Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation is one of the three middle schools in the Lynchburg City Schools division.
With an award-winning staff teaching numerous exploratory classes in addition to core content subjects, Dunbar’s students learn in a fun and unique environment that offers broadcasting experiencing in the digital media center and hands on science lessons in the school’s very own Earth Zone, packed with reptiles and amphibians, eels, a sting ray and even a shark.
In 1994, Dunbar was identified as a school for innovation focusing on the area of communication. At every grade level, students have access to special programs including foreign language emphasis and drama and music exposure. Our cultural arts department consists of a nationally recognized competitive theatre program that presents at least three major stage productions per year. We also have an awarding-winning orchestra, jazz band and stage band.
Students have the opportunity to learn science through investigation and hands on experiences in our Earth Zone, which supports our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiative. These centers include a herpetology center with more than 45 species of reptiles and amphibians, a marine center with four ocean niches/tanks of more than 700 gallons total, and a Laserium center where students learn about and experience the concepts of sound, motion and light. Our Climate Zone exhibit is an impressive, one-of-a kind interactive watershed model. A state-of-the-art physical science lab featuring lasers, Reuben’s Tube and a Van Der Graaf generator provides additional opportunities for hands-on learning. Science classes, exploratory classes and after school activities are some of the ways students can be involved with our centers. Annually, elementary schools from the area will be using our centers for instruction and enrichment. Local colleges and high schools are able to place interns in the center making it a community resource.
Integrating technology into the curriculum is a priority at Dunbar. With cutting edge technology, students at Dunbar have access to a digital media center that offers studio production of programs and gives students broadcasting experience, as well as satellite communication capabilities. Students and teachers have the use of six computer labs. We have Smartboards, which are placed full time in classrooms and used on a daily basis. We have digital cameras available to teachers for checkout for classroom projects and field trips. The school enjoys access to a local network within the building, a connection to a division network, and building-wide access to the internet from all lab and classrooms.
Advanced 6th grade students are enrolled in a specialized technology course entitled Applied Engineering. In this course, students apply mathematical concepts to technology projects. Hands-on applications of engineering principles culminate in construction of projects such as the 24-horse power, four-seat Hovercraft. In 7th grade students complete a very popular unit on Crime Scene Investigations (CSI).
By incorporating an eight-period day, all students have the opportunity to have three to four elective periods. One of these electives, which we are particularly excited about, is College Prep. This course supports the research Building a Grad Nation by Johns Hopkins University. In this course, students are assigned to a teacher for the entire year who will facilitate their pathways to career and college exploration. Each grade level team of College Prep teachers develops units of studies to reflect the goal of the course. Instructional topics include, but are not limited to: novel discussion, public speaking, instructional project research and development (e.g. science fair, history day fair, etc.), personal finance, PSAT prep, organization and study skills, career exploration, and college search.
The career exploration and college search components follow a progressive model. In the sixth grade, students explore personal interests, strengths, competencies, and accomplishments. Seventh grade students apply their knowledge of their personal interests, strengths, abilities, and accomplishments to education planning and career decision‐making. Eighth grade students apply their knowledge of their personal interests, strengths, abilities, and accomplishments to choosing and planning a post‐secondary education program or career path.
Our teachers are routinely recognized at the local, regional, state, and national level. Mrs. Meg Smith was recognized as the 2012 Virginia Teacher of the Year and was congratulated by our President Barrack Obama. Ms. Jackie Pinn was selected as the Dunbar Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013. Mr. Tom Foster was the recipient of prestigious 2012 McGlothlin Teaching Excellence Award, which comes with a $25,000 prize. Mr. Albert Carter was the recipient of the Freddy G Theatre Award in Atlanta. Mr. and Mrs. Carter also won the James River Humanities and Arts Award.
Our students also receive many awards and honors. We regularly have students selected for the Mayor’s Hill Climber Award. Our orchestra and band received superior ratings at the concert assessments. Several Dunbar students participated in the Central Virginia Governor’s School Regional Science Fair and were selected as winners. The First Lego League team was awarded first place for Robot Design. Dunbar’s theatre won a national award for its production of “Flat Stanley.” Eight students were Regional National History Day award winners and went on to the state level competition. Dunbar had numerous students win writing awards and had many students’ works published.
Dunbar’s athletic teams also do extremely well. The football team was the city champion for the third straight year, and our basketball went 14-4 last year. The boys and girls track teams were undefeated and city champs. The boy’s tennis team was co-city champs. One of our wrestlers was the city champ with a record of 20-0.
In a 2012 visit to our school, Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash summed it up well when she said, “Dunbar Middle School could be a model school for the state!” … and the Deputy Secretary of Education Javaid Siddiqi added, “This school is a game-changer!”
For these reasons and more, I am so proud to be the principal of Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School for Innovation, the home of the Poets!