Fresh off of a vote that extended its contract with Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology for one more year, the Loudoun County School Board members are beginning to delve deeper into the possibility of developing the county's own facility for advanced and technical education courses.
The Curriculum and Instruction Committee met with officials from the science and technical education departments Oct. 2 to develop a vision for the project, which would house the Academy of Science and the C.S. Monroe Technology Center in the same facility.
The combining of the two facilities would allow each to double in size and house roughly 1,500 students.
Committee Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) was joined by committee members Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin) and Bill Fox (Leesburg) at the meeting along with fellow School Board members Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Tom Reed (At Large).
The facility – tentatively named the Loudoun Advanced Technology Academy – will have a vision which emphasizes programs specializing in the STEM subjects, but most importantly will provide Loudoun students with a facility and resources to develop them into leaders and innovators of the 21st century.
Shirley Bazdar, director of career, technical and adult education for LCPS, emphasized the vision as one that would combine collaboration between programs and innovation.
“This really is an advanced technology academy. The key here is exploration and innovation,” Bazdar said. “We see this as an opportunity to bring together multiple programs to really become an incubator for innovation. We are going to talk a lot about research, but it is also really project-based learning and you can't have project-based learning without exploration and innovation. It has to be student driven.”
Having the two centers under one roof would allow students to explore different programs to gauge their interest with plenty of extra space for projects.
“I have one student now who wants a high-powered laser for studying the aerodynamics of bat wings and insect wings. I thought it was cool, but for safety issues it was going to be expensive,” Academy of Science Director George Wolfe said. “So he had to build a small plywood room in the back of a classroom and the student goes into this room to study the aerodynamics of wings. However, with this project, there is less place in the classroom for students now.
“This new facility would allow projects to be done without taking up class space,” Wolfe said.
The new academy will also feature several new opportunities for engineering, cybersecurity, information security, computer science and math modeling and health and medical services.
Tim Flynn, director of instructional services for Loudoun County, noted the facility could be used for more than just student related projects.
“This could be a hub for student and teacher research, a center for adult education, a testing center, summer STEM academies and more,” Flynn said. “The academy could offer plenty of opportunities to pay for itself. If possible we would never had to turn the lights off.”