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An Advanced Curriculum Without a Long Commute
Mountain Vista Offers College-Level Courses In Fauquier Region

By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006

On Monday, Derrick Anderson said goodbye to the lazy days of summer and hello to a demanding junior year: four advanced-level courses, marching band practice Tuesday through Friday and a daily commute between two high schools.

Anderson, of Warrenton, is one of 115 11th- and 12th-graders who earned a coveted spot this year at the new Mountain Vista Governor's School, which serves Fauquier County and surrounding areas. Gifted and talented students from the Fauquier, Clarke, Culpeper, Frederick, Rappahannock, Warren and Winchester school divisions are eligible to apply.

Mountain Vista has classes on the Warrenton and Middletown campuses of Lord Fairfax Community College. Students spend four hours each morning at one of the two locations, then finish out the day at their base high school, where they can also participate in extracurricular activities.

The need to serve gifted and talented students with a governor's school has long been a problem for Fauquier, said J. David Martin, the county's superintendent of public schools.

In the past, high school students in Fauquier who wanted to take advanced math and science courses had to apply to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County.

"The commute back and forth for these kids was really significant," Martin said, prompting him to ask why a governor's school didn't exist.

Fauquier County received a state planning grant in spring 2005 and used it to assemble a planning committee of educators, parents and School Board members.

The curriculum -- which consists of science, math and humanities courses -- was approved in January.

"We believe that we have a very unique model with the humanities component. Students will be talking about world issues and the power of thought related to those issues," Martin said. They will also examine the relationship between philosophers, scientists and mathematicians.

To prepare, students were assigned to read "Einstein's Dreams" this summer, a novel that discusses the connections between science and the humanities. They also read "Sophie's World," a 540-page novel about the history of philosophy.

Not exactly light reading.

But students at Mountain Vista are accustomed to academic rigor. To apply, they had to submit a transcript, three teacher recommendations and two essays. Outside of class, they are expected to visit Blackboard -- a Web-based system where students can read postings and participate in discussions -- for at least an hour a day.

Anderson, 16, said he was up for the challenge: "I like pushing myself, so this will be another opportunity to do that."

At an orientation earlier this month, Mountain Vista students received laptops provided by their home county. The school's operating costs are being shared by the state and the participating school districts. Those costs total about $892,000 this school year, but that amount will increase when the school adds 10th-graders next year and ninth-graders in 2008, said school director Rosanne Williamson.

After that, it will be up to Fauquier officials to decide whether to use Mountain Vista as the sole governor's school for county students or let them retain the option of applying to Thomas Jefferson, Williamson said.

Upon graduating from Mountain Vista, students will receive a diploma from their regular high school with a governor's school seal. College admissions officers view the seal as a sign of challenging course work, said Raye Tupper, gifted and talented coordinator for Fauquier County public schools. "They know that the students have been well prepared for college," she said.

Logan Douglas, 16, applied to Mountain Vista to receive advanced science credit. Douglas, of Frederick County, said she wants to be a pharmacist. And with help from her classes at Mountain Vista, she plans to enter Shenandoah University in Winchester with close to sophomore standing.

"I won't have to jump that hurdle when I get into college," the junior said. "After I finish high school, I'll be halfway through a year of college."

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