If you had told my 17 year old self that I would be returning to WAHS as a School Board candidate, she’d be relieved. Visiting as a School Board candidate would mean that I had managed to be alright despite skipping 60 days of school junior year and watching all my classmates march across the stage to receive their diplomas while I sat without. It’s easy to look back decades later and put a moment within a context and a trajectory, but I cannot forget how in those moments, as a 17 year old, I felt completely lost. This was the end of my public grade school education.
I had a lot going for me. I had a stable and loving family. I had strong mathematical, reading and writing skills. I tested well, and I lived in a town with first rate community college and university. I turned out alright, I think, but , as an educator, I carry the memory of what it felt to be a student in a school that is high-performing and lacking in diversity.
Western’s floor plan remains much the same since it was opened in 1977. The majority of Western’s classrooms are housed in a 2 story rectangular building with math, social studies, language arts, foreign languages, and sciences each in their own loosely designated areas. A long hall connects the auditorium, music rooms, and gymnasium. One addition has been built off the rear of Western for additional science classrooms, and to house the Environmental Studies Academy.
The Environmental Studies Academy is modeled off of the success of MESA at Albemarle High School. Students enrolled in the Environmental Studies Academy apply to participate in 4 years of concentrated study. Classes include Geography, Geology, Earth Science, and Recycled Materials and Processes. The 20 students in the inaugural class will took these classes last year, and will continue the intensive block scheduling classes until they graduate in 2018. The second cohort began this year with 40 students. The ESA’s footprint will grow with a recently approved expansion off the back of the ground floor, and will have more outdoor lab space, and a greenhouse.
Upstairs, more renovations are taking place in the library. The library was completely closed the first weeks of school as construction took place. On the day that I visited, one quadrant was closed off where books were stored in stacks, but the removal of the drop ceiling and subsequent painting was completed. The big space was full of talkative students during TAB (Take A Break). This was in contrast to my memory of the library during my days as student. The library was a serious and quiet space that was rarely casually entered. There were helpful, friendly, but fairly stern librarians who could help you with books or laser-discs(!), but you were there for a purpose. For better or worse, the library now feels similar to the cafeteria, in that it is a flexible, loosely-purposed room that can be rearranged for a variety of purposes. Happily, while I was there, the librarian came to update the principal on how she was engaging students in making the library/media center into a place that reflected students’ personalities and interests.