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Private schools open to excitement for academic year

By Josette Keelor

The first day of classes at area private schools brought increased enrollment and excitement for a new school year.

On Thursday's first day at Randolph-Macon Academy in Front Royal, new campus chaplain Rev. Josh Orndorff encouraged students to be an example of love for the rest of the world.

Speaking by phone later in the day, he recalled telling them at a morning service "what it means to be a city on a hill."

"You know, a school with so much diversity has the chance to show the world how to get along with all our differences," he said.

Orndorff, who will teach a class on the Bible's Old Testament this fall, the New Testament in the spring and world religion, has been commissioned by the United Methodist Church to become a pastor. He started his chaplaincy in July.

"[It was an] exciting first day of chapel and a great day of classes," he said.

Today he plans an ice cream social and corn hole event at 4 p.m. following the school's football game in an effort to help introduce students to representatives from local churches and faith communities.

Following the morning service, Celeste Brooks, director of public relations, said "Spirits are high, everyone's full of energy."

R-MA is a college preparatory school that helps ready students for "the college that is the best fit for them," Brooks said. An optional summer program is also open to students outside the school.

The school helps students complete the "nitty gritty work" by the end of their junior year so they can apply for higher education as early as that summer, Brooks said, and said one senior has already been accepted to college for the 2015 fall semester. This year's senior class has 59 students. Brooks said full enrollment numbers should be available in a couple of weeks.

Wakefield Country Day School in Huntly and Christendom College in Front Royal also reported exciting first days of classes this week.

Christendom College saw record enrollment of 432 students Tuesday on its first day back. Director of Marketing Niall O'Donnell attributed the school's increased scholarship opportunities to the rise in students -- including 122 new freshmen.

"That clearly is going to have an impact," O'Donnell said. But once there, students are expected to work diligently.

Describing the Catholic college as the "gold standard" of liberal arts studies, he said, "We have a very rigorous, robust core curriculum."

Philosophy, history, math and science, political science, English and other languages make up the curriculum for first and second years, with opportunities for more focused studies starting in the third year.

The program makes for better rounded students, he said. "You need to know these things."

Students will travel to Rome for semester abroad programs in the fall and spring, and college-age students outside of Christendom are invited along for the school's second three-week voyage to Ireland next summer.

"I think it's going to be a great year," O'Donnell said.

The new school year at Wakefield Country Day School always starts on a Wednesday so students can take part in the weekly assembly with songs, an honor guard and the wearing of dress uniforms, explained Brad Boelter, director of public relations, marketing and admissions outreach.

A tradition since the school opened in 1972, assemblies offer a different group song each week, Boelter said in a Thursday phone interview. Wednesday they sang "America the Beautiful" and then "got weird yesterday and sang 'Jingle Bells.'"

The school has 184 students enrolled for the year, including 19 students from Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and China looking to learn English, study American culture and pursue degrees at U.S. colleges or universities. Two students from South Korea and Vietnam are expected in January, according to a news release from the school.

Locally enrolled students live mostly in the counties of Warren, Fauquier and Rappahannock, with smaller numbers from surrounding areas. The school has bus service into Winchester, Gainesville and Luray, Boelter said.

"I think the kids just love this place," he said. "It's neat, it's small."

"Everybody fits in and everybody knows everyone and it makes for a happy place."

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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