When Arma Dei Academy opened in a church basement in 2012, it had just nine students — seven of them children of the Christian school’s board members.
Just two years later, the K-8 school started the 2014-15 academic year with 67 students reporting to a new, two-story, 16,000-square-foot building.
By next year, its leaders hope to fill the Highlands Ranch school to its 135-student maximum.
Family and community donors who believe in the school’s approach as firmly as its board and administrators made the dramatic growth possible.
The new structure attached to the Living Way Fellowship Church, which hosted the school’s first students in its basement, includes a music room, art room, science lab, cafeteria and library with a fireplace, among other rooms. Constructed with an emphasis on quality, teachers followed the same ideal in decorating their classrooms.
Two playgrounds wrap around the back of the building, one reserved for younger kids and the other for older students. Both feature state-of-the-art equipment; the set designed for the older children includes a zipline.
Four Douglas County families founded the school, which follows a classical Christian education format. The course of study emphasizes biblical teachings and incorporates a teaching model called the trivium, focusing on grammar, logic and rhetoric. Arma Dei students learn Latin and study math, science, history, art, music and classical literature.
In addition to learning traditional subjects, no child leaves the school without learning how to draw, write, debate and appreciate music, principal Robi Marshall said.
“We want them to be generous, wonderful, well-rounded humans,” she said, adding that they are also taught how to “care about other people, not just themselves.”
Marshall said the method is time-tested, and helped produce some of history’s greatest thinkers.
“The thing I hate about education is that I always feel like they’re chasing after some new whim,” she said. “We look at, ‘What did they do in the past? Why did they turn out some of the most brilliant minds?’
“It’s recovering the lost tools. We can’t teach them everything they need to know, but we can give them the tools.”
More than 40,000 students in 236 schools nationwide follow the Association of Classical and Christian Schools educational model.
Educators use songs, memorization and repetition to teach young children.
“I think we underestimate the power of the human brain and what a child can learn and the delight they take in learning,” Marshall said, adding that teachers expose young children to complex subjects, such as the periodic table of elements. “We want (to teach) these young children whose minds are so supple, so as they grow older, they’ll begin to connect it.”
Older students take classes in formal logic, and are taught the art of debate and communication.
“We get that children are going to be pert and argumentative; their brains are starting to connect in ways they never have before,” Marshall said. “So let’s teach them how to reason soundly, to argue peaceably and with respect.”
“Even though it’s academic excellence, it’s done with such love,” said Lisa Payne, the school’s admissions and marketing director.