Lynchburg City Schools is looking into expanding its schools for innovation model at the middle school level as a part of the state’s laboratory schools program, providing students with more focused education options at an earlier age.
Superintendent Crystal Edwards said during a recent interview the potential expansion will happen at both Linkhorne and Sandusky middle schools, officially transforming all three of the division’s middle schools into schools for innovation.
Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle already is a school for innovation, with specific programs for herpetology, communications and cultural arts. LCS also has two schools for innovation at the elementary level — Dearington and T.C. Miller elementary schools.
The division is hoping to roll out the expansion for the 2023-24 school year.
Laboratory schools are partnerships between higher education institutions and local K-12 schools that aim to train students in hands-on learning in specific fields like STEM fields, literacy or trade and industry skills. The partnering higher education institutions provide students with more opportunities and resources in the many fields that lab schools can encompass.
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Edwards said initial plans are to focus on career and technical education at Linkhorne and Sandusky middle schools. Linkhorne Middle will focus on community health and environmental sciences, while Sandusky Middle will focus on engineering and technology.
The division is keeping its options open on how exactly to deploy the strategy, Chief Academic Officer Sam Coleman said in an interview Friday. Coleman said officials could potentially roll the program out across all middle school grades from the beginning, or take a scaled approach by starting with a specific grade level and move forward from there.
Edwards said the University of Lynchburg and Central Virginia Community College are partnering with LCS to make the laboratory school model possible.
Both UL and CVCC declined to comment this past week.
“Middle school is that age of curiosity,” Edwards said. “It’s also a great time for us to start exposing kids to real-life experiences, helping them figure out what they like and what they don’t like.
“So we want to expand that concept across all of our middle schools and have all of our middle schools be schools for innovation, where children can select and apply at the sixth grade level and focus on different things.”
Coleman said this new model “encourages innovation and encourages creative thought” about what the future of schooling looks like at this level.
“I’m excited for just the conversation across the commonwealth that we’ve been having about just ways to innovate, and take teaching and learning to new levels, or maybe to even creatively explore what schooling looks like in ways that, maybe, we haven’t done before.”
Edwards added the middle school years are the foundational level, where students have learned their skillsets in elementary and are beginning to learn more about themselves and what career path they would like to take.
“What we’re hoping is that a robust middle school program will help kids by the time they are in 10th grade; their backpack is so full they have options and opportunity,” Edwards said.
When explaining why middle school was the focus of this expansion, Coleman said the division already has similar specialized hands-on programs at the elementary and high school levels, but those same options are sparse for middle schoolers.
“From an opportunity perspective, this was perfect way to bring more of those experiential opportunities into our middle school,” Coleman said.
The division’s Partners in Education program, a joint program between LCS and the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance, will play a part in the program’s expansion, Coleman said.
The long-running program was designed to create collaboration between the city’s many businesses and organizations and the city’s school division to create career pathways and expand educational opportunities for students.
“It will provide students with access to professionals who work in these areas or have experience in these areas,” Coleman said about the Partnerships in Education element of the program. “I think, kind of at a baseline, some of our partners will be able to be real time role models and examples; and walking, talking resources for students who might be interested in healthcare or health sciences, for example.”
Edwards said UL is applying for a planning grant for the program, but she added the expansion likely will take place regardless of whether the grant is approved.