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Roanoke College Receives Funding to Plan Lab School With Salem High School

The Lab School Planning Grant from the Virginia Department of Education will allow Roanoke to partner with Salem City Schools to design a dual-enrollment program for students who might otherwise fall through the cracks of college and career preparation.

Roanoke College has been approved for a $192,541 Lab School Planning Grant from the Virginia Department of Education that will allow it to partner with Salem City Schools, in conjunction with Virginia Western Community College, to design a dual-enrollment program for at-risk high school students.

Roanoke is one of 16 schools in Virginia – and the only one in the Roanoke Valley – that was approved for one of the 12-month planning grants. Faculty at Roanoke College and Salem High will use the year to create a plan for a laboratory school that would give students a jump on college and careers while enabling faculty at both schools to observe and learn from the students’ educational journeys.

“We are excited to work with our neighbors at Salem High, in conjunction with colleagues at Virginia Western, on a plan to improve college access and affordability for more students in the Roanoke Valley,” said Kathy Wolfe, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Roanoke College.

A lab school is defined in Virginia as a public, nonsectarian, nonreligious school established by a public institution of higher education or an eligible private institution. During the Virginia General Assembly’s 2022 Special Session, it appropriated $100 million into the College Partnership Laboratory Fund for the purpose of establishing or supporting lab schools. That included $5 million for planning grants to eligible institutions, $20 million for initial start-up grants for approved lab schools, and $75 million for per-pupil operating grants to support ongoing expenses for the operation and maintenance of lab schools.

Each grant applicant had the flexibility to propose its own type of lab school. The model envisioned by Roanoke College and Salem City Schools would target students who might otherwise not have access to college preparatory or career readiness assistance.

“Salem City Schools is excited to collaborate with Roanoke College on their Lab School,” said Jamie Soltis, assistant superintendent at Salem City Schools. “Through this partnership, our students will have the chance to take college-level courses on a college campus while still in high school. This will provide them with authentic real-world learning opportunities that will better prepare them for their lives beyond high school. We have a longstanding relationship with Roanoke College and are excited to continue growing together to meet the needs of our students and families.”

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2019), only about one-third of high school students in the U.S. take advantage of postsecondary credits in high school, and if those students are Black, Hispanic or the children of parents who did not attend college, that figure falls to 26%. Lack of school resources and teachers, as well as poverty, also adversely affect student access to such courses. But students who take dual-enrollment courses in high school are more than 50% more likely to graduate from college than students who don’t, especially if they are minorities or from low-income backgrounds, according to the Institute of Education Sciences.

The lab school at Roanoke College would enable at-risk Salem High School students to enroll in specific college courses while they are still in high school. These innovative, inquiry-based courses would be designed to help develop higher-order thinking and communication skills necessary for success in college, careers and civic leadership.

Courses would span multiple disciplines but align with specific career pathways such as education and global studies; science, engineering and technology; and communication and civic leadership. Each career pathway would include field-based research components, community-engagement courses, and general education courses that can give students a head start on meeting college graduation requirements.

Under this proposed model, students also would be offered an optional course that serves as an introduction to the college learning environment, as well as an optional capstone research course that provides an opportunity for them to present their own work to a business-community partner audience.

A unique aspect of Roanoke College’s proposed lab school model involves a direct pipeline to an affordable college degree at the end of the pathway. Under the preliminary plan, lab school students at Roanoke who complete the full career pathway, including the introduction and capstone courses, would be eligible for a Roanoke College scholarship at the end of their high school career.

An interdisciplinary planning committee led by faculty from Roanoke College’s Education Department will collaborate with Salem High faculty over the next year to fine tune the lab school plan details. They will coordinate with Virginia Western Community College to ensure that the new program complements rather than duplicates Virginia Western’s existing dual-enrollment program.

“We’re looking forward to working closely with our college and community colleagues to create a program with multi-faceted benefits,” said Lisa Stoneman, chair of Roanoke’s Education Department.

Should the lab school come to fruition, faculty will be selected for their ability to teach a wide range of learners, and education students at Roanoke could assist instructors and mentor high school participants. Professional development would be held regularly for faculty and college student peer mentors in the program. All lab schools must comply with the Virginia Standards of Learning.

During the planning phase, grant recipients must conduct a review of planning and submit milestones and other deliverables to the Virginia Department of Education. By the end of the planning term, schools should be ready to submit an application to the DOE for the launch of a lab school. At that time, applicants will be eligible for larger grants to fund the implementation of their school plan.

“I’m grateful to everyone at Roanoke College and Salem City Schools who worked hard to envision this new lab school and secure the funding to help make it a reality,” said Roanoke College President Frank Shushok Jr. “This is another example of what we can achieve when we link arms and collaborate with local partners, and I’m excited to watch this partnership bear fruit for young people in this community.”

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