Editorial – Great news on lab school

Published 1:52 pm Friday, May 3, 2024

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“Get your college education,” high-schoolers have been advised for decades.

For many students, the advice remains sound. The world still needs teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants, to name a few professions that require a college diploma or two or three. But for many students, the best ticket to gainful, lasting employment is to learn an in-demand skill.

A new “lab school” coming to Paul D. Camp Community College’s Smithfield center will prepare up to 80 students per year for careers in shipbuilding, thanks to a partnership with Isle of Wight County Schools and Newport News Shipbuilding parent company Huntington Ingalls.

It’s “win-win-win-win” for students, the shipyard, the community and Paul D. Camp, which was nearly evicted from its county-owned building in Smithfield a year ago due to inactivity. Give some credit to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has made lab schools a priority for a Virginia economy that lacks in many cases a workforce with the specific skills needed to fuel major industries.

We were pleased that the bipartisan Virginia Board of Education voted unanimously on April 25 to approve the Isle Marine Trades Academy.

Participating high school students will earn an associate of applied science degree in technical studies and industry credentials in either maritime welding or electrical concurrently with their high school diploma, our Stephen Faleski reports on this week’s front page. 

The program will receive $1 million in state startup funds plus $1.7 million from the state’s College Partnership Laboratory School Fund spread over its first four years in operation.

“These schools are establishing innovative pathways for students to explore potential careers and be better prepared for the future, with a specific focus on addressing the needs and demands of their regions,” Youngkin said in a news release.

Isle of Wight County Schools has long been a believer in vocational and technical education, putting its money where its mouth is with thriving vo-tech programs at both Smithfield High and Windsor High. So the local school division is a natural partner in the new shipbuilding training program. IWCS will provide teachers and use of Smithfield High’s and Windsor High School’s facilities, including transportation for students to and from Camp’s Smithfield campus.

Faleski reports that students will enroll in the lab school during their junior year, during which they will complete general education courses at Camp’s Smithfield campus from 7:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., then travel to either Smithfield High School for welding or to Windsor High School, which houses the school division’s electrical career and technical education equipment, from 11:45 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. Seniors will spend their mornings at Camp’s Workforce Trades and Innovation Center in Suffolk, which the Navy recently donated $1.3 million toward building, and spend their afternoons at Camp’s Smithfield campus.

The Newport News shipyard is critical not only to the region’s economy but to our nation’s defense, which must remain strong to combat rising threats to democracy abroad. Huntington Ingalls projects that it will need 19,000 more employees in the region over the next decade.

We’re pleased that the new Smithfield lab school will do its part to help meet the challenge.