for the school, a two-story, 4,000 square-foot building on Penniman Road became available Aug. 1 and staff and student families helped renovate the school before classes began Aug. 24.
“We love this building,” Jordan said. “We just know this was the Lord opening the doors for us.”
Learning at Covenant Christian is based on the Charlotte Mason methodology, which emphasizes education is an “atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”
“Atmosphere” refers to the learning environment, “discipline” focuses on habit formation and “life” encourages studying not to earn a certain grade, but rather to grow closer to God because “all knowledge comes from God,” Jordan said.
Students learn within age groups and study different subjects using living books, or factual texts written in a conversational style. Discipline, and particularly teaching students to persevere through struggle, comes into play when students are encouraged to narrate using the challenging vocabulary in their books, Jordan said.
“We believe every student who walks through this door is capable of infinitely more than we know,” Jordan said. “We believe the struggle is necessary in growth.”
Jessica Koupal, a middle school history and geography teacher, taught at a private Christian school before coming to Covenant Christian. She said she was impressed by how much a Charlotte Mason classroom inspires children to learn, recalling when students remembered historical figures from reading different living books.
“The response of the students has exceeded my expectations completely,” Koupal said.
All students gather for morning assemblies, where they pray and sing hymns, and eat lunch outside daily. Each Wednesday is celebrated as Charlotte Mason Day, which encourages students to explore art, theater, music and nature. Students also practice skills like sewing on Charlotte Mason Day and share tea and cookies during “tea time,” Jordan said.
Leslie Morton, a teacher’s aide in the kindergarten class, homeschooled her children in the Charlotte Mason method and enrolled them at Covenant Christian. She said the classroom setting has been a change of pace for her seventh-grader but said learning from peers has encouraged her children to “be their own best.”
“When I found this school, it was a huge answer to prayer,” Morton said, adding that, for her, working at Covenant Christian has “breathed life back into education” after previously working as an elementary school teacher.
The second floor of the school is currently being renovated to accommodate a living books library and a resource room for families who homeschool their children. Jordan said 35 percent of the enrollment is homeschooled students who attend Charlotte Mason Day or specific courses.
Jordan said Covenant Christian is already considering expanding, ideally moving onto a campus where students learn in houses to retain the family feel, but she said the school will look toward God’s guidance before it takes its next step.