Why students don’t want to leave historic Richmond elementary school

Posted at 6:41 PM, Dec 31, 2014
and last updated 2015-01-01 11:38:19-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Delivering a well-rounded education has been the mission of teachers and staff at Saint Andrew’s school for several generations. And the founder of the school has been changing students' lives for 120 years and counting.

Each morning begins the same at St. Andrew's School with a warm smile and or hug like clockwork.

At St. Andrews on South Cherry Street, students immerse themselves in an education that is so much more than just the three “Rs.”

Teachers and staff push students to achieve greatness.

Grace Evelyn Arents

Grace Evelyn Arents

“What we do is about their social and emotional well-being as well as their academics," second-grade teacher Kathy Tappen said. "I wish Richmonders really knew about this treasure.”

Health and a sound mind matter just as much as A's and B's.

“They know how to talk to each other. They know how to deal with their anger. They know how to deal with their issues," teacher Meagan Stone said.

Educators believe students at this K through 5 institution graduate more well-rounded than their peers. This is not a cutting edge approach at St. Andrew’s, boys and girls have learned like this for 120 years thanks to a revolutionary figure in Richmond’s history that hardly anyone knows.

Grace Evelyn Arents opened St. Andrews in 1894 with a purpose: Provide the poor children of Oregon Hill with an opportunity.

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“There are no other schools around that have been around this long that do what we do," headmaster Cyndy Weldon-Lassiter said.

Arents, who was one of the wealthiest people in the city, saw social change as her life’s mission.

“It is a pretty fun school," first-grader Sara O'Mary said.

Arents built schools, libraries, public housing and bath houses all while remaining behind the scenes. She shunned publicity.

“She wouldn’t want someone to pat her on the back and tell her she did a great job. What she felt was in the heart," Weldon-Lassiter said.

The faces have changed, but the mission at St. Andrew’s remains the same.

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Each of the 96 students receive scholarships paid for by donors and Arents’ endowment.

“I think she cared a lot about us -- and a lot about this school," fourth grader Eilana Doreen said.

Generations of graduates say their St. Andrew’s education changed their lives.

"I received so many opportunities and flourished all because of her gift indirectly. It is amazing.”

Eighty-four years after Arents’ death, Barbara Vaughan says the life lessons she gained at St. Andrew’s remained through the University of Richmond.

“I will never forget St. Andrews. Never," Vaughan said. "This place will be with me forever. I talk about this place all of the time.”

“I loved it," said Shirley Dolan, who attended St. Andrews in the 1930s. “Happy Memories. Hoping it will be there for other children forever. Hoping they experience what I experienced. I’m just happy it’s still here."

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Thankfully for students enrolled St. Andrews is not going anywhere.

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“I love that sometimes you come here sometimes you feel like you just don’t want to leave the school," said Caleb Ross who is in the fourth grade.

These blossoming children are still benefiting from Grace Arents’ generosity.

“I think she is watching over everything we do," said teacher Kathy Tappen.

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Arents had a vision long ago, but it just might be the best lesson plan in the city today.

Headmaster Cyndy Weldon Lassiter says, “We do a great service to the community and the children we serve. And the people should know about us.”

Grace Arents died in 1926. She is buried one block away from St. Andrew's School in Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill--a place where students visit on field trips during the year to pay their respects.

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