Since 2005, selected students from Harrisonburg City Schools, Page County Schools, Rockingham County Schools, and Shenandoah County Schools have attended half day sessions at the Massanutten Regional Governor’s School (MRGS), an academic year Governor’s School sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education along with the four localities. The students continue to attend their home school half day so they are eligible for VHSL and other school activities. This school year, the MRGS has moved from Triplett Tech in Mount Jackson, VA, where it has been housed since opening in 2005, to Mountain View High School in Quicksburg, VA. MRGS students will begin school in August; there are 79 students enrolled for the 2023-24 school year from the four school divisions.
A Governor’s School Planning Board started exploring the concept of a regional program in 1997 and decided to house the school at Triplett Tech (which was centrally located and had space). Shenandoah County Schools was designated as the fiscal agent, and plans began for a half day program for high school juniors and seniors. A Planning Advisory Committee established in 1998 conducted the next phase of planning. The committee visited and learned from each Governor’s school then in operation, reviewing research on best practices in gifted education, and talking with institutes of higher education in the area. Environmental science and technology were identified as main areas of curriculum based on student/parent surveys. The focus for MRGS included emphasizing cooperative learning and learning the skills of identifying problems, finding solutions to the problems, and application of the solutions to the real world. The school was approved by the Virginia Department of Education in fall, 2000, but budget issues delayed the opening until 2005. The director for the first three years was Dr. Cathy Glenn, with Ms. Susan Fream becoming director in fall, 2008. The school, which opened with 36 juniors and 20 seniors, has had four full-time teachers since the beginning. The school now operates at the maximum number of students.
The mission of the MRGS is “to provide an integrated and enriched research-based curriculum to highly motivated and intellectually gifted students based on environmental science and technology. At MRGS, we believe that our students are our program and that the education we provide has the potential to benefit not just our students but society as a whole.” Students take math, science, and English classes on an alternate day schedule, and have a Research class and conduct their research on Fridays. All classes except Research are dual enrolled and students may also take AP exams for some courses. All students conduct a research project each year either individually or in a group. They are matched with a mentor, often in the community or in a university. Research results are presented at a symposium each spring.
MRGS teacher Russell Kohrs states: “MRGS is a place where highly motivated students can not only be challenged and explore their interests, but is a place where they have to learn to collaborate with others to address problems of scales ranging from local to global. While the dual-enrollment connection provides a curricular anchor, MRGS staff work hard to model collaboration through the creation and facilitation of a project and problem-based cross-curricular atmosphere that mimics real workplace skills. Can you imagine a single project designed by four teachers that requires students to demonstrate knowledge and skills related to geoscience, statistics and calculus, literature and composition, and agroecology? Such a place exists in Shenandoah County at MRGS. Students are also required to conduct independent or small group original research, something most people encounter for the first time late in an undergraduate college program. These projects address scientific questions, community needs, or engineering ideas and often provide opportunities for community outreach, outside mentorships, and much more. Through all of this, MRGS staff work tirelessly to provide innovative educational opportunities through their own skills and creativity, but also through harnessing outside connections from partner and stakeholder organizations as diverse as the National Resource Conservation Service, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, towns like Woodstock, local colleges and universities, arts organizations like VECCA, and many more. For educators and students alike, the MRGS environment and program are ideal places for growth, learning, and building community.”
Teachers at the school for 2023-24 are Kara Bates, Agro-Ecology; Katherine Klus, Mathematics; Russell Kohrs, Environmental Science; and Jennifer Moyers, English. Elaine Sharp is the Instructional Assistant, and Susan Fream continues as the Director. (See the MRGS Facebook page for photos of the teachers and other staff!)
Woodie Kerlin, a 2010 MRGS grad who got a degree from JMU and now works at Merck says this about MRGS: “I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was it’s own little unique community with helpful teachers and students from up and down the valley. It was great preparation for the college atmosphere with both the community feel and the curriculum.”
Annika Dellinger, a 2023 MRGS grad who is headed to Harvard in the fall, also has positive things to say about her experience at MRGS. Her thoughts on MRGS: “Gov school was by far one of my favorite academic experiences. It provided me the opportunity to learn deeply about subjects that interest me while also being surrounded by others who share my passions.” Annika is doing a summer internship as a materials coordinator with StageBio, a pathology/histology lab with locations in Mt. Jackson and Maurertown, VA.
Congratulations to MRGS on eighteen years of teamwork among educators and students who get involved with the community and impact others in so many ways! Good luck in your new location! Keep up the outstanding work!