(L-R) At the Monticello High School Genius Bar located in the school's Learning Commons, juniors Michael Murphy and Noah Borgersen assemble a machine that will create electricity by the using ambient radio waves in the air.

The innovative model Monticello High School is running in its library recently fetched Albemarle County Public Schools the Magna Award Grand Prize, which recognizes the top learning programs in the country.

Over the course of six years, a team of librarians and teachers transformed what was a sparsely-used, traditional library into the school’s Learning Commons, which features among its specialty areas a genius bar where students troubleshoot each other’s computer problems, a maker space, a music studio and 3-D printers.

Jesse Turner, principal of Monticello High, characterized the Learning Commons’ evolution as “organic,” and said students are learning in new ways.

“It’s outstanding to watch our young people learn in this way and become engaged with school in a non-traditional way in a space that’s non-traditional,” Turner said.
Superintendent Pam Moran praised the project, and said the Monticello’s achievements prove the importance of libraries.

“It’s where people gather, where they exchange ideas and where they find resources that help to build knowledge,” Moran said.

Malcom Wills, a Monticello senior, said that the Learning Commons is an active space.

“This isn’t a library where kids just come and hang out,” Wills said. “It’s a good place to come if you actually want to get things done.”

Wills said that he spends so much time in the music studio, it feels “like a home.”

“I love that studio, and it’s definitely going to be something that sticks with me after I graduate,” Wills said.

Administered annually by the National School Boards Association, the Magna Awards divide school districts into three categories, based on enrollment: below 5,000; 5,000 to 20,000; and 20,000 and up. Albemarle won the grand prize in the 5,000 to 20,000 student category.

The win also makes Albemarle the first division to win the award a second time. In 2013, Albemarle’s M-Cubed — Math, Men and Mission — program, which aims to improve academic achievement among African-American males, took the prize.

Del. David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville, applauded the initiative, calling it an example of 21st century learning.

“The future of education is not rote learning and Standards of Learning testing,” Toscano said. “The future of education is about innovation, because that’s what’s going to set us apart in the future.”