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January 24, 2013

Mountain Vista challenges top Fauquier students

Contributed Photo
Students check out the new, 14-passenger activity bus, which an anonymous donor provided last fall.
LFCC photo
The Warrenton campus of Lord Fairfax Community College houses the governor's school program for Fauquier, Culpeper and Rappahannock students. Those from Warren, Frederick and Winchester attend classes at the Middletown campus.
They really challenge us here. We are treated more like college students than high schoolers. It makes the transition easier. It will be way easier to go to college because I came here.
— Zinab Attai, Kettle Run High School junior
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Staff Journalist
What would you do during a zombie apocalypse?

On a recent Wednesday morning, Zinab Attai and Justin Hoelscher, juniors from Kettle Run High School, and Andy Page, a Fauquier High junior, tackled that scenario.

They focused on how to survive economically if zombies attacked their school.

Pouring over PowerPoint slides with their short-term, mid-term and long-term goals, the students outlined hypothetical plans to raid the nearby Walmart, Home Depot and landfill for supplies to survive.

Each group had five minutes to present its crisis plan and to persuade teachers that theirs ranked as the best.

Crisis management is among the skills local students attending the Mountain Vista Governor’s School learn on FLEX (Focused Learning Experience) days each Wednesday.

Each student group incorporates content from advanced physics, math and biology courses.

“They really challenge us here. We are treated more like college students than high schoolers. It makes the transition easier. It will be way easier to go to college because I came here,” said Zinab, who wants to study medicine and humanitarian work.

Housed at Lord Fairfax Community College, Mountain Vista offers gifted 11th- and 12th-grade students challenging courses and the opportunity to earn college credit.

“Classes are taught at a faster pace, with less review and reinforcement, with more questions and projects and activities that require a higher level of thinking,” explained Rosanne Williamson, director of the MVGS Fauquier campus.

During these FLEX days, students practice teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and public speaking skills.

“We encourage students to work together in groups, to think about problems differently and critically,” Dr. Williamson said. “To have unique and varied answers, to be independent in their thoughts, and try to get away from thinking there is one right answer and that there can be multiple answers with different merits.”

FLEX days also get students out of the classroom and into experience-based activities that include seminars, guest speakers, field trips, research and group work, such as competitive rocketry and robotics teams.

“With regular school, it’s textbook stuff,” said Daniel Ahn, a Kettle Run senior. “But here, you learn through experience.”

The Warrenton campus has 52 students enrolled in the academic governor’s school program.

With a curriculum focused on science, math, humanities and research, MVGS offers two core tracks for students: physics or biology.

Students attend classes for half a day at MVGS in the morning and the second half of the day at their base high schools.

Almost all students receive dual enrollment credit through LFCC and can earn 30 hours of college credit each year.

“I like how you get college credit for these classes,” Justin Hoelscher said. “If you are taking dual enrollment, when you graduate from high school, you can have an associate’s degree as well as a high school degree.”

Past graduates have benefitted from the dual enrollment credits.

“One alumnus will be able to double major in mechanical engineering and math at Virginia Tech, because he brought credits in with him from MVGS. It is a huge advantage to have that dual enrollment credit,” Dr. Williamson explained.

Other alumni have attended medical school at Harvard and graduate school for physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Students learn through experience because of smaller class sizes at MVGS.

“A smaller classroom, 10 to 15 people, gives us more time to talk with the teachers. Here we do the higher level math and physics, so having teachers talk and explain it to us, reinforces what we are learning,” Daniel Ahn said.

Over the course of attending MVGS for two years, students also create research-based projects, in which they develop hypotheses, collect original data and analyze that data.

“Each student is required to submit their research project to a competitive science symposium or fair,” Dr. Williamson said. “Most go to the Virginia Academy of Science Symposium. They present before a panel of experts and an audience.”

Starting with the vision of former Fauquier school Superintendent J. David Martin and peers in neighboring counties, MVGS became a reality in 2007.

LFCC provides classrooms, technical support, a library and other support for MVGS.

“All of that is invaluable to us. Plus, being on a college campus is a perfect transition” for students, Dr. Williamson said.

Conversations about how MVGS should grow continue with the school board and the community.

The school hopes to expand the curriculum and/or add grade levels.

“It has been the plan of our governing board since the beginning to have a four-year program,” Dr. Williamson said. “It’s just that since we have been open, there have been budget constrains and space constraints.”

MVGS has a total of 131 students at LFCC’s Warrenton and Middletown campuses and the number of applicants continues to grow, according to Dr. Williamson.

MVGS’s Warrenton campus serves Culpeper, Fauquier and Rappahannock counties. The Middletown campus serves Frederick and Warren counties and the City of Winchester.

“We are having that conversation about growth,” she said. “We feel like it’s time to develop goals for the next five years and look at how we can serve more students and better serve our community.”

Mountain Vista Governor’s School has begun accepting applications from local high school junior and seniors for 2013-14.
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