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Governor's School at GMU Receives State Approval

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mentorship opportunities and advanced science and technology courses are on the horizon for Prince William area students as educators finalize plans for a regional governor's school.

In the works for two years, the governor's school received the go-ahead from the Virginia Board of Education last week and is expected to open in September 2010 to rising high school juniors in Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. The rigorous school, which will be at George Mason University's campus in Manassas and will eventually have about 150 students, will be the 19th in the state but the first to be associated with a four-year university.

"This is just remarkable that we had a suggestion to try to do this and we pulled it together," said Gail Hubbard, supervisor of gifted education and special programs for Prince William schools. "We're very excited to be able to offer our students another choice for advanced learning."

The governor's school will offer a partial-day program, with students returning to their home school in the afternoon for English, government and elective classes, said Hubbard, one of the roughly 35 educators and parents who helped plan the school. The program will weave science, technology, engineering and math concepts together with the core curriculum focused on environmental issues.

"When we first heard about the proposal, the intrigue was the concentration of science, technology, engineering and math," said Ron Carmichael, executive officer of George Mason's Manassas campus. "It coincides with the basic mission on our Prince William campus."

Students in the program will get a chance to do hands-on projects, work in teams and use the laboratory facilities at Mason's campus, educators said. The program will also contain a mentorship component, in which students will partner with engineering and technology companies.

"One of the exciting things about this is the way the business community has come forward," said Barbara McGonagill, director of gifted, talented and special programs for Manassas schools. "There are so many sites where we can do field-based research, and we know how important that is as a learning experience."

The Virginia Governor's School Program was established in 1973 and is designed to provide more academically and artistically challenging programs than in traditional high schools, according to the Virginia Board of Education Web site.

This year, the Prince William area governor's school was the only one before the board, local school officials said. The superintendents from all three jurisdictions made the presentation to the board, which passed the proposal unanimously without asking for a normally required second reading.

"We are delighted we didn't have to wait for September for a second reading," said Bruce McDade, associate superintendent for curriculum and technology for Manassas Park schools. "To have this accepted in Richmond immediately after the presentation is a testament to the outstanding effort the three school divisions invested into the process."

School officials said the next steps are to hire a director and approach the state legislature for funding, which they said is a routine procedure.

Appropriations from the state will be based on factors including the number of students and the length of the program, Hubbard said. The three jurisdictions involved will also help with funding based on the number of students they send to the school. The plan is to have roughly 60 students from Prince William, 10 from Manassas and five from Manassas Park the first year. After that, the program will double to include a senior class, Hubbard said.

School officials said that students will be able to apply for the program as early as this winter and that they will accept motivated, well-rounded individuals who can handle the high-caliber coursework.

"This [marks the] culmination of two years of hard work," McDade said. "We are ready to get started and are delighted to have this direct pipeline to George Mason University."

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