( 2 Votes )

Photo by Christina Dimeo Guseman

Tucked away in Fluvanna County is one of the nation’s top 10 private special needs schools.
Oakland School, located on Rt. 616 in Keswick, was just ranked #9 in the country by Master’s in Special Education Program Guide, a website dedicated to providing “high-quality, well-researched education and career resources for individuals considering a master’s in special education or a related field.”
Of all the private special needs schools in the United States, Oakland School made the cut because of its rich curriculum, low student-teacher ratio, and “unique programs which transcend the basic academic curricula,” as the Master’s website put it.
One of those programs is found in the school’s horse stables. Each student at Oakland can choose to spend an hour every other day horseback riding, and then do barn work like mucking stalls, sweeping, and grooming horses. “A lot of the kids choose to do it,” said Jamie Cato, admissions director at Oakland. “It teaches them responsibility.”
During the last weekend of summer camp, the school hosts a horse show. “All the families come and get to see their kids ride,” Cato said. “They have a picnic lunch and a summer showcase in which all their work is displayed from their classes.”
The equestrian program has been a big success in connecting with Oakland’s students. “A lot of students come to Oakland and have struggled in their previous schools,” Cato said. “They have low self-esteem. When they get to take care of a horse, this large animal, it really helps build their confidence.”
Students who struggle in a traditional classroom often find themselves at home at Oakland, Cato said. As its website states, Oakland School “is a small co-ed boarding and day school that enables bright children who benefit from a small class size and individualized programs to reach their academic and personal potential.” Oakland focuses on helping students learn, instilling them with confidence, and then – perhaps surprisingly – sending them back to a traditional classroom at their appropriate grade level.
“We see ourselves as working hand-in-hand with the public schools,” said Head of School Carol Williams. “They do a great job but they can’t do everything. A lot of the kids that come in the summer are coming for a boost to help them have more of a productive year in their own classroom in the fall.”
Part of what sets Oakland apart, said Williams, is how individualized it is. “We look at the strengths and weaknesses of each student,” she explained. “We’re not bound by grade levels and what those particular grades need to do, so we teach individually to every student.”

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A strange series of events unfolded in just the wrong way to cause Brandon Chad Bruce’s accidental death in a July 3 car fire, Fluvanna County investigators have determined.
Their conclusions are based on their own investigative work, the findings of arson investigators, the findings of the medical examiners’ office in Richmond and some educated guesses.
According to investigators:
In the wee hours of July 3, Bruce headed to his Rising Sun Road home from a neighbor’s house, in his grandmother’s car. But in the course of navigating the winding road in the dark, two of the car’s tires ran off the side, causing the vehicle to jump a driveway, strike a metal culvert, snap a mailbox post, and plow through a ditch.
He was able to spin the car’s tire enough to get out of the ditch and make it home – only 350 yards away – and park the car exactly where his grandmother had left it.
Though the damage to the 1995 Lexus looked minor, it was in fact deadly.
The bottom of the car was banged up by the accident. The exhaust system was damaged. Some wiring under the car was broken and later showed signs of an electrical short. Even the fuel line was damaged. It’s possible that something in the car began to smolder before Bruce even made it home.
“If hot fuel or hot brake fluid spatters on a hot object, like the exhaust system, it will ignite,” said Lt. David R. Wells, who investigated the case. “We’ve even seen weeds catch fire during a spin-out.”
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A small crowd gathered at the Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday night (July 16) to watch supervisors debate the newest iteration of the Walker’s Ridge development – known as Poplar Ridge. But the tension – and most of the people – disappeared from the room when Chairperson Mozell Booker announced the Board’s decision to postpone the matter to another night.
Poplar Ridge, which would be located off of Rt. 644 near Palmyra, would have 317 single-family housing units and a maximum of 74,000 square feet of commercial space. When the Planning Commission discussed the matter on June 25, it unanimously recommended denial based partially on the concern that not enough groundwater exists to support the development.
The day of the supervisors’ meeting the Board received word that Fluvanna County staff now believes that there may be enough groundwater for the 317 homes. But without ample time for supervisors, the developer, or the public to assimilate the information, supervisors felt that deferral was the fairest course of action.
“You need to know everything that we know when we make decisions so that you can make comments in relationship to everything we have,” Booker told the approximately 60 citizens gathered for the public hearing.
“This is too important an issue – whether it’s turned down or whether it’s approved – to not do right,” Supervisor Bob Ullenbruch agreed. “We want to make sure things are done correctly. Unfortunately, it can’t be done in a matter of a couple of hours.”
So with apologies to the public for the inconvenience, supervisors deferred the issue to their Aug. 6 meeting.
Next on the docket was a presentation from Sheriff Eric Hess, who requested an additional school resource officer for the middle and elementary schools to share. Currently the county only has one school resource officer at the high school.
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Columbia Mayor John Hammond  answered questions during the town meeting held on July 15. Photo by Tricia JohnsonThe vote to decide whether Columbia drops its designation as a town will be a historic and difficult one.
Mayor John Hammond called the responsibility for the process a “heavy load” during a sometimes contentious town meeting held July 15 to discuss dissolving the town’s charter for financial reasons.
Former Columbia Mayor Lizz Lane echoed Hammond’s thought.
She said that the town has had a town council and mayor since 1788, and “Washington wasn’t even inaugurated until 1789.” But she also expressed her support for the move to disincorporate the town. Lane said it’s important to honor Columbia’s history, but not when it is to the detriment of the community. Columbia has recently been identified by Preservation Virginia as one of Virginia’s most endangered historic sites.
Other residents - most of them former town council members - also expressed their support for dissolving the town’s charter.
Hammond also assured residents that the Fluvanna Historical Society would work with the town to preserve its history.
Should the issue of disincorporation make it to the ballot in November, Columbia residents themselves will decide with their votes whether or not Columbia remains a town, or becomes another community in Fluvanna County.
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Photo by Tricia JohnsonFor the first time, the James River Expedition – whose mission is to create an educational adventure for area students – landed in Bremo Bluff on July 18.
The students are learning about the river’s history.
A total of 30 students from 17 high schools are participating in one of three, eight-day segments, collectively traveling the entire 340 miles of the James River. Students, teachers, and James River Association (JRA) staff are traveling aboard canoes, bateaux, rafts and work boats and camping on the river’s banks in the evening, as they learn about the river’s importance.
Students participate in water quality testing, macro-invertebrate sampling, and wildlife identification. They also take tours of farms, industrial facilities, power stations and wastewater treatment facilities. Special presentations are given by experts on the river’s ecology and history.
At Bremo Bluff, students toured the Bremo Power Station, which was recently converted to a natural gas burning facility. Natural gas is considered a cleaner source of energy than coal, which the station formerly used. Students also took advantage of “real” bathrooms inside the power plant and appreciated a lunch of pizza, which is, as one Dominion employee said with a grin, “ordinarily their primary food source.”
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