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VCU x CodeRVA Lab School will address Virginia’s teacher shortage and prepare students for STEM careers

Virginia’s inaugural lab school, a partnership of VCU and CodeRVA Regional High School, is now underway. On Wednesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced the establishment of two additional lab schools.

Trevor Dickerson

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The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School — a joint project between the School of Education’s RTR Teacher Residency program at Virginia Commonwealth University and the CodeRVA Regional High School — has received final approval and the program is now underway.

The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School will help provide an innovative computer science-focused comprehensive high school education to a diverse student body at CodeRVA, serve as a training site for teacher residents, and afford professional learning opportunities for educators across the state.

“This program will empower students to see their own potential for a career that embraces innovation and computer science,” said Kim McKnight, Ph.D., executive director of RTR Teacher Residency. “We are excited to integrate the successes we have seen preparing teachers for classrooms through RTR Teacher Residency with the cutting-edge academic programming CodeRVA provides.”

The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School is Virginia’s inaugural College Partnership Laboratory School, or Lab School. Lab schools are designed to stimulate the development of innovative education programs for preschool through grade 12 students; provide opportunities for innovative instruction and assessment; provide teachers with a vehicle for establishing schools with alternative innovative instruction and school scheduling, management and structure; encourage the use of performance-based educational programs; establish high standards for both teachers and administrators; encourage greater collaboration between education providers from preschool to the postsecondary level; and develop models for replication in other public schools.

A photo of a woman taking to a student behind her as she leans over next to another sudent's desk.
VCU graduate student Nan Peña works with students. VCU x CodeRVA Lab School will serve as a training site for teacher residents and afford professional learning opportunities for educators. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School is an important innovation in our work to prepare teachers and learners for living and working in a time of generative AI, intelligent machines, and other rapidly evolving technology,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at VCU. “Before you know it, the line separating those who create technology and those who use it will disappear. This lab school, and the learning it will create, is a vital step in ensuring that our students are prepared to succeed in that reality.”

Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Wednesday announced that the Virginia Board of Education had approved two new additional lab schools, Germanna Community College’s Future Educators Academy and the University of Mary Washington’s Academy of Technology and Innovation. The three approved lab schools are among 20 lab school applicants across Virginia.

“I’m thrilled by the continued progress we’re seeing in lab school development across the commonwealth. Lab schools are a critical part of restoring excellence in the commonwealth’s education system,” Youngkin said in a news release. “This is the first step in giving parents new options for their kids to learn in innovative and creative ways and break the status quo of a one-size-fits-all education.”

CodeRVA Regional High School has been preparing students for college and careers in computer science through personalized, integrated and applied project-based learning since 2017. CodeRVA students acquire real-world work experience through an internship program that starts in 11th grade.

VCU’s RTR Teacher Residency Program is a proven undergraduate and graduate teacher residency program that places aspiring teachers with highly qualified mentor teachers while they earn an education degree from VCU. The program integrates research with best practice to equip residents with the knowledge, skills and experience to be effective teachers and more likely to stay in the profession. RTR is the largest and longest-standing teacher residency program in Virginia and has prepared over 300 teachers to work in high-needs schools.

Students in the VCU x Code RVA Lab School will learn from high-quality computer science curriculum, obtain real-world work experience and have the opportunity to graduate with a Virginia high school diploma, an associate degree from the Virginia Community College System, industry certifications, and as many as 360 hours of practical information technology work experience.

The overlay of VCU’s RTR Teacher Residency program encompasses a nationally recognized teacher residency program to ensure aspiring teachers receive proven and effective training to lead classrooms and best-in-class computer science instructional practices and delivery to meet significant teacher shortages and demand.

As with the shortage of a skilled workforce in technology fields, there is also a need for more teachers nationwide, including in Virginia.

A woman sitting with a laptop smiling at two students who are also on their laptops.
Kristen VanderRoest, teacher and RTR mentor, works with students. (Kevin Morley, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

“The teacher shortage is a national crisis and one we are prepared to address,” said Kathleen Rudasill, Ph.D., interim dean of the VCU School of Education. “The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School, in partnership with RTR Teacher Residency, gives us ample opportunities to train and excite future teachers about careers in education, particularly STEM education. This collaborative effort will empower students by providing access to a top-tier, computer science-focused education, while also nurturing the development of future educators. Together, we are building a brighter and more technologically advanced future for Virginia’s youth.”

The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School will be a hub for an array of professional learning programs for Virginia’s educator workforce. Through this immersive teacher preparation training experience, aspiring and currently serving educators in other school settings will learn best practices in computer science integration for all students. Additionally, the lab school will develop and provide computer science and teaching strategy learning opportunities to Virginia’s school divisions and educator workforce.

Aspiring teachers in RTR will have an enriching yearlong teacher residency experience, guided by strong mentors at CodeRVA. Throughout this program, they will gain valuable expertise in integrating computer science into various subjects while earning their education degrees, McKnight said.

“The commitment of the VCU x CodeRVA Lab School extends beyond its walls,” McKnight said. “We are eager to bolster career opportunities for Virginia’s students and advance teacher workforce development by leveraging VCU’s opportunities, expanding teacher residencies and integrating new instructional approaches across Virginia in the years ahead. But it all starts here with this partnership, with this first step toward innovation in educating students and preparing the teachers of tomorrow.”

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.