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Building Warrior Tech
Academy is taking shape
Construction of the Warrior Tech Academy at Magna Vista High School is 65 percent done. Above, Henry County Schools Superintendent Jared Cotton (third from right) shows the progress in the new central area of the academy to County Administrator Tim Hall (right) and Ridgeway District school board member Francis Zehr during a tour Wednesday. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Warrior Tech Academy at Magna Vista High School is about 65 percent completed and is scheduled to be substantially finished by Aug. 30.
Warrior Tech is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) academy. It will be the first New Tech Network (NTN) school in Virginia, and local officials hope it will be a model for other schools interested in the concept.
The first New Tech high school was founded in 1996 in Napa, Calif., when local business leaders, frustrated by the lack of skilled graduates ready for college or the workplace, came together with the idea of starting a school that would teach the skills needed to thrive in the new economy, according to the NTN website.
Project-based learning is at the heart of NTN’s instructional approach, according to the website. Students learn through doing projects on a specific issue or challenge. The students work in groups, and teachers guide them. Projects require problem solving, critical thinking and communication.
On Wednesday, several officials of Henry County Schools and county government toured Warrior Tech Academy, which is a school within a school.
“I’m really pleased with the progress and so quickly,” schools Superintendent Jared Cotton said during the tour.
About 16,000 square feet of space is being renovated. Most of that space formerly was occupied by the school media center, which has been relocated, and two adjacent classrooms are being renovated for phase one of the academy.
It will have two approximately 1,500-square-foot learning labs that each will accommodate up to 50 students. Each lab has a “breakout” room that can accommodate 10-20 students. The academy has about a 300-square-foot lounge-type area, director’s office, storage space and a reception area.
Other features include vibrant colors, which stimulate brain activity; internal windows in some areas; floor tile throughout, except in the reception area, which will be carpeted; and features to provide a distinctive entrance.
For most of the core courses, biology will be integrated with physical education/health, and World History I will be integrated with English 9. Those courses will be taught through project-based learning. The one exception will be the core course of math (for most students, Algebra II or geometry), which will be taught through problem-based learning.
Problem-based learning begins with a problem that encompasses one to two standards and takes only a few days to complete, geometry teacher Jeannie Stanley wrote in an email. Project-based learning focuses on multiple content standards and takes several weeks to complete, she added.
Academy students will leave the school-within-a-school to take electives.
The academy has a staff of one director who initially also will be a facilitator (teachers are called facilitators); five other facilitators; and clerical support. Other teachers will be called in as needed as field experts for projects or lessons.
The academy will serve 100 ninth-graders its first year, and plans are to add 100 students each year the second, third and fourth years.
According to information from Cotton, startup and ongoing costs for the academy total $869,469.49 thus far: architectural and engineering fees — $77,830; renovations — $355,000; furniture — $167,289.54; MacBooks for 100 students — $111,349.95; startup and first-year fees for New Tech (Network) — $158,000.
“... The majority of this includes startup costs, and we used carry-forward and year-end funds for most of this. The renovation, furniture and MacBooks fall into the category of start-up fees. The ongoing costs will be the New Tech Network’s fees (startup and yearly support). All of this will come from our Harvest grant as it relates to professional development, onsite coaching support and access to an online curriculum management system (ECHO) and resources,” he stated.
Cotton noted that county students do well on state Standards of Learning tests, which are multiple choice, but employers and higher education officials have said students graduating from the county schools need better skills in critical and creative thinking, communication, collaboration and problem-solving.
“It’s incredibly exciting to see what’s here now, but also what it’s going to mean,” said County Administrator Tim Hall. He said the workplace today requires a collaborative, team effort, so Warrior Tech Academy is a perfect match of what the educational system can provide and what the real world needs.
Deputy County Administrator Dale Wagoner said a lot of thought and research obviously went into Warrior Tech. “It can only be successful,” he said.
“The community is abuzz about it,” said Francis Zehr, Ridgeway District school board member.
“I am very pleased. ... It’s everything we envisioned,” said Magna Vista Principal Gracie Agnew. She pointed out the academy’s design follows New Tech Network recommendations. “It’s exciting to be able to do education the way students need to learn. ”
Lindsay Favero, academy director, said students doing presentations about their projects will boost their understanding, communication skills and self-confidence.
The first day of school for students in Henry County is Aug. 12. Warrior Tech Academy students will meet in other parts of Magna Vista until the academy is ready.