August 24, 2008

Veritas: School Combines Christian, Classical Education


By Patti Peterson

The Virginian-Pilot

While on a field trip to the Chrysler Museum last year, Marti Dart's third- and fourth-graders borrowed a page from Julius Caesar's history.

"Veni, Vidi, Vici," Caesar told the Roman senate, following a key victory for the empire.

Just like Caesar, the Veritas Christian Academy students came, saw and conquered. That is, after all, what they are being taught to do at the small private school off Oak Grove Road in Chesapeake's Greenbrier section.

The academy, run by husband and wife team Sean and Maria Elgut, bills itself as the only one of its kind in South Hampton Roads to offer a true, classical education.

That day in Norfolk, Dart's students provided the museum's docent a glimpse of what they're learning.

The guide was amazed, Dart recalled, as the group of 8- to-10- year-olds gathered to read a medieval book of hours - a collection of texts, prayers and psalms - written in Latin.

She was astonished when a student noticed an ancient tapestry only to discern it depicted Hannibal, one of history's greatest military leaders.

"We want to raise kids to take up swords later in life," headmaster Sean Elgut said. "We want to see young Christian men and women take key positions in society."

To do that, Veritas turns to the classics.

"We don't try to reinvent the wheel," he said. "This is time- tested material."

The Elguts, who live in Great Bridge with their five children, started the school in 2000 as a mainstream Christian academy after Sean earned his master's degree in education from Regent University. He spent two years there studying law before feeling a call to teach instead.

Looking to distinguish itself from other private Christian schools, Sean shifted the curriculum in 2004 after attending a conference in Lancaster, Pa., site of one the country's foremost classical schools.

"Our goal is for them to have a vision for their future," Sean said. "We want them to see beyond the borders of high school and look to the next stage. Then we ask, 'Are you ready for it?' "

In the grammar school, kindergartners through sixth-graders master a multitude of facts using song and repetition.

By the end of the year, 5- year-olds know multiplication tables up to 12 and are introduced to Latin.

Entering seventh grade - around the time kids naturally become argumentative, Sean said - the dialectic, or logic phase commences. Instruction is centered around lectures, discussion and the Socratic method.

High school-aged students progress to the rhetoric stage, where they learn the art of oration and communicating ideas about facts and logical connections.

All subjects - from math to English to art and science - are taught through relevance to the Bible, literature and history.

Teachers utilize general reference texts, but the core of the education is learned through reading unabridged works like Homer's Odyssey, Shakespeare - as early as third grade - Dante's Inferno, the Bible and authors such as Josephus, Plato, Sophocles and other greats.

There are fun books, too, like Little House on the Prairie, Encyclopedia Brown, Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.

The curriculum is challenging, but the Elguts say young minds are like sponges and can absorb a great deal.

"We set the bar high for kids and they go up to it," Maria said.

The school, decorated to immerse students in the subjects they study, has murals of ancient Egypt, a knight in armor, chess tables and an Oxford-like reading room where kids of all ages interact.

Veritas also fields golf, tennis and swim teams, though more emphasis is placed on academic competition.

Last year, they won the inaugural Chesapeake Freedom Challenge, going up against AP students from Indian River and other area private schools. This year, they'll participate in the Battle of the Brains.

The school's 106 students are also educated on etiquette in a lesson called Classroom Culture. They wear uniforms, are taught to make eye contact, address adults and show respect toward others.

Dart, who will teach the juniors and seniors this year, enjoys the demanding, yet flexible lessons.

"We have the freedom and flexibility to use our creativity and experiences to make the best classrooms and teach the best way we know," she said. "The goal of classical education is to help students think critically. Basically, kids are kids. It's my job to awaken some of that excitement for classical learning."

A tried and true method for students to carpe diem.

Patti Peterson, 222-5213,

[email protected]

Originally published by BY PATTI PETERSON.

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