After 19 years in Afton, Appalachian School officially began the school year in Waynesboro on Sept. 9, where they offer students five days a week of in-person learning.
The K4-12 private school, previously named Afton Christian School, decided to move after being told earlier this year by its landlord that the school had one year left in the school building, and then it would have to find somewhere else. ACS did not want to delay the inevitable move and announced its plans to move into the former building of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church on Maple Avenue in Waynesboro. The church recently began construction on a new building.
“During the lockdown is when we discovered the building was for sale,” Upper School Director Andy Shiflett said. “I was running an errand when I first noticed the for sale sign, and I noticed Mike O’Donnell’s name. So I gave him a call, and he was open to allowing us to come over and look at the facility. We all came over and just fell in love with the place.”
The school initially looked into renting the property, but is currently negotiating to purchase the property. This is a development Shiflett says only could have occurred because of “a sovereign act of God.” St. John and ACS will share the use of the building until St. John fully moves into its new building.
According to Shiflett, St. John encouraged the school throughout the process as they looked forward to transferring the building over into good hands.
“They were excited to see it become a school again, because at one time, in the 70s, it was a school,” he said. “They were very excited about what was happening to the building that they dearly love and will miss, but they feel so much better about it being left in a Christian-education format.”
The local church community and families of students helped ACS move 19 years’ worth of educational supplies, books and equipment from its old building in one day, a sign of the support that Head of School Lori Knight said was present throughout the process.
In previous years, transportation from Waynesboro to Afton was available for students, which setting up transportation for the school year largely consisted of ACS flipping its normal circumstances to accommodate for families in Crozet and Afton.
ACS provides students with in-person instruction five days a week, bucking the trend of the local public schools opting for either all-virtual or hybrid learning models. Students in third grade and above wear masks when not able to social distance, classrooms are organized to encourage distancing and sanitation measures have increased. If a positive case of COVID-19 occurred in the school, ACS would shut down for two-to-five days to determine how to proceed.
ACS has 68 students enrolled, which was one of the primary factors that led to the decision to bring kids back to school for five days a week in-person.
“We felt that because of the space we have for our classrooms, and our enrollment size was manageable enough that we could continue with school and keep families safe, our kids safe and staff safe,” Knight said. “We’ve implemented a safety-and-health plan that went out to our families. Most families are delighted to have their kids here and they really want in-person learning. It’s really hard for a lot of kids to function properly without that social element and teacher contact.”
The school has some classrooms set up for distance learning, where higher risk students watch a class on tablets but still can interact with other students and the teacher. Students also pack their own lunches and eat in classrooms to avoid crowding in the cafeteria. The school has not experienced any issues with students failing to maintain the safety guidelines.
As the year progresses, the school’s main goals are to proceed as safely as possible, to pour into students spiritually and to help students succeed academically.
“We want to continue with our educational excellence,” Shiflett said. “We stress the body, mind and spirit. Our goal is to continue doing what we’ve always done and have it be as seamless a transition as possible from Afton to Waynesboro. We want to build a Christian worldview into the kids and serve as an extension to the family and the church.”
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