A new building is going up at 4th and Webster downtown: an addition to Live Oak Classical School, which expands their downtown footprint even further. The addition, dubbed “Founders’ Hall” by the school’s administrators, is meant to serve multiple purposes: chapel, assembly hall, lunchroom, and stage.
At a time when “institution-building” is at an all-time low and trust in social institutions is declining, the Live Oak addition is a remarkable feat.
Live Oak was founded in 2005 by Alison Moffatt, Allison Buras, and Carolyn Still. Securing a location for the campus was not easy. In fact, Mrs. Still mentioned that they offered information sessions on the newly conceived institution even before they had a building.
Starting with a mere thirty-eight students in 2005, the vision for the school drew a positive response from those in and around the Waco community. Still noted that this response and the growing student population made the matter of facilities an urgent question. Live Oak now enrolls over 440 students, becoming the largest private school in Waco with multiple facilities within the community.
In many ways, the construction of the new wing is a metaphor for “institution- building.” After an unprecedented year, social institutions face erosion and distrust from many Americans. A survey relays that only 39% of respondents report that they trust United States institutions. In fact, as of this month, even Congress is at one of its all-time lows in its approval rating of 13% . Given Americans’ lack of trust in institutions in general, the inspiration to build Live Oak, and now to expand it, is remarkable. How did this vision come about?
Back in 1995 at a dining room table in Dallas, Moffatt, Buras, and Still were at a stage in their lives where all three were interested in the classical Christian education system. The three women saw a need for classical education within their communities and desired to fill it. They yearned for an institution that did more than create “successful” students. They wanted to shape souls. Mrs. Still recalls her thoughts from that fateful evening, saying, “If we live in a community together, we should start a school together.” Thus, the concept of Live Oak was formed.
Live Oak’s curriculum uses the classics to instill a desire to learn. Its administrators, faculty, and staff aim to build in the hearts of students an appreciation for learning and the tools for seeking truth.
But the school does not rely strictly on Greek and Roman classics. Rather, their motto, fides quaerens intellectum (“faith seeking understanding”), reflects the conviction that intellectual formation comes from loving God with all one’s “heart, mind, soul and strength”.
Allison Moffatt, a founder and Head of the School, mentioned that this biblical reference to Matthew 22:37 stands as the framework of the institution. Allison Buras, the Dean of the Grammar School, also commented on this basic idea: “There are many Christian schools that have strong school cultures and a spiritual emphasis, but not with rigorous academics. Live Oak is a place to do both.”
Live Oak’s founders were deliberate stewards of the gift of Creation. With such a gift, they were inspired and felt obligated to mold the younger generation with Christian classical thought. For this purpose, Live Oak has three developmental levels: Grammar (JK-6th grade), Logic (7th-9th grade), and Rhetoric (10th-12th grade).
Blake Schorlemer, a Baylor alumna of 2018 and current eighth grade teacher of history and literature at Live Oak, attended a classical Christian institution in her youth, which led her to a career at a similar institution. She says that in classical Christian schools “students come away from their studies with a changed heart that points them to God. It is more than becoming masters of the text.”
In addition to the rest of their academically rigorous course load, students attend Bible classes and weekly chapel to guide them in learning about ultimate Truth.
Lexie Chakmakjian, recent graduate of Live Oak and current Baylor freshman, commented on the school’s ability to put “success” in a more healthy Christian context. She says, humorously, that her teachers at Live Oak encouraged her to “fail well.” She says the school inspired her to grow as a student and a whole person.
Not only the founders of Live Oak but also its graduates understand the importance of public service and the maintenance of our precious social institutions. Their refreshing outlook brings hope at a time when Americans need it most. Rejecting today’s trendy and mutable methods of education, classical Christian schools look to classical and Christian thought to shape souls that are as deeply reflective as they are outwardly charitable.
Although Live Oak remains the only classical Christian school in Waco, founders and visionaries all over the country continue to build institutions like this, even in the wake of economic uncertainty. In fact the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) boasts a membership of three hundred (and counting) institutions like Live Oak in their fold.
Even as “Founders’ Hall” reaches completion, adding even more real-estate to this impressive school, those who know Live Oak best insist that the real institution- building takes place in the hearts of students.
Mia Gradick is a Junior from Dallas, TX. Studying Political Science, English, and Philosophy on a Pre-Law track, her interests lie in constitutional law, political philosophy, and her passion: religious liberty. She has interned at First Liberty Institute, the Senate Budget Committee for Senator Graham, and writes for several publications regarding faith and policy's intersection. In her free time, Mia enjoys singing, spending time with the Lord and with her friends, and preparing for her goal to attend law school.