Credit: Credit: Albemarle County Public Schools

A New, Modern Learning Experience Will Change Education for Some Albemarle County High School Seniors Beginning This August

A new contemporary learning center for Albemarle County high school seniors is scheduled to open this August with the debut of Albemarle Tech, offering curriculum choices beyond what is found in traditional classrooms.

Officially known as the Center for Creativity and Invention, the center will accept between 20 and 40 high school seniors from across the county. In future years, up to 150 students, including sophomores and juniors, will have the option of attending the center. The primary criteria for attendance will be how well the center’s new curriculum approach will fit the learning needs and interests of each individual student.

Subject to the School Board’s approval of a lease with Seminole Properties this Thursday evening and the approval of the Albemarle County Planning Commission on May 8, Albemarle Tech will be located in 40,000 square feet of office space at 1180 Seminole Trail. In addition to the student center, the space will accommodate offices for the school division’s Learning Engineering, Access, and Design (LEAD) department and Child Nutrition Program, and have space for the division’s professional development programs.

Students at the new center will work with teachers to design a personal learning plan and write a contract that details the work they will do to earn academic credit. Most work will be project-based, and students will be able to earn credits in several classes while working on a single project.

Students and advisors will decide how academic grades will be awarded with an emphasis on the process involved in completing a project. Rather than right or wrong test answers, assessments will be based upon the acquisition and development of such skills as creativity, critical thinking and analysis, problem solving, teamwork, and communication. Student transportation to and from the center will be provided by the school division.

“We’re confident Albemarle Tech will be a model for the student learning centers approved by our School Board last year,” said Deputy Superintendent, Dr. Matthew Haas. “We see these centers as closely aligned with the competitive environment that will engage our students when they graduate from our schools,” he added.

At its meeting last December, the School Board voted to support the opening of a 600-student center in 2021 and to consider a second 200-student center in 2024, based upon need. How the centers will be designed and operate will be based upon experiences, feedback, and student outcomes at Albemarle Tech, Dr. Haas said.

Concurrently, the division is continuing to develop High School 2022, which modernizes today’s high school learning experience. This concept aligns with Profile of a Virginia Graduate, a new state high school diploma requirement.

The new state requirement recommends that every student’s academic plan be initiated in middle school and include work-based experiences, internships, independent studies, student projects, civic engagement, and other experiences designed to demonstrate applied knowledge and learning. It is intended to strengthen each student’s college and career readiness and improve the likelihood of their post-graduate success.

“Our objective is to remove barriers to opportunity and the kind of high-quality, individualized learning every student deserves,” said Ira Socol, who heads LEAD and is the school division’s Interim Executive Director of Technologies and Innovation. “There will be no bells to signal the end of a class or structural limits on the learning experiences offered to students. An important part of our approach is a redesign of the environment, both in terms of the physical space and where and when learning actually takes place,” he said.

The community, through internships, mentors, and job shadowing, for example, will be a valuable partner with the school division in the education of students, Socol said. With LEAD being housed in the same facility, many of the department’s professionals will be able to work one-on-one with students on technology projects.

Students who attend Albemarle Tech this year officially will be enrolled in their home school, which will enable them to supplement center programs with traditional classes. They also will be able to participate in extracurricular programs at their home school, including athletics, the performing and visual arts, clubs, and many of the social activities that are a staple of the high school experience, such as yearbook, homecoming, dances, and special events.

“The education model that served our nation so well in the 20th century, when our economy looked much different than it does today, clearly is outdated. So is the emphasis that that 20th century model placed on multiple choice tests, rote learning, and memorization,” Socol said.  “Our student centers will take us down a more modern path through the delivery of learning experiences that match what the world looks like and demands from today’s learners, professionals and citizens,” he added.