- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

Matthew du Mee scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT. Not long after he got his test results, letters from colleges began clogging the mailbox at his Peoria, Ariz., home.
Letters came from the usual suspects — Yale, Harvard, Stanford — all used to attracting the nation's best and brightest young scholars.
Last week, however, Mr. du Mee arrived not in Cambridge, Mass., or Palo Alto, Calif., but in the tiny town of Purcellville, Va., joining the freshman class at Patrick Henry College, the nation's first college geared for students who have been home schooled.
Choosing Patrick Henry over the country's most elite universities was not a difficult decision, said Mr. du Mee, who eagerly began his studies in government Friday, just as the Loudoun County school kicked off its second year.
"I felt that Patrick Henry College would give me the best education," said Mr. du Mee, 19, who was awarded a full scholarship at the school and already has an eye on a career in public service.
"I appreciated their founding principles, what they had guiding them, what they were working toward, the high quality of teachers and the tough academic standards," said Mr. du Mee, who shares the college's Christian outlook. "I knew it would be a challenge here, maybe even more of a challenge than a school of more prestige, but their focus on government and training young people to get into government was exactly what I wanted to do."
Patrick Henry President Michael Farris, a lawyer and home-education advocate who led the fight to make home schooling legal in all 50 states, says he is proud of the quality of his student body. A father of 10 home-schooled children, he was busy this week meeting students and their families as they moved into dorms, got acquainted and attended orientation classes on the campus, which is about an hour from the District, west of Leesburg.
Watching his educational venture take wing is "exciting," said Mr. Farris, who was happy to have his first year, with all its anticipated kinks, squarely behind him.
"We've had all of the highs and a few of the difficulties that are associated with starting something," he said. "The challenges have been good proving grounds for us, and we've refined the program. We think we are stronger and closer to our goals than we were a year ago."
"This is," he adds with boyish enthusiasm, "the most thrilling job I've ever had."
News of Mr. Farris' vision to create a small, elite Christian college has quickly caught on in home-schooling circles and beyond.
This year's student body includes 155 students from 34 states who boast an average SAT score of 1260, up 50 points from the college's inaugural class. Three attended public schools.
The college has expanded to offer four degree programs — in government, in journalism, in creative and professional writing, and in education, which offers training to those interested in writing curriculum and to those who want to teach in the classical Christian school and in home-school settings.
"We wanted to be training those who will lead the nation, and now we are excited about training those who will help shape the culture," said Mr. Farris, 50, and a grandfather of four.
As the college, with its red-brick, Colonial-style buildings, has grown in enrollment and curriculum, it has also expanded its faculty to nine full-time professors and seven adjuncts. Patrick Henry initially sprang up on 40 acres when it opened last November, and the school purchased 66 additional acres in January, giving it more than enough land to grow over the years.
Construction on a new dormitory is planned for this school year, with the possible addition of a new gymnasium, Mr. Farris said. If the gym gets built, the school will sponsor a basketball team in September 2002.
This fall, female students can participate on a soccer team that will play exhibition games with several local colleges who have agreed to add the Patrick Henry team to their schedules.
Debate, however, remains the "sport" of choice for many of the home-schoolers at PHC. One-third of the freshman class participated in the debate team, which proved its skill in April, winning honors as the country's top first-year debate program at the National Educational Debate Association tournament.
Long-term plans for PHC include the creation of a law school within the next 10 years as well as the development of a school of American culture with degree programs in film, television production, drama, music and art.
Vice president and development director Brett Rudolph calls the school's early growth "humbling."
"We've received everything from single digit donations to a $3 million grant from a foundation and a little bit of everything in between," he said.
Publicity has helped attract students, but often, he adds, "people don't know we're here."
Home-schooling enthusiasts remain the school's core constituency, but Mr. Rudolph, who is working to create an endowment, says that the college hopes to attract a broader base of support.
"We face a learning curve, but I think there are a lot of audiences out there that will support this," said Mr. Rudoph, 36, who joined PHC after work at the Family Research Council in Washington.
About 80 percent of those students who are accepted choose to attend Patrick Henry, a rate that Mr. Farris said is impressive. As the course offerings expand, he said, the quality of students increases.
"We have a very high rate of success of attracting people who come and take a close look at us," he says. "They are thrilled that we are unique.
"Some of the criticisms that we have received from the education establishment in the past year is that we don't look and act like other colleges. While that is a source of criticism in their minds, it's the very reason parents and students are thrilled with our college."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide