VCU, Richmond High School Form Commonwealth’s First ‘Lab School’

Morgan Sweeney | July 31, 2023

(The Center Square) – The Virginia Board of Education has approved the first lab school in the state, something Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been pushing for since he took office. 

Virginia Commonwealth University has selected CodeRVA Regional High School as its lab school. Both are in Richmond. The schools will work in partnership together in ways that will benefit both the university and high school students. 

Nationally, not all lab schools are public; they are in Virginia. A lab school is a K-12 school that works with an institution of higher education to serve mutually beneficial goals and purposes. A lab school functions as a kind of education “laboratory,” where education is less traditional and more experimental and hands-on.

Often, lab schools assist colleges with education preparatory programs, and students training to become teachers will do student teaching there. At some lab schools, professors can observe their students while they teach and give feedback and critiques. 

For Youngkin, this is the beginning of the realization of an ambition he voiced in his gubernatorial campaign, which featured a lot of promises for education. He pledged to restore parental authority in schools, pass Virginia’s biggest education budget, and create at least 20 charter schools. 

In the first budget of Youngkin’s administration, the General Assembly did pass the largest education budget in state history at $19.2 billion for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

Included in that was $100 million for establishing lab schools instead of charter schools. Charters proved to be more controversial and gained less bipartisan support.

“Lab schools are a critical part of restoring excellence in the commonwealth’s education system,” Youngkin said. “This is the first step in giving parents new options for their kids to learn in innovative and creative ways and break the status quo of a one-size-fits all education.” 

CodeRVA Regional High School specializes in a “computer-science focused comprehensive high school education,” training students to go into computer-science and IT careers. It combines classroom instruction with project-based learning, as well as work experience through internships. 

The VCU x CodeRVA Lab School will continue providing an education in computer-science and coding, affording students the ability to graduate with an associate degree, industry certifications, and “as many as 360 hours of practical information technology work experience,” according to a release from Youngkin’s office. 

The partnership will enable teachers in VCU’s RTR Teacher Residency Program – the largest and oldest teacher residency program in Virginia – to learn teaching best practices by working with lab school students. 

“Today’s vote to approve the commonwealth’s first lab school is a win for students, teachers, and parents,” said Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera. “Lab schools like this one will support students’ academic achievement and make learning more relevant and connected to the world outside the classroom. In this innovative model, not only will students benefit from high-quality computer science education, but the next generation of teachers will learn how to be best in class instructors.” 

The Virginia Department of Education is working with more than 20 additional lab school partners to open in 2024.