Parenting a SWVGS Student

SWVGS will be a different experience for your child and you are likely to have many questions about what the Governor's School experience is like. Below are questions to commonly asked questions. We encourage you to refer back to this page throughout your child's time at SWVGS to search for information relevant to you as new issues or questions may arise.

What is different about SWVGS compared to a non-specialized high school?

SWVGS is one of only nineteen Academic Year Governor's Schools in the state of Virginia. It is the only specialized school, focused on science, mathematics, and technology, serving our participating school divisions.

SWVGS uses a compacted curriculum model to serve a relatively homogeneous group of gifted, high-achieving, motivated students. Students are asked to take responsibility for their academic work and for the consequences of their choices.

At SWVGS, there is a focus on understanding the process of science and the use of the scientific method to reveal new knowledge. Students are required to take the Science and Technology Seminar and Project course each year they attend SWVGS and all students complete independent research projects each year. Additionally, the process of scientific discovery and the impact of significant discoveries are discussed within specific science courses. Experience with research develops critical thinking and problem solving skills, skepticism and curiosity about the world, ability to acquire and apply knowledge, joy of discovery, persistence, time management skills, a strong work ethic, and intellectual integrity, as well as collaborative, leadership, and communication skills.

SWVGS leads students to solve math problems independent of a calculator. Students are encouraged to understand and practice the steps of completing calculations by hand. Development of proficiency in solving fractions, equations, factoring, etc. is a high priority. Students are asked to use mathematics to analyze data, understand scientific principles, and explore relationships among different fields of knowledge. Knowledge of basic facts and proficiency in applying basic skills allow students to understand what they are doing, make connections, and give meaningful interpretations of their results. Understanding how to use a variety of mathematical tools independent of a calculator gives students the self-confidence to think for themselves, analyze new and more complex problems, determine appropriate strategies for solving those problems, and then apply those strategies. Thinking conceptually, using logical reasoning, and making connections are skills that lead to success not only in SWVGS math and science classes, but also in college classes and in the workplace.

SWVGS provides a unique, worthwhile opportunity for your child. Students are able to maintain old friendships while building new relationships, they continue to participate in extracurricular activities, they remain involved in their families and communities, they take part in the "normal high school experience", while taking advantage of the opportunity to participate in a specialized school, tackling new academic challenges, becoming inspired by math and science, competing with similarly motivated peers, and evolving as learners to take responsibility for and charge of their own future. Students leave with more than just knowledge because the SWVGS motivates students to compete and stretch beyond previous limits. SWVGS prepares students for future academic competition in college, shortens time to undergraduate degree completion, and prepares students for math and science careers.

Will SWVGS cost my family money?

The cost of attending SWVGS is paid by the students' school division as well as the Virginia Department of Education. Parents do NOT pay tuition to SWVGS; all SWVGS dual-enrolled courses at NRCC and RU are provided free-of-charge to students. Parents and students are asked to appreciate the fact that individual school divisions and the State of Virginia invest significant resources in the cost of the Governor's School as well as in transporting students to and from the school; SWVGS students are expected to make the most of their opportunities and to focus on academic achievement.

Planners, textbooks, research notebooks, parking passes, etc. are provided free of charge to students. Additionally, SWVGS provides materials and equipment for student research projects. A brief list of recommended school supplies such as binders and pencils is mailed home each summer so that students may purchase those items before school begins.

What will my child's schedule be like?

Governor's School students are extremely busy. Not only do they have many academic responsibilities, but they are commonly involved in sports, band, plays, and other community activities. Time management, ability to prioritize, focus on efficient and effective study time, and avoiding procrastination are musts for successful Governor's School students. The weekly schedule at SWVGS is designed to offer some flexibility to aid students in balancing things they need to do with things they want to do. Generally, students have their three "main" courses on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays with Tuesdays and Thursdays reserved for laboratories and recitation periods. Some courses meet only one time per week. This means that students usually have at least two nights to complete homework assignments.

Will my child have a lot of homework?

All challenging courses involve a significant amount of work and investment on the part of both the teacher and the learner. Homework and meaningful practice with concepts and skills learned in class are important to learning. Successful students establish regular study routines and spend time every day reading, writing, problem-solving, studying and creating images, practicing, etc. While individual situations vary, students usually need to spend several hours per class each week to ensure mastery of the course material and academic success. Additionally, some assignments are long-term and require good time management skills. Students need to learn to work consistently and to avoid procrastination.

