There’s a push to get students excited about computer science and tech. A new public high school in Richmond is tapping into that trend. But the school, called CodeRVA, isn’t just relying on innovative curriculum. It’s also an entirely different model of teaching, where school is a workplace.
CodeRVA’s 100 students begin their day with announcements. But any similarities to your run-of-the-mill high school end there.
Most of the learning here actually happens in online classes. Students, like Sophomore Ciera Eaddy, begin their day by opening their laptops and checking their daily Google calendars.
“Tomorrow I have this breakout with Mr. Morriss and it shows a list of people that are supposed to be going,” Eaddy pulls up her calendar and looks at her week. “Then we have to say yes that we’re going and it gets added to our calendar.”
Breakouts are a bit like a cross between a meeting and a class. There could be one student in a breakout session, or thirty. They could last for an hour or ten minutes.
For instance, math teacher Rebecca Hall has scheduled a breakout for a group of students preparing for the Algebra SOL. She knows they’ll need the extra attention, so she’s made time for this in-person instruction.
As a teacher, Hall enjoys the flexible calendar. She keeps an eye on students’ progress in their online classes. If she sees anyone struggling she shoots them an email and schedules a breakout.
“In a traditional school it’s like ‘Well I don’t see you again until the next odd day and when you come in there’s 30 of you.',” describes Hall. “So there’s not that same flexibility that we have here to say ‘Oh well you need help right now? Okay. Tomorrow at 10 o’clock we’re going to meet just the two of us.”
Beyond that, students manage their own time. Most sit with headphones on at tables or couches in a big open space. It’s mostly quiet, except when there's a brain break.
“You know how you transition to different classes, you have a certain amount of time?” explains freshman Josh Leber. “It’s like that but you don’t have any classes to transition to, like physically. So you kind of have a break you can talk to your friends and socialize.”
Students are rewarded for managing their time well. If they’re on track in all their classes they’re given additional freedoms. If they’re behind their time is more structured.
It’s a set-up sophomore Anna Cook says is more like an office.
“When you’re working in an office you’re not switching every 40 minutes. You’re required to do your own work without a teacher giving you an assignment,” Cook says.
The plus for motivated students like Cook, who wants to earn her Associate’s in Computer Science, is that they can zip through the material at their own pace.
“I’m kind of a night owl. I was doing quizzes at midnight last night. Just because that’s my favorite time to do them,” she says. “So I like getting ahead, I like doing my work. I like learning things by myself and not relying on the teacher to teach you something."
The hope is that students can knock out core requirements. Some may even finish two classes in one year. Then in their junior and senior years they can move on to computer science electives and even dual enrollment college courses.
Executive Director Michael Bolling says eventually students will partner with local companies to do hands on projects, like developing a mobile app or troubleshooting a database.
“Real contract work from a company, and we’re resetting that contract work and letting them approach the problems in different ways to see where their areas of strength are and also their areas of challenge,” says Bolling.
CodeRVA is a regional public school. Students come from 13 different districts across central Virginia. Next year the school will double in size when it adds a new freshman class. Admissions aren't merit based, but lottery. The resulting class is controlled, in order to reflect the diversity of the region.
“We’re cognizant of the fact that we don’t know all the answers," says Bolling."We’re a lab and innovation school that’s taking chances to hope to influence, or change, education in the state and also the nation."
State and federal education officials will continue to watch the school closely. It was recently awarded a $6 million grant from the Department of Education.