A new private school will open this fall in Crozet, occupying space in Tabor Presbyterian Church on Tabor Street and catering to students in second through seventh grades who learn differently or who have lost their enthusiasm for school in general. “We are sure that a lot of parents have found that their children have lost interest in education this past year through virtual learning, or perhaps they’ve fallen behind because they didn’t have the support from the classroom they needed,” said Jonathan Lopez, director of operations for Foster Forge School.
“Our goal is to take each individual student, see where they are, meet their needs, and help them move to where they should be, and then advance so they have a passion for what they’re doing in school,” he said. The school plans to start small with about a dozen students in its first year, and to have no greater than a six to one teacher-student ratio. Teachers will also be trained to help children with learning challenges such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or ADHD.
“There might be children who are uncomfortable in social situations or are excessively bullied, and just really don’t like going to school, and [Foster Forge] is a place for them to be individuals,” said Jenny Denham, director of student support. “A lot of schools talk a lot about inclusion, but that is really our goal. Separation is just not good.”
Foster Forge is the brainchild of founder and Head of School Anne Wachtmeister, who grew up in Virginia Beach, holds master of education and law degrees, and raised her daughter, who was diagnosed with dyslexia, near Crozet. After working as an administrator in the Boston Public School system and at a small private school in Virginia, Wachtmeister turned her passion for experiential education into a center called Discovery Grove on St. Croix, Virgin Islands, where student and teacher teams went to learn topics such as marine biology, archeology, and medicinal plant use.
A strong believer in “old school” learning modalities such as teaching phonics and cursive writing and emphasizing the basics of reading, spelling, math, and grammar, Wachtmeister plans to develop personal education plans for each student specifically tailored to their learning needs, which will allow for differentiated instruction across the areas that they are strong and weak in. “She’s like a mother hen,” said Lopez, “very caring about the community and wanting to both foster and forge strength in these students, which is how she chose the school’s name.”
The school staff is working this summer to renovate the various church spaces to create classrooms, offices, and meeting rooms, and kitchen space is already available. Grassy land to the east of the church will be used for recreation and to plant what Lopez calls “a garden of eatin’” with students, and a driveway behind the building will allow for easy dropoff and pickup at the rear door. “We also plan to integrate a bus route as the school grows, as we do have a bus,” said Lopez. The school hopes to draw families from Charlottesville to Waynesboro and beyond who feel their children may benefit from this model.
Given the small number of students that will be enrolled as the school launches, Lopez says the staff will be cross-trained and flexible. “Our goal is to have all the teachers be able to switch from elementary to middle school grade levels whenever necessary, which allows everyone to step in and do whatever is needed for the students,” he said. “We have a director of student remediation who will work with each student to develop their personalized student plans, and our director of student support will be available to counsel and talk with students anytime about how they are doing and what they need to be successful.”
The long-term plan for Foster Forge envisions a move in two to three years to a location in Keswick, where Wachtmeister has already purchased land and will be building a dedicated schoolhouse with the potential for farming on the property as well. As its doors open this fall, Foster Forge is offering a reduced annual tuition to its “First Families” of $19,500 (with a $17,500 rate for each additional sibling), which is in line with smaller private schools in the area and significantly less than schools such as St. Anne’s Belfield and Miller School.
Foster Forge School is planning an open house on Saturday, August 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Further information can be found at fosterforgeschool.org.