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NoVa getting science-focused middle school, from local startup

Ideaventions launched in 2010 to teach NoVa kids about robots, computer programming and science in summer and after-school programs. Now Ideaventions is becoming the school.

The Oakton, Va.-based company recently announced its plan to create the Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science, a private middle school for gifted students in 6th, 7th and 8th grades focusing on STEM--science, technology, engineering and math. Ryan and Juliana Heitz, the husband-and-wife team who founded Ideaventions, are planning a Fall 2015 opening for the academy, with space for 30 students.

"We're targeting 30 students between 6th and 7th grades for our inaugural year," Heitz says. "We'll add 8th grade for 2016."

Response to his initial email announcement has been "overwhelming," says Heitz. "We've been blown away." Originally, Heitz scheduled one information session for interested parents; that session filled so quickly that he has scheduled three more—two in December and one in January. Admission to the academy requires an application (the online application opens December 1 and closes January 15, 2015), an IQ test, recommendations and participation in a simulated workshop environment "to understand how [potential students] work together."

Ideaventions Academy will offer a full curriculum, but will place more emphasis on math and science. "We're also applying what we know about project-based study and inquiry to other subjects," Heitz says. "So in history, for example, kids will look critically at source documents to see different viewpoints. Across the board, it's about learning how to think."

Heitz cites his experience as a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology as one influence for creating the academy. "[Juliana and I] feel like there's a big gap in what's being offered STEM-wise. We wanted to bring the TJ opportunity down to middle school and earlier, before [students] lose their interest and their love for learning."

He also cites Montessori educational philosophy as another. "Kids will have choices of classes," he says. "We're empowering the individual to choose. That helps develop self-initiative and a love of learning."

Though Ideaventions Academy is a nonprofit, it's still a private school. Tuition will run approximately $24,500 per student. "We're working on getting scholarships funded by industry partners—by STEM companies in the area who will need STEM workers in the future," Heitz says. He'd like to establish a $1 million scholarship fund to help pay tuition for those who cannot afford to attend. The school's four labs—biology, chemistry, computer science and engineering—are all also available for corporate sponsorship.

The last big piece of the puzzle is figuring out the location for the academy; Ideaventions's current strip-mall space in Oakton simply won't hold a school as well as the after-school program (which will colocate in the new facility). "We're in site selection now," Heitz says. "We're looking in Fairfax County, concentrating on the Reston, Oakton, Vienna and Fairfax areas. We'll announce our location in January."

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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