An alternative high school experience, called the Loudoun Field Center, will be offered at the Freedom Center in Lucketts beginning this fall, giving students an education in academia and trade skills, while immersed in the nature of the 100-acre Christian retreat grounds.
The seed program will begin with 25 learners this fall, which organizers hope will evolve to a 100-student community in coming years. Students will learn from a core curriculum provided by Bridgeway Academy, a homeschooling service, but the education goes beyond conventional courses such as history, mathematics and science.
“We’re going to teach kids how to communicate effectively with a lot of people. There’s a lot we can learn from books… but most of what we learn comes from conversations,” Interim Field Center Director Butch Porter said.
Students will learn from local business owners, tradespeople, and artists who visit the campus and share their experiences.
“This is life school. We’ll give them a wide exposure to vocational things. Electric wiring, construction, plumbing, first aid,” Paul Gernhardt, executive director of the Freedom Center, said. “All of these things have dual use. You can learn plumbing, and if you don’t want to get into plumbing, you at least know how to unclog your drain.”
Gernhardt, a former telecommunications executive and investor, believes that society pressures students to make a life-altering financial commitment to attend college, though a college degree is often an unnecessary credential for many industries. Gernhardt tapped Porter, a Loudoun-based education entrepreneur, to assist in launching the program.
The two joked that the Loudoun Field Center’s final exam would be handing students a student loan application.
“If they sign it, they fail,” Porter said.
While he is kidding about the exam, teaching financial literacy will be a focus of the program.
“The point is they need to be able to read that document and understand the consequences of a $100,000 loan,” Gernhardt said
The Field Center experience will come with a Christian education, which the organizers believe will foster interpersonal skills.
“The idea is to create a high school that prepares kids for that moment when they turn 18. The way schools work is they are very input driven… we just have a slightly different view, in order to be prepared to succeed kids have to know what it means to pursue good and be a person of character,” Porter said.
The facility has a lake, baseball fields, volleyball courts, and an 18-hole disc golf course. Students will utilize the retreat center’s grounds for physical education classes.
The seed program currently has 15 students set to begin in the fall, with space for 10 more.