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Long days, hard work at governor's school

December 21, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This is the second of three stories about the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology. In the next, alumni will reflect on their experiences.

A day in the life of a governor’s school student starts early and ends late, but it is an experience that provides college credit, new friends and a lot to learn, students say.

“This is just such an experience. It makes you realize you’re going to college, and you need to be ready,” said Emilia Isa, a junior at Magna Vista High School.

Isa is also a student at the Piedmont Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science & Technology.

The school offers college-level courses to gifted, highly motivated and high-achieving juniors and seniors. Students from Martinsville, Henry County, Patrick County, Pittsylvania County and Danville must apply and be accepted to participate in the program.

Governor’s school students attend two classes twice a week. Those from Henry County, Patrick County and Martinsville are taught at the Martinsville site in the New College Institute classrooms at the Jefferson Plaza. Those from Danville and Pittsylvania County attend the Danville site at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

“You learn a lot, like time management,” said Mary Grace Hankins, a senior at Martinsville High School.

She said time management is important, especially with extracurricular activities, such as sports, that require daily practice.

Isa added that the assignments from governor’s school are challenging, and they require focus and time.

She said the governor’s school gives students an atmosphere closer to college, in which they are allowed to do things such as going to the rest room in the middle of a class without a hall pass. Everyone at is there because they want to be, not just because they have to be at school, said Hankins.

Isa said classes at governor’s school begin at 7:45 a.m., and each class is around 90 minutes long. Patrick County High School senior John Reagan said he gets up at 6 a.m. on the mornings he attends the governor’s school because he lives in Patrick Springs, about 35 minutes away.

On a recent day, Hankins worked on a complex problem in calculus, taught by Cynthia Cowley.

But this math classroom didn’t contain a single blackboard at the front with rows of students struggling to see or pay attention in the back rows. Instead, three large screens lined the room, showing the math problem.

Cowley stood at the front of the classroom, writing on a handheld computer tablet with a pen-shaped tool. The numbers she wrote on the tablet appeared on all three screens simultaneously.

Through the technology, the students at the back of the classroom can see the problem and participate just as easily as those at the front. The technology is common in the governor’s school classrooms.

Isa used similar technology in an Introduction to Statistics course taught by Shawn Hickman. Two large screens were at the front of the classroom, and two monitors hung in the middle of the room so students in the back could see what was on the board.

Hickman wrote directly onto a computer monitor on a podium at the front of the class. His writing was immediately visible on the screens at the front as well as the television screens.

“It’s totally new to us,” said Isa.

Down the hall, Reagan sat in a group with other students, discussing strategies for their year-long research projects. A research course is required for both juniors and seniors, he said.

Reagan said he is working on a research project involving the impact of the war on drugs. He said he hopes to find out what impact incarceration has on drug users and society.

Many people who have been incarcerated have a difficult time finding work, especially with high unemployment, Reagan said. He added that through his research, he found that employment is the best way for people to become assimilated in society after they get out of jail or prison.

In the second year of the research class, students begin a research project that is presented at the end of the year, said Nina Huff, who teaches the course.

She said the students first have to find 32 research articles that pertain to research on their topic. She said that is a good representation of “what is known in the field,” and knowing that allows students to contribute new information on their subject.

As the students read the articles, they are instructed to take notes on each paragraph of each article. These notes help later when the students must write a synopsis of all of the research.

Reagan said he was able to use the publication databases available through Patrick Henry Community College. Then the library secured copies of the articles for students through interlibrary loans without charge.

In all of these classrooms, students from Henry County, Martinsville and Patrick County mix together, which Reagan said he enjoys. He said he is in the band at Patrick County High School and also participates in several academic teams.

Now, when he is at competitive events, he often sees friends from the governor’s school on the opposing teams. That was “weird at first” but has become enjoyable, he said.

Hankins added that when the students in her grade first began governor’s school classes in their junior year, the students generally sat with others from their school. By the second year, everyone mixed together, she said.




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