George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development partners with NOVA and Loudoun County Public Schools on new Lab School


The Virginia Board of Education has approved funding for George Mason University to launch the Accelerated College and Employability Skills (ACCESS) Academy, a collaborative partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS). This lab school will be based inside K-12 public schools as part of shared goals to increase pathways for students from high school to college and on to high-demand careers.

CEHD classroom photo
Photo provided

“George Mason is making bold steps toward creating different pathways for all students through these partnerships with K-12 and community colleges to ensure access to higher education and high-demand, well-compensated careers,” said Dean Ingrid Guerra-López of George Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). “Our focus on innovative, problem-based learning and skills needed for the future workforce will ensure students have robust wrap-around supports all the way through their education and early careers to build a better future for themselves and their communities.”

Based in Loudoun County Public Schools supporting 9th-12th grades, ACCESS Academy will incorporate employability skills, innovative teaching and learning methods, and experiences co-designed with industry partners, researchers, and instructional faculty. ACCESS Academy will have direct on-ramps for 11th and 12th grade students, and phased-in lab school preparation during 9th and 10th grades.

“We’re excited to partner with George Mason and NOVA to increase access to unique learning opportunities for our students,” said LCPS Superintendent Aaron Spence. “ACCESS Academy will provide innovative educational experiences for students that will lead to certifications and two- and four-year degrees, as well as support students with access to high-demand and well-compensated jobs in the information technology fields. We have heard loud and clear from our community that our students need alternative pathways to college. And this is just one way we are getting them there."

Academy students in grades 9 and 10 will focus on completion of high school graduation requirements including English, social studies, math, and science. They will begin to develop employability skills through teaching, learning, and curriculum innovations that leverage other existing programs in students’ base schools. They also will be introduced to problem-based learning through focused activities that include guided practice and support the development of problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, systems thinking, and research skills.

ACCESS Academy is rooted in transdisciplinary collaboration harnessing a broad range of faculty expertise to design and deliver the curriculum. This learning ecosystem of faculty from George Mason’s CEHD and Information Technology Program, NOVA, and LCPS, as well as business and industry leaders, will create a replicable model for student success.

Researchers and industry partners will also work side by side with ACCESS students as part of a new Learning Innovation Lab, where teaching and learning innovations will be applied, evaluated, adapted, and disseminated. The Learning Innovation Lab will become a training ground for current and future educators as teacher candidates, in-service teachers, and faculty across a wide range of disciplines, including Information Technology. It will also expand evidence-based education research and talent development best practices for educational leaders, instructional systems designers, and policymakers, as well as industry and community partners.

NOVA Vice President of Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer Eun-Woo Chang said, “NOVA is excited to join this partnership to help students develop employability skills through an innovative curriculum that leverages our extensive dual enrollment program with high schools in the Northern Virginia region, especially with LCPS. Students will be immersed in activities designed to cultivate essential skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and research skills.”

The expanded partnership with NOVA is part of the Mason Virginia Promise, which helps create a pathway to a bachelor’s degree for every Virginian who wants one. George Mason and NOVA’s flagship ADVANCE Program is designed to augment the transfer experience for community college students pursuing a bachelor's degree by removing common barriers and providing early support in their educational journey.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin signed the partnership agreements with colleges and universities to establish K-12 lab schools in January 2022.