Belle Meade welcomes all to farm school’s first fundraiser

Teacher Tanya Paull, right, watches as Belle Meade School students feed the turkeys. Photo by Susan Hoffman.

Parents and students at Belle Meade School have launched “Growing Our Future,” the school’s first fundraising event, with activities timed to coincide with the Sept. 25-26 Rappahannock County Farm Tour.

Food, fun, hayride tours of the farm, live music, a cook-off competition, beekeeping demonstration and visits with animals will be part of the mix from 10 to 5 Saturday, Sept. 25 at Belle Meade, located south of Sperryville.

“Last week classes began for our fourth year at Belle Meade School,” said Susan Hoffman, who with husband Mike Biniek are school founders, “and we look to celebrating success with more students, new teachers and a great year ahead with our first fundraiser.”

Students receive individualized instruction at Belle Meade from “highly qualified, motivated teachers who teach lessons and create innovative assignments covering the core subjects of math, science, English, social studies and foreign language,” Hoffman said.

Many Belle Meade students work at an accelerated level in one or more core areas. Hoffman noted that a former Belle Meade student, Skyler Owens, just entered Mary Baldwin College’s program for exceptionally gifted girls.

A silent auction was launched last week as part of the fundraising effort. Purchasing a $25 ticket offers the chance of winning one of three vacations — a weekend stay for two at Belle Meade’s B&B with massage, dinner and wine; three nights in an executive suite at Innisbrook Golf Spa & Resort in Tampa, Fla.; and a full week in a lovely three-bedroom seaside home in Avon, N.C. To learn more about the auction or purchase tickets online, visit

Also on Saturday (Sept. 25), a chef “Cook Off” will be featured at the school from 3 to 4 p.m. Participants are chef-owner Frank Maragos of Foti’s restaurant in Culpeper, chefs Dean Miller of Flint Hill’s Griffin Tavern and Brian Lichorowic from Middleburg. Each will be assisted by a Belle Meade student sous chef as they prepare and present tasting menus of local farm foods for judges. The winner — the chef who earns the most votes for best recipe — will receive a prize.

The fundraiser’s silent auction will close at 4 p.m., with the winning chef also selecting and announcing the event’s raffle ticket winner.

During the upcoming Farm Tour, Belle Meade, a “green” school for grades six through 12, and its adjacent farm will be open for visitors. Tour participants will see firsthand how the students learn as they interact with farm activities, and how the farm in turn produces food for the school, its families and the community. Students apply their academic lessons to the natural world around them. They, their families and teachers also join in community projects working side by side in the garden and on the farm.

The new fundraiser is planned as an annual event.

Joining the teaching staff at Belle Meade School this year are:

• Matt Salerno (bachelor’s in music, University of California San Diego) teaches mathematics, Spanish and guitar.

• Nora Harrington Fletcher (bachelor’s of fine arts, Cooper Union School of Art), a professional artist and teacher, teaches art.

• Heather Ferebee (bachelor’s in biology from Smith College), trained in both traditional and outdoor-classroom teaching, teaches biology.

Hoffman and Biniek took their combined skills and educational training to create the Belle Meade School in 2007, developing its program for learning to emphasize both academic excellence and an understanding of sustainable agriculture. Hoffman, a lifelong teacher with master’s and doctoral degrees in education (from Harvard and Johns Hopkins, respectively), believes children learn by doing. She designed programs to facilitate student discovery and excitement in learning. Biniek, a biologist and farmer, created a practical hands-on learning system which allows students to learn as they are engaged in tasks involving an impressive array of farm animals, orchards and organic gardens.

For further information or to make a contribution to support the school, visit on the Web.

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