Grant will fund Albemarle’s high school of the future

On a counter top in Monticello High School’s Media Center, students proudly displayed a laptop filled with digital artwork, a model of a new type of MRI, and models of an atom printed from a nearby 3D printer.

Albemarle schools were recently awarded a $20,000 grant that will support these types of projects as the division works to design a high school of the future. The grant is part of the state’s Future Education and Environment Development initiative, and will help bring innovative educational practices and maker technology into classrooms.

“Virginia is a leader in education, and this is an example of that leadership,” said Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, chair of the House Education Committee.

Landes, who was recently appointed to the national Education Commission of the States, anticipates that the next two years will bring reforms to the Standards of Learning as new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum is rolled out.

“The technology is pretty much here, so we just need to figure out ways to make sure that all students have access to that technology,” Landes said.

College and career preparation are a driving force behind the high school of the future concept as Virginia pilots STEM instructional models in Albemarle schools.

Quinton Miller, a rising senior at Monticello High School, demonstrated a model of an MRI that uses nanoparticles filled with fluorine atoms that he built with the guidance of a radiologist at UVa. He hopes that his high school experiences will help him to stand out as he applies to colleges.

“I’m hoping to get into the computer engineering field, which is sort of a marriage of electrical engineering and computer science,” Miller said.

Del. Steve Landes and Superintendent Pam Moran predict that schools will increasingly need to implement technology in classrooms

Samantha Hiller, a recent Monticello High School graduate who will be double majoring in computer science and graphic design at Lynchburg College this fall, clicked through some of the images she created using Adobe Photoshop.

“A lot of people like to use Adobe Photoshop for photo manipulation, but I like to start from a blank slate,” Hiller said.  She hopes to design video games after college and her artwork included realistic renderings of planets as well as geometric designs.

Hiller mastered Photoshop by taking four levels of a Digital Imaging class at Monticello High School. She credits her teacher, Jennifer Meade, as an inspiration.

“I signed up for the class and really liked it,” she said. “Now it’s helped me to figure out what I want to do for a career.”

Additionally, new technology has helped to engage students and teachers alike.

“In the first couple months, [the 3D printer] immediately gained popularity with students,” said G. Michael Fitzgerald, a student at Monticello High School. “History teachers can actually print teeny props – replicas of cannons, ships, all kinds of things that were actually used throughout history.”

Albemarle Superintendent Pam Moran believes that new curriculum needs to reflect opportunities at higher levels of education.   

“We still have curriculum in Virginia, particularly in the sciences, that’s based on 20th century science,” said Moran. “If you go to physics curriculum for nanotechnology – which is one of the richest opportunities for new careers and new creative solutions – it isn’t even a part of the Virginia physics curriculum.”

In addition to the hands-on curriculum, the high school of the future may make students less bound to a physical location. Some form of online coursework could allow students at any division school to take classes regardless of the instructor’s location at a particular school, expanding options for coursework while encouraging greater collaboration among division schools.

“A high school of the future should not be a single place or building,” said Billy Haun, former assistant superintendent for student learning, in a press release. “It has to encompass a division-wide system. We are not interested in one school of the future that leaves other students stuck in schools of the past. If we are to meet our responsibilities to all students, we need to embrace innovation that benefits all students.”

Albemarle School Board chair Ned Gallaway described the high school of the future as a concept that is still evolving. However, Galloway identified students who are already using technology to innovate and create as a predictor of future success.

“They get it,” he said.