By Joe Garvey

Old Dominion University this week received state planning grants totaling $400,000 to develop lab school proposals for two Hampton Roads public school districts.

According to the Virginia Department of Education, lab schools are a partnership among postsecondary institutions, employers, school divisions and communities to provide students with “an innovative, high-quality education experience.” All four- and two-year colleges and universities, public and private, as well as higher education centers are eligible to launch a lab school.

During the 2022 special session, the General Assembly approved $100 million for the Department of Education to support the Virginia College Partnership Laboratory School program. Thirteen grants were awarded this week; ODU was the only institution to receive two.

“ODU really has been at the forefront of innovation, of innovative structure and approaches to learning. And to be able to support school divisions and our partners is just paramount for us,” said Karen Sanzo, professor in ODU’s Educational Foundations and Leadership Department, graduate program director for Educational Leadership Services and director of the Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab in Newport News. “It just provides an amazing opportunity for us to support students and their learning. And to think about the way that we engage in education in a very different way. It helps us to advance our mission of working with our stakeholders in the community.”

ODU’s funding will be split evenly between projects with the Chesapeake and Newport News public school districts.

“This is really going to set a model for the future.” - Karen Sanzo, professor in ODU's Educational Foundations and Leadership Department and director of Brooks Crossing Innovation Lab

In Chesapeake, ODU will work with Oscar Smith Middle School to infuse computer science into the IB Middle Years program curriculum. Tidewater Community College is a partner in this program.

In Newport News, the University will develop a maritime- and coastal innovation-based curriculum for the division’s high schools.

“I just think that this is a wonderful opportunity,” Sanzo said. “We are looking to engage not only the K-12 and the University community. We’re looking at the multi-stakeholder partnerships and bringing in industry professionals. We also are bringing in parents and the community because we want to help them understand what these lab schools are, the benefits for their students and to ensure that they are a part of the process and that they have a voice in the design.”

The program in Chesapeake would involve:

  • Collaboration with the statewide computer science lab school network.
  • A complete program of study focused on computer science and regional workforce needs.
  • Partnership with other Chesapeake Public Schools.
  • Early academic preparation to bring underrepresented students into the technology talent pipeline.
  • Offering all students in grades 6-8 the IB Design curriculum.

The program in Newport News would entail:

  • Integrating industry-led curricula development, high-impact practices and college and career readiness while simultaneously enhancing the regional maritime workforce.
  • Aligning with efforts of the Hampton Roads Maritime Industrial Base Ecosystem (MIBE).
  • School-based experiences paired with experiential learning opportunities through a progressive experiential model – mentoring, job shadowing and internships.
  • Innovative types of alternative credentials – badging, college credit and teacher in residency, for instance.
  • Engaging with maritime-focused teachers and addressing the shortage of career and technical education teachers.

Sanzo noted that ODU students and faculty would benefit from the University’s being “embedded in the schools.”

Internships would be available for aspiring educational leaders, along with student-teaching opportunities. Students could assist with curriculum design and developing innovative educational processes. For faculty, there would be research opportunities alongside public school teachers.

ODU will spend the coming months preparing implementation grant proposals. Sanzo said they will likely be submitted to the state by early fall. If they are accepted, the programs at both schools would start in the fall of 2024.

“This is really going to set a model for the future,” Sanzo said. “We cannot have schools that are siloed. We, as universities, have a responsibility to support school districts and show how multi-stakeholder partnerships can benefit students now and in the future.”