Three college courses coming to Rappahannock

RappU and LFCC team up to offer adults, high-schoolers educational opportunities close to home

By Sara Schonhardt
Foothills Forum

Rappahannock residents looking to grow their knowledge, opportunities or work toward a higher degree can do so without leaving the county starting this fall, when learning and workforce-training center RappU will team up with Lord Fairfax Community College to begin offering college-credit courses.

The three initial classes are part of RappU’s efforts to expand educational opportunities for the county and continue its evolution from a non-profit that started offering lifelong learning classes on everything from fly-fishing to crypto assets to its workforce training program, which provides certifications for a range of healthcare professions, including nurse’s aide, medication technician and home health aide.

Educators met at Headmaster’s Pub May 31 to discuss college-credit course offerings coming to Rappahannock this fall. The former classroom pictured here could potentially serve as a future learning space. From left to right: Caroline Wood, dean of LFCC’s Fauquier Campus; Michelle Cribbs, LFCC outreach and coaching specialist; Kathy Grove from RappU; and Kat Habib, program manager for Next Step career and college access program at Headwaters education foundation. Sara Schonhardt

Providing people in Rappahannock with the opportunity to earn college credits close to home is important since transportation challenges, financial constraints and unease with leaving the area can make attending college classes in neighboring counties out of reach for some residents, said Kathy Grove, a RappU board member who administers the lifelong learning classes and is helping coordinate the courses with LFCC.

Just as important is helping people understand that college is possible. “Here’s how they can take a class right here in the county and get their feet wet,” Grove said.

With its college-credit offerings, RappU and LFCC are targeting high-school students from public, private and homeschool systems looking to earn duel credits, working-age residents who want to increase their job opportunities or continue unfinished degrees and older folks eager to keep learning.

The first three courses will be U.S. history, public speaking and music appreciation. Each are worth three credits and will last for 16 weeks. The college chose those classes because all count as credit toward a general education degree and the first two allow for dual enrollment with the high school, said Caroline Wood, dean of LFCC’s Fauquier campus, which will administer the instruction.

The hope is that the courses will fill an opportunity gap that many rural counties suffer from.

“This has the capacity to increase employability, increase the income of residents of our county and maybe even keep some here who would like to stay in Rappahannock but feel like they need to leave to seek bigger opportunities,” said Grove.

RappU will serve much like a satellite location, providing the classroom space and partnership to spread the word. Courses will initially be offered at RappU’s facility off U.S. 211 outside Sperryville but Grove said they’re looking for alternatives.

LFCC will provide the coursework, professors, support services and accreditation status. The college is planning to work with interested applicants to help them find financial aid or grants to cover expenses, said Wood, recognizing that financial constraints are a concern for low-income families in the county. Each course costs around $450 (roughly $150 per credit). Both LFCC and RappU have scholarships available.

Building trust and opportunity

Talk of a partnership between RappU and LFCC has been going on for years but the timing wasn’t right until recently, Wood said.

Over the past year the college has hired an outreach specialist and the public high school has created a career coach position and guidance team to help it achieve new statewide graduation requirements that will take effect in the fall.

Grove says she’s thrilled to have gotten buy-in from Lord Fairfax, especially because as a small county Rappahannock doesn’t promise a huge return for the college.

Wood, however, sees the course offerings as a way to build trust in Rappahannock and says the college is committed to offering them even if initial enrollment is low.

“We know that if you put up classes and then constantly cancel them people stop looking for them,” Wood said. “We want the folks in Rappahannock County to trust us, to know that we are committed to serving them.”

On top of the outreach, the increasing expense of university tuition has boosted the value of community college, Grove said. And the fact that credits are guaranteed to transfer to other institutions has made community college a more attractive, accessible option for many students.

Rappahannock public schools already offer some classes that provide dual enrollment credits, part of Superintendent Shannon Grimsley’s goal of giving students the opportunity to work toward or earn their associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school.

“By offering local, dual-enrollment courses, we’re able to greatly impact that financial burden on families and allow students equity in education,” she said.

Grimsley hasn’t met with the LFCC planning team yet, but the school system has partnered with RappU on its workforce-training program. She says the course offerings through RappU could help fill gaps in what the high school can offer and provide students with more options for taking classes in the county. She sees recent graduates as also benefitting.

“It hits a great gap in our county — so those recent graduates, underemployed and unemployed, that are still trying to figure it out and they need the educational piece.”

RappU’s certified nursing aide program already extends to both adults and high school students. More than a dozen adults have cycled through the program since it started last year and the first batch of high school students just finished their coursework in May.

A partnership in progress

The first round of courses will be a learning period, said Wood. After the fall they’ll look at what classes work and build a more tailored schedule.

“By being present and gaining trust, I think people will tell us what they need,” Wood said.

The courses will meet three hours a week, half in person and half online. LFCC is working with RappU to ensure students have reliable Internet access and a means of getting to the classroom.

“We don’t want to set up a situation where we know our two big barriers, transportation and the Internet, are actually barriers here,” Wood noted.

They’ll be out promoting the offerings this summer ahead of the starting date August 20.

“I’m very hopeful that between high-school students, not only in the public schools but also at the other schools, and then our adult population, we’ll have a good sized group,” said Grove.

Music appreciation will be offered every Thursday from 5:30-7:00pm

U.S. history on Mondays 1:30-3:00pm

Public speaking on Tuesdays 1:30-3:00pm

Sara Schonhardt
About Sara Schonhardt 20 Articles
Sara Schonhardt is the summer fellow for Foothills Forum. A former staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal in Indonesia, Sara reported from around Southeast Asia for more than 10 years for the International Herald Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Voice of America, among others. Her most recent reporting has focused on rural communities in southern Ohio.