The University of Virginia and Buford Middle School are joining forces to design a lab school focusing on computer science. Supported by a planning grant from the Virginia Department of Education, the lab school project will build on existing computer science partnerships between UVA and Charlottesville City Schools. The goal of the lab school is to teach computing skills through student-led, project-based learning at the middle school. With continued state approval, the lab school will offer a program pilot in summer 2024 before a planned opening in the fall 2024. Dr. Jill Dahl will lead the project as the schools’ Community Partnerships Liaison. Dahl is currently in her fifth year of leading Lugo-McGinness Academy, Charlottesville’s alternative learning center for high school students. Dahl has more than a decade of experience in Charlottesville City Schools, with responsibilities ranging from assistant principal at Clark School to principal at Charlottesville High School.
Dr. Jill Dahl
“I’m so excited to take on this new role as we work closely with UVA and many other community partners to bring these important computer science skills into the classrooms and lives of our middle schoolers,” said Dahl. “Students and staff will be directly empowered by this lab school.”
Last year, the General Assembly appropriated $100 million for the development of new lab schools throughout the commonwealth, including $5 million for planning grants to pay initial short-term costs associated with designing a new lab school.
While student outcomes are the primary focus, the lab school plan includes another important goal: teacher development. Leveraging UVA’s top-ranked teacher education program, the school will be designed to develop educators’ expertise in planning and leading a learning environment that breaks out of the typical classroom mold.
The lab school will include resources and expertise from several UVA departments as well as a number of local community partners. UVA’s School of Education and Human Development has taken the lead on developing the lab school’s initial proposal, with close coordination with the UVA Equity Center. Other UVA departments involved include the School of Data Science, the School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, the Youth-Nex research center, and the Remaking Middle School initiative. Local community partners include the Boys and Girls Club, Tech-Girls, Computers 4 Kids, and Piedmont Virginia Community College.
“Part of what makes this lab school so compelling is the way it weaves together the good work, expertise, and resources of so many community partners,” noted Jennie Chiu, an associate professor in the UVA School of Education and Human Development who has helped craft the lab school proposal.
“This lab school has the potential to help us reimagine how we teach and support our students in a way that draws on our vibrant community resources,” added Dahl. “When we combine these plans with the construction work that will soon modernize our middle school, it’s clear that we can really make positive change in our school and community.”