Freshman, juniors and seniors filed into the Dominion High School auditorium to receive stiff, white coats, to mark the beginning of an educational journey.
Academy of Science students participated in the 2-year-old school’s second annual coating ceremony.
George J. Wolfe, director of the Academy of Science, compared the ceremony to similar events in the medical profession. When Wolfe’s daughter entered medical school, she received a short, white coat. When she graduated, he said, she received her official long coat.
"But that would be too expensive," he joked. "We don’t want to buy two coats."
Wolfe referred to the coating ceremony as the academy students’ "academic pep rally." The select group of students take a bus from their home school to Dominion High School’s Academy of Science every other day, where they attend rigorous math and science courses led by area professionals.
"We want you to have an identity as an Academy of Science student," Wolfe said. "We want to honor you for the choices you’ve made to get to this point. You are taking a path of difficulty."
SUPERINTENDENT EDGAR B. Hatrick congratulated the three classes on overcoming the first Academy of Science obstacle, getting in.
The academy’s application process is a rigorous one. Students not only had to have high marks on standardized tests and perfect grades. They had to prove they belonged at the school by demonstrating what they’d already done in the math and science fields to get in.
"I do not believe in pressure-cooker schools," the director said, "but you guys make your own pressure cookers."
Wolfe joked about traveling from one class to another, talking to students about how many hours they spent on their homework. Students boasted about finishing lab reports in just under four hours, he said.
Only 65 students out of 230 applicants were accepted to the school this year, which has doubled in enrollment since it opened.
"This is the realization of a dream," Hatrick said.
When the school system came up with the idea of a science academy, the superintendent said they didn’t follow another school’s standard or an academic blue print.
"We wanted to create something really unique," he said.
And they have.
STUDENTS HAVE had a number of opportunities to work with Howard Hughes Medical Center professionals. Most recently, the Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn hosted an open house, where Academy of Science students volunteered to give tours to visitors.
At the ceremony, Janelia Farms vice president and director Gerald Rubin was impressed by the number of students that participated in the open house.
He talked to the students about his first science experiences.
"My high-school chemistry teacher changed my life," he said.
He encouraged students to ask questions and take advantage of the resources the academy has to offer.
"You’re not in trouble when you run out of answers," he said. "You’re in trouble when you run out of questions."
Over Thanksgiving break, 37 students and six faculty members will travel to the Gerace Research Center in San Salvador, Bahamas.
Loudoun County Public Schools is one of the only schools in the nation to work at this site, Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said.
"We are honoring you for being risk takers," Wolfe said. "You are taking a risk. You could’ve stayed back at your schools."