The Virginia Department of Education voted to approve the establishment of the Academy of Technology and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington on Nov. 14. The regional high school, which will be located at UMW’s Stafford Campus, was created to be a unique institution focusing on computer and data science. The Academy, which is open to students in Fredericksburg City, as well as Caroline, Stafford and King George counties, is scheduled to open its doors in the fall of 2024.
Responding to the approval of the Academy in an interview for UMW Voice, UMW Provost Tim O’Donnell said, “It’s a testament to the commitment and hard work of the many individuals across the region who have come together to create the vision for [the Academy], and we’re happy to be collaborating with them on this and so many other opportunities to improve K-12 education in the Fredericksburg region.”
More than offering an education to high school students, the Academy is also intended to serve as an opportunity for UMW College of Education students to engage in real-world teaching scenarios.
However, many UMW students are not yet aware of the Academy.
“I was confused… I had not heard anything about the high school,” said senior elementary education major Francesca Harrison. “I think more people should know about it, since STEM is a big focus in all of education.”
Executive Director of University Communications Amy Jessee wrote in UMW Voice that the Academy will aim to create a “teaching incubator for educators.” Some education students are interested in the potential opportunities that could come with a UMW-affiliated high school.
“I would definitely be interested in getting a TA position so close to campus and it would be so convenient,” said junior elementary education major Conner Rodgers. “I think it would provide new experiences for education majors, allowing them to work with professors and other teachers in the field to better understand the workings of being a teacher.”
According to UMW Voice, the partnership between the public school districts and the University of Mary Washington’s College of Education allows for a specialized learning environment for students interested in the computer sciences, including cybersecurity, data science and other fields.
The Academy will open to 100 rising high school freshmen who intend to complete their studies with a concentration in the aforementioned fields, according to UMW Voice. The application opened to rising ninth graders on Nov. 15, and it closes in early January. After that, the selection process is a lottery that will determine who enrolls.
The Academy will be free to attend and relies upon state funding and investments from UMW to operate.
In 2022, UMW and Stafford Public Schools received the first funds to create the Academy, which came via the College Partnership Laboratory School Planning Grant from the Virginia Department of Education for $200,000.
Harrison described her thoughts about the timing of this project.
“I think it makes sense for UMW to be a sponsor since we added the data science major, however, with all of the updates to campus such as Ball Circle, more parking and the new theater that’s being built, I think money should not be heavily invested in one over the other. It should all be equal, same goes for the school,” said Harrison.
Junior computer science and mathematics double-major Katie Heyn also shared her perspective about the Academy opening.
“I personally think it is a good use of resources and time because it is going to hopefully expand the computer science department and attract more high schoolers to UMW,” she said.
“This opportunity is super cool because computer science is not commonly found in high schools, especially where I came from because my high school was the only one in my district that offered computer science courses,” said Heyn. “This opportunity allows students to take a dip in computer science and see if it’s something they want to pursue before college which is super useful.”