Veritas Preparatory School will open for its first school year later this month. Its foundress, Diane Cavazos, explains the theory behind classical education.

WILLIAMSBURG – Teachers and administrators at Veritas Preparatory School are busy putting the finishing touches on classroom, media and laboratory spaces as opening day for the region's newest private school draws near.

Come Aug. 27, Veritas will begin its first year by serving students in grades 6-9 with a classical-style curriculum developed with an emphasis on Catholic tradition.

"Planning for the first year is one of the challenges of opening a school, but we're in good shape," said Larry Henson, who will serve as headmaster as well as a teacher.

The school will open with 12 students – who Henson said have come in equal distribution from public, private and home-school settings – and seven faculty members, with one more yet to be hired.

Henson himself joins Veritas with a background in both business and education. He earned a master's in business administration from Duke University and worked in the private sector before opening three classical Catholic schools in North Carolina. He said one of Veritas Preparatory School's goals is to open up as many options for students as possible, and used math instruction as an example of what the school aims to do. Veritas students won't have to take Standards of Learning exams, Henson said, so its teachers can focus on long-term development instead of "teaching to the test."

"Right now, in the U.S., we are not providing a solid math education for students," Henson said. "The top 15 to 20 percent of students do great, but when you look at the middle 50 percent of students, they're falling through. You'll wind up with students who say, 'I'm just not good at math.' It's that they weren't given the opportunity to be good at math. Schools should not be narrowing down what students can do."

In classical-style education, there's a heavy emphasis on reading and writing, along with learning how to learn. The curriculum is based on the Trivium, a method that structures education into grammar, rhetoric and logic, often seen as the basis for a liberal arts education.

"You teach the students how to teach themselves," Henson said. "They won't be scared to take on tasks based on knowledge they don't have. ... They just don't see barriers."

Veritas, which will eventually serve children in grades 6-12, will teach subjects such as Latin, theology and fine arts across each grade. Sixth graders will study life science, ancient and medieval literature, grammar and writing, ancient and medieval history and geography, and grade-level appropriate math. Seventh graders will study logic and writing, western literature, earth science, pre-algebra, renaissance and modern history and geography. Eighth graders will study rhetoric and writing, algebra, physical science, American history and government, American literature. Ninth graders will study ancient literature and ancient history, biology, geometry, and traditional and advanced formal logic.

Studying subjects such as those will lead to a highly-developed intellect, according to the school's foundress, Diane Cavazos.

Cavazos is a former nurse, Air Force officer and mother of six who holds a master's degree in higher education from William and Mary. She said she conceived the idea for the school while she was exploring education options for her own children. She said she conducted a feasibility study in 2012 by interviewing 35 families from the region, and said her study showed support for the opening of a new classical school that also offered a Catholic focus.

For those wondering "why Latin," Cavazos offers this: "It is very useful in studying modern language, and an extremely successful tool for students preparing for the SAT."

Veritas will be housed in a 6,000-square-foot building on McLaws Circle that used to be home to a Wachovia securities center but had been empty for about five years, Henson said. He estimates its capacity at 90 students. Tuition is $7,500 per year for grades 6-8 and $8,500 per year for grades 9-12, with discounts up to $10,000 available for families with more than one child enrolled.

Veritas will be Williamsburg's second classical school, after Providence Classical School opened its doors in 2001. The area is also home to classical home-school cooperative programs called Williamsburg Classical Academy and Classical Conversations. Other area private schools include Walsingham Academy, a private school in the Catholic tradition, and Greenwood Christian Academy and Williamsburg Christian Academy, also private schools with a Christian focus.

Nancy Blackford, a founding faculty member at Veritas, said one of the unique things about classical education is that parents who haven't experienced this style of school often find themselves learning along with their children.

"It gives the kids a voice," Blackford said, "and parents will find it as interesting as the kids do."

Cavazos said nothing about Veritas Preparatory School is meant to be a criticism of other educational systems.

Its curriculum "prepares individuals not only to be moral, educated human beings, but to be good citizens of society," she said.

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Sampson can be reached at 757-345-2345.