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Monticello High School's Learning Commons Wins National Award  November 7, 2020 – 04:34 am
Monticello High School

Albemarle County Public Schools News Release:

Monticello High School's Learning Commons has received the National School Board Association's (NSBA) 2015 Magna Award, which is given annually to school division programs that “take bold and innovative steps to improve the lives of their students and their communities.” According to the NSBA, a national independent panel of school board members, administrators and other educational professionals select the programs from nearly 250 submissions.

The awards program, now in its 21st year, has been supported from its inception by Sodexo, a global leader in providing more than 75 million consumers in 80 countries with a broad array of services that improve their quality of life. “We applaud the innovative spirit these winning districts possess and we share their passion for improving quality of life and education for students, ” said Steven Dunmore, President of Sodexo Education-Schools.

The Magna Award is presented in three categories—school divisions with less than 5, 000 students enrolled; divisions that enroll between 5, 000 and 20, 000 students, and school divisions that enroll more than 20, 000 students. Albemarle County Public Schools has just over 13, 000 students.

This is the first time in the program's history that a school division has won multiple times. Albemarle County Public Schools also received a Magna Award in 2013 for its M-Cubed Program.

The Learning Commons at Monticello High School is located on the site of the school's former library. Beyond traditional library resources, the multipurpose center includes a vast array of interactive stations to more fully engage students with their learning.

For example, at the Genius Bar, students learn to troubleshoot and repair computers. In the Glass Room, Skype sessions are held on a large white wall and students take notes, jot down ideas, and write messages on glass walls. A maker space complete with 3D printers allows students to design and create products, printing out the components they need. In the hacker space, students incorporate Minecraft and other programs into their projects. Two digital recording studios enable students to write, mix and record original pieces of music. Also, the Learning Commons includes a writer's café and poetry corner.

Use by students and teachers cuts across the entire curriculum, from science students who design a new MRI application, to drama students who via Skype connect with a Tony-Award winning actress on the interpretation of their spring musical, to history students who study the civil war using the 3D printers to recreate battlefields.

“These changes have had a dramatic impact on student learning, ” said Dr. Jesse Turner, Monticello High School's principal. “It is not unusual to see students lining up to use the Learning Commons before the school day even begins. Both of our media specialists, Joan Ackroyd and Ida Mae Craddock, have been extraordinary leaders in enhancing the value of our resources for 21st century learning, ” Dr. Turner added.

Prior to the establishment of the Learning Commons, there were 400 annual visits by students to the traditional school library. Today, there are more than 70, 000 annual visits by students to the Learning Commons. The Commons has attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Museum and the New York Hall of Science in their pursuit of new instructional models that benefit all disciplines and student demographic groups, and it has been highlighted within the Virginia School Boards Association's Showcases for Success. It also has been cited as a best practice by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accreditation agency for K-12 education in Virginia, and most recently, by the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Visitors have included MIT; Harvard; UVA and Virginia Tech; the universities of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Indiana; as well as Randolph College.

Ned Gallaway, the Chair of the Albemarle County School Board, will be at the NSBA annual convention this week to accept the award on behalf of the educators and students from Monticello High School. The award includes a $5, 000 contribution from Sodexo.

In the current issue of the American School Board Journal, Gallaway said the Learning Commons is an example of the change in direction put into place by the Albemarle County School Board, which is to move away from a heavy emphasis on standardized tests. “Our focus is on creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking, ” Gallaway said. “We're trying to change the culture of the classroom toward project-based assessments and learning. We have a lot of trust in our educators that they know what to do, ” he added.


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