“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

The Ralph Waldo Emerson quote is one of many displayed on the walls of the Team 20/20 classroom at Monticello High School. It also captures the spirit of an innovative effort to make learning exciting for students who have struggled in traditional classes.

Team 20/20 is a daily, three-hour, team-taught class that combines world geography, English, Algebra I and physics and emphasizes interdisciplinary projects.

Team 20/20 is modeled after Albemarle High School’s Team 19 initiative, now in its second year. As in Team 19, the 23 ninth-graders in Team 20/20 are expected to continue learning together as a group over the next four years until they graduate in 2020.

“The model can be replicated,” said Tim Shea, the school division’s legislative and public affairs officer. “But each community has its own characteristics.”

Shea said team teaching programs are among many methods that schools are using to prepare students for the state Standards of Learning tests, and for life after high school.

The students of Team 20/20 were nominated for the program by eighth-grade teachers at Burley and Walton middle schools who identified students who would need extra motivation and attention to succeed in high school.

“They weren’t troublemakers or skipping class all the time,” said MHS assistant principal Ashby Johnson. “They are students that we wanted to be engaged at the very beginning of high school.”

Johnson said the high school did not need to hire more teachers or seek additional funding to implement the program. About $30,000 was spent for one-time expenses, including minor room modifications and new furniture.

However, a significant adjustment of staff and student schedules was necessary. Teachers also coordinate their lessons to reinforce learning in multiple subjects.

For example, in their world geography block, the students learned how to locate the equator and the prime meridian on a map. Then they practiced spelling those geography terms in their English block.

English teacher Anthony Smith said he has assigned writing activities that check his students’ understanding of their Algebra lesson earlier in the day.

When necessary, the teachers can extend their lesson into another class period.

Smith said the approach eliminates “the lack of flexibility that interferes with learning” in a typical school day. “It ensures that [the class] ends the way it should,” he said.

Team 20/20 began the school year without a name. The students chose the name while participating in activities that helped them learn about their new classmates and to identify their personal strengths.

Besides referring to the year when the students will graduate, the name reflects perfect vision and, the students said, “the idea … of developing a vision and making that vision a reality.”

One lesson has the students thinking about ideas to improve sustainability and the quality of life in Albemarle County and Charlottesville. On Tuesday, the class hosted a panel of school and community leaders who offered advice for the students’ projects — and their futures.

Officer Armando Gracia of the Albemarle County Police Department told the class, “We are put in this world to contribute, to give back.”

John F. Gates, associate dean of the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science, recalled being told by a high school counselor that he “was not college material.” Gates went on to earn degrees from Morehouse College, New York University and the University of London.

“You all have what it takes,” Gates told the class. “You are good enough. You [can] succeed at the highest level.”

Team 20/20 student Jason Offield is creating a plan for a greenhouse at MHS that could grow food for the school’s cafeteria. He said that he has gotten used to spending the entire morning of each school day with Team 20/20. “If you don’t think about it and do the work, it will fly by,” Offield said.

Travis Moneymaker is designing a small grocery store that would sell locally sourced meat and produce. “It will keep people healthier and keep them from getting overweight,” Moneymaker explained.

Moneymaker said that he enjoyed working on projects with the support of multiple teachers. “It’s a lot easier than just doing essays,” he said. “And it’s a lot more fun.”


Josh Mandell graduated from Yale in 2016 and has been recognized by the Virginia Press Association with five awards for education writing, health, science and environmental writing and multimedia reporting.