UVA, Area Schools Work to Create First Lab School in America

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The University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and School of Engineering are collaborating with area public schools to create the first lab school in the nation.

Charlottesville's Buford Middle School will be the first to build a lab dedicated to advanced manufacturing technologies.  The lab school will begin offering classes for the 2013-14 school year to eighth-grade students. 

"I think it's very cool to see something that seems impossible become possible.  It's really cool to see what we can really do when we try and how technology has become really advanced and great and for us to use," said Diego Zamora, a Buford Middle School eighth-grade student."

For some students, this opens up a whole new world of possibilities.  Kiana Anderson, another Buford Middle School eighth-grade student, said, "I'm really excited because I've never experienced anything like this."

The project is backed by a $300,000 planning grant from Governor Bob McDonnell.  The grant will support design and implementation of lab schools, which will provide training for students in science and engineering in preparation for high-tech jobs.  Charlottesville and Albemarle County school administrators agree it is important to incorporate these advanced skills into their K-12 curriculums.

"We will peel off a part of that university atmosphere and environment," said Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins.  "The skills and technology that's used, and we will actually replicate that in our Buford Middle School, in our labs, in our teaching, with our students so they become middle school engineering students."

Aside from Buford Middle School, advanced manufacturing technologies for the laboratory school will be installed at Jack Jouett Middle School, Charlottesville High School and Albemarle High School.  The sites will be linked to each other and the university via video conference.

Atkins said, "What you usually think of as separate departments in separate schools – all of us together in a collaborative sense to make this effort a huge success."

The lab school will be modeled after labs at the UVA School of Engineering.  Those are equipped with high-tech 2-D and 3-D printing technology that allow students to make all kinds of actual products.

Gavin Garner, assistant professor in the UVA School of Engineering, said, "We're going to be training our middle school and high school students to learn engineering techniques early on, so they're going to be building gears and understanding how mechanisms work and applying scientific principles to actually building tangible objects and producing new goods and products."

The collaboration is meant to address the country's need for global technology competitiveness and meet the demand for more high-tech jobs.

"We're trying to trickle down into the middle and high schools so that the students can get an appreciation for what engineering is about early on," said Garner.  "I think this is a very important task that we need to do – to develop the innovators of the future now."

It is a task students like Anderson and Zamora are ready to take on.

"It will give kids a chance to experience something new that they've never seen before and it might help them realize what they want to do when they get to college," said Anderson.

Zamora said, "I think we really need to catch up with technology and how it works and so we can make our own when we are older, so we can advance."

Construction on the lab school is scheduled to begin on June 6 at Buford Middle School. Organizers hope to have that part of the project complete by the beginning of school in August.