The newest middle school in Prince William County will serve to bridge the gap between in-person learners and those who excel at learning virtually at home.
Potomac Shores Middle School, at 17851 Woods View Drive near Dumfries, is the second new school to be built in the neighborhood that bears the same name. The three-story, nearly 200-square-foot, $65 million school building will open in September.
When finished, the school will house grades six through eight, and boast multiple labs, career and technical education rooms, a makers space, an 800-seat auditorium, stadium, and multiple sports fields, all sitting on 52 acres near the Potomac River.
“This whole building is structured around the idea that, in the 21st century, in a working world, we have to have these spaces where people are able to work together, communicate, collaborate, and have those projects that they need to do together,” said Justin Wilk, who represents the county’s Potomac Magisterial District on the School Board.
Many of the classrooms have an open design, much like a modern co-work space, that’s meant to encourage collaboration between students. It’s a “what’s old is new again” approach to school construction. Four county high schools — Gar-Field, Woodbridge, Osbourn Park, and Unity Reed (formerly Stonewall Jackson), all built in the 1970s –featured open classrooms meant to bring together students to share ideas.
Classroom walls were nothing more movable dividers that could be opened or closed depending upon the needs of the teacher and students. Over the years, noise and other distractions became an issue. Some of the classrooms, or pods as they were called, were enclosed to create a more traditional classroom setting.
“Yes, we’re going back to the mindset that we want to collaborate. But I think technology has advanced to a point,” said Wilk. “We want to have an open setting, we want kids to collaborate…I think a major difference that you have versus the 1960s and 70s when some of the older schools were built…but what is new now is 21st-century education and virtual instruction and support resources that these kids are going to have in this building, to really explore anything they want.”
Prince William County Public Schools led the way in the region this past year, pushing for the return of children to the classroom. Many students failed at virtual learning or just gave up due to a lack of interest or support.
But, as far as online learning is concerned, the cat is out of the bag and here to stay, said Wilk. “I want kids back [in class]. I think it’s important they’re back and we try to return to some type of normalcy. But the reality is, I think we’ve exposed families to the powers of virtual education,” said Wilk. “It’s not necessarily my primary mode of how I think instruction should be delivered but many kids were successful.”
Prince William County has the option for parents to keep their children learning from home in its fall learning plan. Those who didn’t complete the survey last month will be expected to show up in person on the first day of school on August, 23.
Going forward, children to opt to learn from home can still be able to come into the school building and take advantage of the labs, as well as the extracurricular activities, said Wilk.
The middle school opening follows the opening of Covington-Harper Elementary School in 2017, the first school to open in the Potomac Shores neighborhood. A second, yet-to-be-named elementary school is slated to open in Potomac Shores in 2023.
Also opening this fall in Prince William County is Gainesville High School, located behind Jiffy Lube Live in Gainesville. The $125 million school will house nearly 2,600 students.