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Ask the Expert: Fredericksburg Academy

Nov 01, 2022 05:00AM ● By Emily Freehling

“It really just takes an idea.”

30 years after parents launched the region’s only independent school, Fredericksburg Academy’s student-focused approach continues to innovate


Fredericksburg Academy was founded in 1992, after years of hard work by a group of area parents who saw a gap in the region’s educational offerings and wanted to bring the student-focused experience of an independent school to Fredericksburg. Thirty years later, the school continues to find new ways to help students develop a life-long passion for learning about the world around them. As our November Expert, Fredericksburg Academy Head of School Karen Moschetto talks about what makes FA a unique educational offering in the region.

Why was Fredericksburg Academy created, and how does that impact how the school educates students today?

The story of Fredericksburg Academy starts with what I like to call the founding parents. Without them questioning why this region did not have an independent school, we would not exist today. They really spearheaded the effort to figure out what needed to be done, and then people started jumping in and getting to work, making connections and building a coalition that could make it happen.

It’s a great lesson for anybody, that if you want something badly enough, there is a path to making that happen. It ties in so nicely with what we tell our students, that if there is something you want to do at FA, we’ll help you find a path, and you can take action to make it happen. I think the pioneering spirit of our founders is still very much in place today.

What is a good example of that spirit?

Just this fall, Lower School Director Patricia Estes had the idea to incorporate our Outdoor Program—which offers summer and after-school opportunities in paddle sports, mountain biking and other adventures—into the school-day curriculum for fourth and fifth grades. She had a conversation with our Director of Auxiliary Programs, Chris Stec, and the grade-level teachers, and all of a sudden, the idea came to life in a matter of weeks. For five Fridays this fall, our fourth and fifth graders spent most of their school day learning to kayak and paddleboard on the Fredericksburg Quarry and the Rappahannock River. These field experiences were full days of learning, with teachers traveling to facilitate outdoor school on shore to enhance units of study such as land and water, regions of Virginia, indigenous people, creative writing, plants and cells and more.

This is a great example of how we operate at FA. When we get these great ideas, we can incorporate them very quickly, because we have the freedom to deliver our curriculum at the pace and in the manner that will bring the highest benefit to our students. It really just takes an idea. You act on it and then you see it through. You see it throughout Middle School, where students have the opportunity for overnight field trips, and in the international trips we make available to our Upper School students.

Fredericksburg Academy was founded because parents saw a need for an independent school in this region. What distinguishes the independent school experience?

Education at FA is student-focused, not test-driven. We steer away from basing a curriculum off of an end-of-year test. Our founders wanted teachers to have the flexibility to be able to dive deep into a subject when warranted and provide those engaging experiences and projects that foster true learning and inquisition. Despite all the standardized testing that has been put in place in this country, there is no study that shows how that has been good for education. Students need to be able to be creative, they need to be able to work in collaboration with one another, and that is what FA’s program is built on.

That’s not to say we don’t have high standards. FA’s curriculum is rigorous. We are accredited by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools. Our teachers are constantly looking at national standards for what students should be able to do at certain levels. We incorporate those standards into our program, but they are woven in in so many ways. It’s not just studying vocabulary in English. That vocabulary is woven in through math, science, history, art; it’s much more comprehensive and holistic.

We hear a lot these days about the challenge to find teachers in American schools. What keeps your faculty going?

It is hard for me to put into words how amazing our teachers are. Our faculty members are scholars. They are everything. They like being with kids, they are experts in the subjects they teach, and they are around other teachers who have that same mindset. And they are working with students who are eager to learn. When all of these things are in place, you get this incredible mix that allows for magic to happen on a daily basis. It’s incredibly hard work—I don’t think anybody can truly appreciate the preparation that goes into teaching, the time it takes to make sure every student is getting what they need and moving in the right direction. At a time when everything swirling around them about teaching is negative, I think our faculty have risen above and shown that they are at the head of the class.

Both the Fredericksburg region and FA have grown a lot in the past 30 years. How does FA reflect the community around it?

The Fredericksburg community is diverse in so many ways—economically, ethnically, racially—and FA is an incredible compilation of that. I am really proud when I look around here and I see how much representation there is of our community in general, I think it speaks to the fact that people feel valued when they walk through these doors. You really need to come in and take a walk around to understand it. We recognize that our tuition isn’t attainable for everybody, but we also know that our tuition has to be set a rate where we can keep our incredible teachers here. We have put in place an indexed tuition program that allows for people of many financial levels to access the education we provide. Indexed Tuition considers your financial situation to say, “This is what you can afford, so this is what your tuition is going to be.” It has really helped open doors.

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