A new era of education--marked by an emphasis on high technology and teamwork--begins Tuesday in Stafford County with the opening of Colonial Forge High School.
In Stafford's fourth high school, computers and interactive televisions are in every classroom. Technology study laboratories, similar to those found at colleges, are part of the library. One classroom has been set aside to teach teachers from across the county about the latest changes in today's fast-paced, high-tech world.
At the same time, there is an effort to make sure the teachers and students at Colonial Forge interact in person, rather than just via computer.
"I wanted to develop a school with a vision of the future," said Principal Lisa Martin. "But the underlying theme throughout the building here is that it takes a whole family; our attempt at Colonial Forge is to form that family."
To that end, Martin has included parents and students in the decision-making from the start. For example, students chose the school's colors--forest green, navy blue and silver--and its mascot--the Eagles.
Martin's vision of a school-as-community is exemplified by the layout and decoration of the building, in which she played a major role. The rooms are designed to be open and airy, with angled ceilings and wide windows. The cafeteria, for instance, is on the first floor. But it is not enclosed, and students and teachers can look down into it from the second floor.
Teachers' offices are along the hallways and have numerous windows so they are a part of the daily flow, rather than being tucked in a corner.
Even before the first day of classes, Martin's approach has resonated with students.
"She really had us and everyone else in mind when choosing everything," said Glenn Dye, 14, an incoming freshman and member of the first class to go through all four grades at Colonial Forge.
"I'm very excited," said Dye, a member of the school's golf team and leadership council. "It looks awesome, plus it's brand new. One of the best things is it's just special to be able to" be in the first class to go to the school.
In addition to creating a community atmosphere, the design of the school also heightens security, a major priority in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and elsewhere.
"We're aware that anything can happen anywhere," Martin said, adding that all of the school's security measures were reassessed after the recent shootings.
Other security steps include separate parking lots for buses and students and holding after-school activities that last into the night near the student lot.
Children from every part of Stafford have been funneled into the centrally located Colonial Forge. In its first year, the school will have about 875 students and 70 teachers. Dozens of students from other schools have voluntarily switched to Colonial Forge because of its first-rate facilities, Martin said.
Colonial Forge was built to accommodate approximately 2,000 students, and if Stafford continues to grow at its current pace, administrators expect it to reach capacity within a few years.
Administrators opted not to have a Class of 2000 so students wouldn't have to switch schools for their senior year. Thus, varsity athletic teams will play a combined junior varsity and varsity schedule, Martin said.
Colonial Forge is Martin's first assignment as principal. The 39-year-old educator was an assistant principal at North Stafford High School for the past four years and worked at schools in Portsmouth, Va., and Richmond before that.
Although Colonial Forge will open Tuesday, it is not entirely complete. The ends of hallways have not been finished, and construction will continue into the school year. Also, a number of small touches, such as arranging the weight room and some painting, must be wrapped up. But administrators say the work will not affect classes.
Nevertheless, school officials are eager and excited to welcome the first students Tuesday morning and get another school year under way.
"I am most pleased at the enthusiasm and excitement by students and parents and everyone involved in this endeavor," Martin said. "The wonderful thing about [being a part of] high school is that you get to go to homecoming and prom and graduation every year."
CAPTION: Stafford County's fourth high school features an unenclosed cafeteria, above. Principal Lisa Martin, below, kisses future student Brice Trent, 18 months, who is being held by his 14-year-old brother, Bo Trent, a student at the school. Their mother teaches there.
CAPTION: Students use a map while exploring Colonial Forge High School in Stafford during an open house.