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Virtual reality tour gives sneak peak of new school complex

South Boston News
The 1,200 seat auditorium that will be part of Mecklenburg’s new high school-middle school
SoVaNow.com / July 10, 2019


A virtual reality tour of the county’s soon-to-be-built consolidated secondary school complex provided a sneak peak of what lies ahead for Mecklenburg County Public Schools.

The video tour, presented Monday at the meeting of the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors in Boydton, is the creation of school architects Ballou Justice Upton. It is intended to give the public a sense of what students will experience once the high school-middle school facility opens at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Groundbreaking is set to take place on Sept. 10 at the Baskerville school site.

As supervisors looked on, Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols narrated the action — with the video tour offering a view of the approach to the school complex from the main drive off U.S. 58, and showing off the design of some of the rooms that will be used by the high school.

Those rooms included the 1,200 seat auditorium, a 2,000 seat gymnasium that can be modified to support indoor track meets or major robotics competitions, and two “walk of fame” hallways that will serve as display areas for school memorabilia, past and present.

Students and the public are in the process of choosing a school mascot, Nichols said, adding that once that decision is made, school colors and a logo will be incorporated into the building design.

Nichols said the building has been designed to let in a great deal of natural light, so that every classroom will be on an exterior wall, with several interior courtyards which students can access from inside the school. These spaces will be closed off from direct public access for security purposes.

Since safety is a major concern, every room will include security cameras, except for restrooms. Windows and doors will contain safety glass that cannot be shattered by bullets.

When asked about handicap accessibility in the two-story structure, Nichols said there are separate elevators on each side of the building — one for middle school students and the other for high school students with mobility needs.

This was one of the many ways, Nichols explained, that the building’s designers have achieved separation between students at the middle and high school levels. While the auditorium and kitchen are shared facilities, students will eat in separate cafeterias, enter the school building through separate entrances and attend classes in separate wings.

One design aspect that was incorporated as a cost-saving measure involves classroom space, Nichols noted. Currently, each teacher has his or her own classroom in the Bluestone and Park View buildings. This arrangement will continue, Nichols said, except during teacher planning periods, teachers may be asked to relinquish their rooms to another teacher. Each hall will have a dedicated teacher work area for teachers to use outside of the classroom during that period.

As supervisors viewed the exterior of the building, Nichols described one of the biggest hurdles the architects had to overcome — how to accommodate the more than 300 parents who currently drive their children to school. Nichols said the driveways and parking areas had to be designed to not impede bus traffic or highway traffic traveling on Route 58.

Supervisors did not view an interior or close-up view of the proposed ag barn, but they were told that the barn will be large enough to house an office area for teachers and students and it will be outfitted with wireless technology.

Nichols reminded board members they are “not just building a typical school that has been in place for decades,” but one that lives up to present-day Board of Education standards. Lessons be structured to include the 5 C’s — critical thinking, citizenship, communication, creative thinking, and collaboration — and the building will have dedicated space for several technical programs and the six career academies that will make up the new curriculum.

These career academies are in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Health and Human Services, Law and Leadership, Advanced Technology, International Business and Culture, and Environmental Science.

Nevertheless, there will not be enough space to accommodate every program. For this reason, Nichols said, Mecklenburg County Public Schools is partnering with the local community college and the higher education centers to offer training in programs such as welding and machining to interested students.

Under this new curriculum, which will be in place before students move into their new building, students will be asked to choose either a career track or college track in one of the six academies. After that, students’ classes, internships or technical programs will relate to that chosen track and prepare them for success after high school.

For the most part, classes and certificate programs will be centered on careers that are needed in Southside Virginia, Nichols said. The school division also wants to offer classes and activities that satisfy student interests. For example, “the fastest growing activity among students is moving into robotics and drones and electronic games,” Nichols said. His expectation is that the new school will feature appropriate spaces for students to participate in activities and host competitions related to these areas of interest.

Nichols also shared the news that students who take part in community service, job shadowing or on an internship, in the course of their education, will be required to wear a “uniform” that incorporates a logo that identifies the school and the particular career academy that student is involved in.

While construction progresses, Nichols said he will continue to develop partnerships with local businesses and alliances with various organizations that GO Virginia has said offers the type of training that is needed in Southside Virginia.

GO Virginia is a bipartisan, business-led economic development initiative that supports programs to create more high-paying jobs through incentivized collaboration between business, education, and government to diversify and strengthen the economy in every region of the Commonwealth.

Nichols said this new curriculum will not eliminate the need for students to pass Standards of Learning (SOL) exams, but the state’s testing regime is no longer the main focus when it comes to curriculum development. There is also a push under way in Virginia to allow students to fulfill their SOL requirements through applied, instead of theoretical learning. Nichols said the state “is now looking at job areas that use applied math and English, so the academic core work will be fulfilled through those classes instead of being just theoretical.”

Supervisors Chairman Glenn Barbour asked how this return to a two-track education system — college prep and technical — is being received by parents who have pushed their children to attend college. Nichols answered that less than 25 percent of Mecklenburg high school graduates enroll in a four-year college or university after high school. Of these students, some would be better served by earning a technical certificate, he said.

For these students and their parents, Nichols added, it will take some adjustment, but the cost of a college degree coupled with the fact that most students now take at least six years to earn a bachelor’s degree is helping to shift the mindset.

Glanzy Spain wondered if the new school would allow opportunities for at-home learning. Nichols replied that the biggest obstacle is the availability of broadband throughout the county. Until there is universal access, Nichols said he does not see online classes as a viable option for students here.

A few other points Nichols made about what to expect with the new school included: the number of principals will be reduced from four to two — one for the middle school and one for the high school — while the number of assistant principals will drop from eight to six, with three at each level.

Nichols added that he hopes to maintain or increase the number of resource officers available to the school. He anticipates needing one additional counselor at the high school level because of new state mandates, and Nichols expressed the hope there will be state funding for this position.



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