Loudoun County will mark a major milestone later this month when it opens the Academy of Engineering and Technology. The brand new magnet school will be the third piece of the Academies of Loudoun, and it’s already being talked about as a model for the future of education.
When construction wraps up on the Academies of Loudoun’s Sycolin Road campus in 2018, AET will share the 315,000-square-foot building with expanded versions of two existing programs: the Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center.
But Loudoun’s School Board members did not want to wait until 2018 to get the engineering and technology program underway. So, on the first day of the school year Aug. 28, AET will open as the county’s newest magnet program.
It will welcome 150 freshmen—chosen from a painstaking selection process that narrowed the field from 587 applications—and will operate out of Tuscarora High School in Leesburg for the next two years. Even with that many interested students, the school system did not see a dip in any of its other magnet school offerings, which indicates the county is on the right track in building the Academies of Loudoun to accommodate 2,500 students. The Academy of Science saw its usual 800 or so applications for 68 spots.
“I don’t think we’ll see any decline in any of these programs,” Science Supervisor Odette D. Scovel said. “I think interest will just continue to grow and grow for this type of programming.”
Early Career Paths
Students accepted into AET are asked to select one of three pathways: engineering, information technology and entrepreneurship.
Scovel said it’s the entrepreneurship pathway that has prompted the most questions. She’s heard from parents who want their kids to be able to take an idea, develop it and bring it to market.
“This will provide them that opportunity. They can develop a full-blown plan and commercialize whatever their idea is,” she said. “We’ll give them the content background to understand how that works in the real world.”
The idea of offering students as young as 13 and 14 years old more specialized courses geared toward their interests and even future careers is something that more school systems are looking to do, said Tinell Priddy, the newly named principal of the Academies of Loudoun.
Priddy’s résumé is lined with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education positions, from work as a teacher instructor at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL, to assistant principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. She counts herself as an advocate for these types of specialized course pathways, especially those that focus on STEM.
“We want to cultivate creativity and innovation and if they apply that in STEM career fields that’s wonderful,” she said, “but if they take that out and use that in how they approach the world in general that’s even better.”
At 14, Katie Rahn isn’t shy about what she wants to do when she grows up. “I’ve always wanted to do something in computer science,” she said this week.
Katie was one of 50 accepted to AET’s information technology pathway. When she read the program’s description earlier this year, she dropped everything to fill out the application and write the two required essays. “It just seemed like the perfect fit,” she said.
In her free time, she plays coding games, such as Hour of Code, where the player positions blocks to determine what people in the game do. Hearing about her aunt’s work in IT has only encouraged her interest in the field. “I’m excited for AET—to really get to spend a lot of time learning more about computer science,” she said.
She, along with the other academy students, will attend AET on an A/B day schedule, spending half the week there and half the week at her home high school, Loudoun Valley.
The Final Piece
The opening of the Academy of Engineering and Technology represents an important crossroads for education in Loudoun.
School leaders have talked for more than 15 years about building a large learning center for specialized programs. Initially, it was floated as a way to expand the offerings of C.S. Monroe Technology Center, which opened in 1977 and offers a growing number of vocational programs, from auto collision repair to practical nursing.
But then the idea became to create a campus where both Monroe and the Academy of Science could have space to enroll twice as many students. The Academy of Science has operated out of Dominion High School since it started in 2005.
“The School Board sort of said, ‘well, what else?’ And that gave us permission to come back with lots of other ideas” for what would later become the Academies of Loudoun, Scovel said. “Out of that came an idea for a very rigorous program, the Academy of Engineering and Technology.”
Scovel, along with others in the Instruction Department, presented their idea to the School Board in 2014 for an academy that would enroll high school students in two- or four-year pathways that cultivated their interests and talents.
“When we had that third piece, the Academy of Engineering and Technology, it was like everybody agreed. They said, ‘That is it. That is the part that was missing,’” Scovel said.
A few months later, the School Board and the county Board of Supervisors agreed the project was a priority and worked to make room for its $115 million price tag in the county’s Capital Improvement Program. That same year, voters overwhelmingly approved the bond funding.
“For the community to put faith in us to actually get this done is pretty amazing,” Scovel said.
She was almost brought to tears as she talked about the opening date of AET and the hiring of Priddy to help bring the decades-old vision for the Academies of Loudoun to fruition. “It’s really real now,” she said.
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