Massanutten Regional Governor’s School students reflect on the different learning style provided

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Clare Kirwan

Junior Kate Kirwan works on an environmental map for an AP environmental science class assignment.

The Massanutten Regional Governor’s School for Integrated Environmental Science and Technology (MRGS) is a seperate school that some students at Harrisonburg High School attend. In order to attend, students submitted an application at the end of thor sophomore year.    Seniors Hayden Kirwan and Stella Alexiou attend Governor’s school, in addition to junior Kate Kirwan. The school provides a different learning experience for students allowing them to collaborate with students from other schools in the Shenandoah Valley area. 

“Gov School is a magnet school. It’s a school in a region that attracts students from the various schools in that region. Each school sends a select number of kids to the one Governor’s School, where they spend half of their day taking classes there,” Alexiou said. 

Currently, five seniors and seven juniors from HHS attend Governor’s School (Gov School), which is located in Mount Jackson; with about 40 kids in each grade of MRGS from around 10 schools.

“I have really enjoyed getting to meet people from school districts in the surrounding areas. Even though [school] is virtual, it’s been really fun to meet new people,” Kate Kirwan said.

The HHS students that attend MRGS would normally arrive at HHS prior to third block on a usual year. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov School students have a 40 minute overlap in schedule between HHS and MRGS classes. This is also while junior and seniors alternate school days at MRGS. 

“I have my science [classes] on Tuesday and then my English and math [classes] on Thursday with research every other Friday. [At HHS] this semester, I’m doing an independent study hybrid of film studies, as well as taking AP Computer science principles for my fourth block. Next semester I will take honors physics and then AP government Virtual Virginia,” Hayden Kirwan said.

Due to the differences in online schedules at HHS and MRGS, some students have also had to take advantage of Virtual Virginia: another online learning platform used across the state.

“Gov School goes halfway into HHS’s third block so we would either be late to an HHS class or be behind the whole time. A lot of us are taking Virtual Virginia classes third block so that we can work at our own pace instead of trying to play catch up with an HHS class,” Kate Kirwan.

Despite the overlapping schedules, Gov School provides HHS students with a new learning environment.

“I really like how Gov School is structured to be very independent and collaborative. The classes work together [so there is an] interdisciplinary nature between the classes. I also like the focus on big real life application projects rather than a bunch of busy work so we’ll be doing labs and research and actual stuff that we’d be doing in our future careers, rather than a homework assignment that we’re going to be forgetting in a week. I also like meeting new people. I definitely would not have met as many people as I have if I didn’t go to Gov School. I think there’s a Harrisonburg bubble that [prohibits us from] reaching out to other schools to make friends there but Gov school has broken that bubble for me,” Alexiou said.

Going to MRGS and HHS gives students a chance to have two unique school environments according to Hayden Kirwan.

“Both Harrisonburg and [the] Governor’s School have given me equally great experiences, but in different fashions. The way that we learn things at Gov School is great for the content that we’re learning there, but at HHS classes they evaluate us differently which is what is best for those classes,” Hayden Kirwan.

MRGS provides a number of opportunities, from field trips to research projects. 

“Gov School offers a lot of opportunities, not only through field trips that we go on and cool research in class opportunities like collecting shell samples, but also like working on a big research project every Friday. [Research is] a really cool opportunity that we don’t see in a lot of schools and the teachers are always there to provide help. Gov School does everything it can to provide as many opportunities and support for the students as it can and I think that special quality is what makes Gov School so unique,” Alexiou said.

According to Kate Kirwan, one of the largest opportunities at MRGS is their research projects. The projects can last a year to two years and are worked on Fridays throughout the year.

“Every other Friday morning we are given [time] to pursue a research topic of our choice. We have to keep a research notebook and we are assigned a Gov School teacher to mentor us through that research. I know a lot of kids in the past have worked with James Madison University professors. This year I’m hoping to complete a project studying the cemeteries of enslaved people,” Kate Kirwan said. 

Research is not the only aspect that allows for creativity at MRGS.

“There’s a focus on collaborative creativity [at MRGS]. That kind of focus is different from what I’ve seen at Harrisonburg classes and I think it’s interesting,” Alexiou said.

The collaborative creativity at MRGS revolves around group work which has been harder to do virtually, according to Hayden Kirwan.

“I’d say a big thing for me is that it’s definitely harder to communicate with your group members because everything is over zoom,” Hayden Kirwan said. 

MRGS has adjusted to make group work possible through breakout rooms with students from different schools.

“We are in breakout groups for almost half of our classes collaborating with our classmates and we also have a group project about once a week.” Kate Kirwan

While Gov School may be different from HHS, student there do not believe it is more prestigious.

“I don’t like the almost pretentious hype around Gov School. I think people often assume that Gov School is the end all be all to get into colleges, and I have noticed an air of superiority, like, ‘Oh, we go to Gov School we’re better than people who stay at the normal schools’ and I think that Gov School is just another path that people can take. I think it’s important to make the distinction between yes there are a bunch of really really cool opportunities that Gov School has but it’s also a collaborative environmental science based environment and if that’s not what best suits people, then it’s not a disadvantage that they don’t go to Gov School,” Alexiou said.

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