Academy of Engineering Builds Momentum Ahead of New Campus

There’s a school in Loudoun County that’s enrollment doubled in size from last year to this year, and is expected to double again by 2019.

The Academy of Engineering and Technology, the magnet program that for years had been talked about and dreamed about in committee meetings, is entering its second year with twice the number of students, twice the number of faculty, and twice the number of classrooms. It also led by its first director, Craig Lewis.

“Nothing like this has been done before, which makes it really fun to be a part of,” said Lewis, who comes to Loudoun with 10 years of experience in instruction and curriculum development at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

AET will join the Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center as the third piece of the Academies of Loudoun. The three programs will move in to a 315,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building next summer on a campus just off Sycolin Road south of Leesburg.

Until then, AET is housed in a wing of Tuscarora High School in Leesburg. Last year, the school enrolled its first freshman class of 150—selected from 587 applicants—and this year it accepted another 150 students to make up its second group of freshmen. The students attend the program on an every-other-day, A/B schedule.

Students accepted into AET are asked to select one of three pathways: engineering, information technology and entrepreneurship. In the first few years, students learn the ins and outs of their area of chosen study, more in depth than they would likely get at their home high school. Those earlier years are designed to create a foundation for them to dive into an independent research project in their fourth year, Lewis said. “They’ll have the skills and knowledge to dive deep and hopefully develop a product, a system, or a solution to a problem.”

Creating just the right team to lead students who are especially passionate about engineering, information technology or entrepreneurship is key, Lewis added. The teachers meet regularly to share lesson plans and talk about how their lessons can support and reinforce one another’s. For example, an engineering project will also incorporate computer science to help in the design phase and math to make sure the structure is possible.

Over the summer, two new science teachers, two new engineering teachers, and two new math teachers were hired to bring the total faculty members to 12. The school also added a counselor and an attendance secretary.

“Already it’s a tight-knit community. Everybody blends,” Lewis said, noting that a team-building trip to the Escape Room didn’t hurt. “One of the new teachers told me ‘it’s so supportive.’ That’s great to hear and pretty rare to have within the first week of school.”

Erin Wissler is one of newly hired teachers. She taught physics at Loudoun Valley High School and was a part of the team of educators who created AET’s curriculum long before students arrived. When she first heard about the academy’s concept, she wanted to be involved.

“I loved the idea of inviting all students to go further in science, technology, engineering and math,” she said. “And seeing the students here and taking part in our activities brings the lessons to life, and it really helps us expand on what we can do.”

This is just the start. Lewis and his staff members are already talking about how they might collaborate with the other two Academies of Loudoun programs, the Academy of Science and C.S. Monroe Technology Center, when they’re all under one roof. Architects designed the building with collaboration among the three academies in mind.

“The building is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, especially in education,” Lewis said after touring the construction site and seeing design renderings. “It will make working together a heck of a lot easier. … And that means more opportunity for students to go dive deeper into the subjects they’re passionate about.”

The Academies of Loudoun is holding information sessions to discuss the admission process. The sessions are geared toward middle school students and will cover the fall admissions process for the Academy of Engineering and Technology and Academy of Science. The last three sessions are: Tuesday, Sept. 5, at Harper Park Middle School in Leesburg; Wednesday, Sept. 6, at Park View High School in Sterling; and Thursday, Sept. 7, at Rock Ridge High School in South Riding. Each of the sessions will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Learn more at lcps.org/aet.

dnadler@loudounnow.com

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