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Old Dominion, Chesapeake Schools Partner on Compsci Lab

Through a pair of grants totaling $400,000, Old Dominion University is developing a pair of "lab schools" — one aimed at creating a technology talent pipeline in Chesapeake and the other focused on the maritime field.

Old Dominion University as seen Thursday, March 12, 2020.
The Virginian-Pilot/TNS
(TNS) — Old Dominion University this month received two state planning grants totaling $400,000 to develop lab school proposals with Newport News and Chesapeake school divisions. If approved, the programs would launch in fall 2024.

During their special session last year, the General Assembly appropriated $100 million to support the development and implementation of lab schools. Lab schools are public schools, most commonly affiliated with colleges and universities, that leverage "innovative educational service delivery models," according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Lab schools also serve as a place for teacher training, curriculum development and educational experimentation, according to the International Association of Laboratory Schools.

Karen Sanzo, an ODU professor and director of the Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab in Newport News, is leading the initiatives for the university.

“It’s a statewide opportunity for us to come together and think about, how do we innovate in schools?” she said.

Sanzo said the lab school proposals that have so far been approved by the state take different approaches. ODU decided to engage with school division partners for their proposals.

In Newport News, ODU is partnering with the school division to create the Maritime and Coastal Innovation Collaboratory to offer high school students pathways into the maritime field.

Tina Manglicmot, chief academic officer at Newport News Public Schools, said the decision to partner with ODU on this project originates with a recent Hampton Roads workforce development study that showed job growth in the maritime industry. Manglicmot said the study showed the industry was in need of both workers coming straight out of high school, as well as those who would fill jobs requiring college degrees.

She said the program will complement, rather than compete with, others that are also focused on maritime workforce development. The program would offer an alternative to NNPS students who prefer to remain on site, or are unable to attend offerings at other career and technical centers.

Manglicmot said the Collaboratory would offer a new concept — a “school without walls.”

“Because we want to offer this opportunity to any students in Newport News who want to be a part of the Maritime and Coastal Innovation Collaboratory without having to leave their school,” she said.

Manglicmot said the program would offer “flexible pathways” into the maritime industry, with the focus in early high school years on the skills needed to pursue any job in the field, rather than locking a student into, for example, a welding program starting in ninth grade.

In Chesapeake, ODU will partner with Oscar Smith Middle School to bring a computer science IB Middle Years program to the school. Tidewater Community College is also a partner in the program.

The International Baccalaureate study program is internationally recognized and focused on critical thinking and practical connections to the real world.

Shonda Pittman-Windham, director of college and career readiness at Chesapeake Public Schools, said the partnership will bring something “brand new” to the division, which does not currently have any specialty programming for any of the middle schools.

“We know there are tons of jobs out there for people who are interested in computer science, cybersecurity, that type of field,” she said. “So we want to kind of train our students to start thinking along those lines.”

According to ODU, the program in Chesapeake would bring underrepresented students into the “technology talent pipeline.” Oscar Smith Middle School is a high-needs school. Pittman-Windham said 97 percent of the school’s students are eligible for free-and-reduced lunch, and 84 percent are minorities.

Pittman-Windham said the goal is to frame student thinking to a “more global perspective about life and what their future plans will be.”

Sanzo said the curriculum for both lab schools would emphasize design thinking, which is an approach to learning and problem-solving that involves identifying challenges and solutions and continually refining ideas.

Sanzo said the projects are still in the planning phase, and ODU and its partners have up to a year to submit an implementation grant.

Of the $100 million appropriated by the state for lab schools, $5 million is earmarked for planning grants, $20 million is available for start-up grants, and $75 million is available for operating and maintenance grants.

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