By Joy Vann

Old Dominion University received approval from the Virginia Board of Education on April 25 to establish lab schools with Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) and Chesapeake Public Schools (CPS) to prepare students for work in the computer science and maritime industries.

“These schools are establishing innovative pathways for students to explore potential careers and be better prepared for the future, with a specific focus on addressing the needs and demands of their regions,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. 

ODU’s proposed lab school, the Maritime Engineering and Environmental Studies Academy (MEESA), was developed by the University in collaboration with NNPSs. MEESA focuses on student-guided learning through STEM, experiential learning, guided inquiry, design thinking, career and technical education, internships and job shadowing opportunities. It will align with the University’s education, research and innovation efforts around maritime engineering and the Virginia Digital Maritime Center, which was created to advance the maritime workforce and drive economic growth in Hampton Roads.

Karen Sanzo, director of the Institute for Design Thinking and Leadership Development at ODU, applauded the approval, saying maritime industries are one of the key economic drivers in southeastern Virginia. She said the highly collaborative nature of the new schools can be attributed to the strength of the partnerships with the school systems, along with the assistance of other industry, business and community and city government partners.

“In order to best prepare the future maritime workforce and enhance economic and workforce development in Hampton Roads, it is critical that high school students are introduced to the subject matter,” Sanzo said. “Just as critical is the use of evidence-based strategies to teach those students. Working with the Newport News Public Schools district, MEESA will build on the collaborative strengths in our region and address both student and teacher development.” 

ODU’s Computer Science Lab School (CSLS), was developed in collaboration with Chesapeake Public Schools’ Oscar Smith Middle School. CSLS is designed to prepare students for the technology talent pipeline, have a regional focus that aligns with workforce needs and increase the number of K-12 teachers prepared to teach computer science. 

With a high population of students from low-income households, Oscar Smith Middle School is a Title 1 school eligible for funding to ensure that all children meet achievement standards.

It was noted in the project’s proposal that without measures specifically tailored to low-income and disadvantaged students, the social, racial and gender inequity currently found in the computing workforce will expand. Waiting until students are in high school or college to prepare them for computer science pathways is insufficient. A clear need exists to introduce low-income, academically gifted middle school students to computer science coursework.

“At the CSLS, we will identify, design and implement the most effective teaching strategies to ensure that middle school students receive the foundation they need to embark on future computing pipelines,” Sanzo said. 

Brian Payne, ODU’s vice provost for academic affairs, said, “During our strategic planning process two years ago we conducted a series of focus groups with stakeholders from the community. One of the themes were heard from them was that they were looking for ODU to be an innovative partner helping to lead the region in key areas. These two lab schools show that we are taking our role as a community leader to heart.”