Andrew, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, struggled with the traditional school schedule but was hesitant to attend the school’s new T.C. Satellite Campus at Landmark Mall because there wasn’t a teacher leading the class and he was afraid he couldn’t handle the workload on his own.
“But from day one, if I had any questions, there was always someone there to answer them,” Andrew told school officials and others at a ribbon-cutting for the new campus Tuesday morning. “Satellite has been a big help for managing time, which helps in the real world. Satellite is a dream come true.”
School officials and local dignitaries gathered at the mall Tuesday to mark the official opening of the new campus, which serves up to 100 students and already has a waitlist. The campus is the first comprehensive, non-traditional satellite campus in Northern Virginia and utilizes an online curriculum to serve up to 100 students at a time.
The core curriculum is online, and the center is staffed by teachers to guide students through their courses. The campus is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
Speaking Monday, Alexandria City Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Madye Henderson called the campus the next step for education in ACPS.
“We’re making a mark within the state, as well as this region,” she said. “We are the first, fully-comprehensive satellite campus, which is giving students the opportunity to get their education in a hybrid-learning environment.”
The center aims to help decrease dropout rates and help remove obstacles that students said got in the way of graduation, such as a full-time work schedule.
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille told the crowd the students at the campus have already shown dedication to their education by enrolling in the new program.
“Just because we do have our challenges, there are opportunities for us to get above those challenges and do better and greater things,” the mayor said.
Sheryl Gorsuch, chairman of the Alexandria City School Board, said the satellite campus puts students in control of their own destiny. “Students needs our support to be successful,” she said. “Sometimes they need a listener. Sometimes they need an advisor. Sometimes they need a quiet place to study, and sometimes they need a new option.”
Superintendent Morton Sherman told listeners that ACPS is on the right track. Since 2005, the number of students taking advanced placement courses at T.C. Williams has more than doubled, and their scores are at an all-time high, he said. SAT participation last year was at a nine-year high, and scores went up last year compared to the year before, he added.
But a traditional school setting doesn’t serve every student, Sherman said. He called the satellite campus a model for ACPS in the future.
“This school is a satellite,” he said. “It’s tethered, as the moon is tethered back to the earth through gravity, this satellite is tethered back to that remarkable organization called T.C. Williams. But just as the moon, just as satellites that go around the earth have their own independence, their own personality, so does this school."
Gregory Forbes, ACPS director of secondary school counseling, said a variety of students are utilizing the satellite campus.
“We have students that are here because they are on track to graduate and want to graduate early,” he said. “They know for sure what they want to do with their lives, and really going through a four-year-program at T.C. is not the best fit for them. … Then we have students who have been retained in previous years. Maybe they were retained at elementary school or middle school and they’re looking to accelerate their learning so that they can graduate with their peers in the class that they were supposed to. And the satellite campus gives them the flexibility to be able to do that.”
Other students work full-time during the day and utilize the satellite campus in the evenings, he said. Other students work late at night in local restaurants and come to the satellite campus later in the morning after getting a full night’s sleep.
T.C. Satellite Campus Principal James Wilson thanked the school district and satellite campus staff for their support.
“The vision is clear,” he said. “We’re here to support the Alexandria City Public Schools’ vision. Yes, we have a non-traditional program. Yes, we work in conjunction with T.C. Williams, the middle schools and the Alexandria City Public Schools, but I am saying to you, the satellite concept is ingenious.”
The campus has been under development for four years as part of the district’s strategic plan. Henson said there are six teacher spots, four of which have been filled.
The student learning center covers 3,400 square feet, and a nearby administrative center is about 2,400 square feet. The rent is less than $6,000 per month.
View a photo gallery of the event here.