How are deadlines enforced? Are there penalties for late work?

Students are expected to meet deadlines. Penalties are applied to work turned in late; for example in classes such as science fair and study skills there is a point penalty of 20% per day on assignments that are turned in late. Students who are absent on the day an assignment is due are expected to turn in the work on the first day they return to school, even if they do not attend that specific course on that day. Failure to meet this expectation will result in a loss of 20% per day. Furthermore, students should be aware that failure to submit certain assignments by the deadline may result in disqualification for specific academic competition opportunities. For example, if students do not submit the required ISEF forms for their scientific research projects by the specified deadlines, they may not be eligible to compete in the Regional Science Fair or other competitions such as the Virginia Junior Academy of Science.

Students are expected to complete assignments before they are due and are not to use time in other class periods to complete work at the last minute. Each SWVGS student receives a free planner. Encourage your child to use this on a daily basis to record assignments, deadlines, and other important announcements.

Does my child need access to a computer at home?

While regular access to a computer at home is not required, students who have home computers with reliable high-speed internet access will have more flexibility in budgeting their time and completing assignments. SWVGS provides computers and internet access and students are welcome to use these resources during recitation periods and Saturday Study Sessions to complete online research, work in ALEKS, and to do problems in WebAssign. Students will be expected to use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, JMP, and other software for specific assignments; these programs are available at SWVGS.

What is GMail?

All students are provided a GMail account. Students are expected to check their GMail account daily for communications for the school and their SWVGS instructors. Students are expected to use these accounts professionally and to avoid association of any inappropriate or questionable content.

What is WebAssign?

WebAssign is an online instructional tool where instructors create assignments for students and transmit them electronically to their classes. Students enter answers to the assignments online. WebAssign automatically grades the assignment and provides immediate feedback. WebAssign is available 24/7, homework is graded automatically, students are instantly aware of the correctness of their response and have access to online tutorials and explanations. Students are asked to complete homework assignments in WebAssign in the physics and chemistry classes at SWVGS. WebAssign charges a registration fee per student, and this fee is paid by SWVGS. There are a wide variety of question types that coordinate with the textbooks used in each course. Specific numerals within questions are randomized and unique for each student. WebAssign offers customizable assignments and real-time assessment of student progress.

What is ALEKS and does my child really need to use it?

ALEKS stands for Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces; it is an artificial intelligence program developed through funding from the National Science Foundation. ALEKS is completely online and can be used 24/7 any computer with internet access. ALEKS is based on the understanding that students learn mathematics in different ways and at different speeds, therefore ALEKS differentiates content by student readiness. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to determine what a student already knows and what that student is ready to learn. Thus students spend less time with re-teaching of topics. ALEKS maintains a list of topics a student is ready to learn, and that student can choose the topic he or she wants to study next. ALEKS will not offer a student a new topic until that student has a 90% chance of mastering the new topic. ALEKS continually assesses each student to ensure mastery and retention of each topic. ALEKS charges a registration fee per student, and this fee is paid by SWVGS.

When a student logs on for the first time, ALEKS provides a tutorial on using its drawing tools, using its math dictionary, and entering answers. Next, the student takes an initial assessment so ALEKS can determine what that student knows and what that student is ready to learn. Then, ALEKS generates a personalized student pie to visually compare the number of topics a student has and has not mastered. When students are ready to being learning and practicing new math skills, he or she chooses any wedge, chooses any topic from the ready to learn list for that wedge, and begins solving practice problems. Detailed solutions are available for any problem at any time for student reference. When ALEKS determines that the student has mastered the new topic, that topic is added to the student's pie. Students use the resource independently, but are able to get help from a SWVGS mathematics instructor in person, by email, or by telephone. ALEKS provides technical support.

Nearly all students who come to the Governor's School will benefit from greater mastery of trigonometry and most require substantial development of algebra skills. This is even true of students who have always received perfect scores on SOL tests and other standard assessment measures. Nearly all students are too dependent on calculators or other automatic computation methods when they first enter the Governor's School. Acknowledging these facts and moving forward with steps to build mastery of algebra and trigonometry, with special attention to solving equations, factoring, working with fractions, and memorizing trig rules, is essential to success at SWVGS. Students with weak math skills struggle much more at SWVGS and students who fail to correct areas of weakness commonly have difficulty throughout their Governor's School experience. Students who are committed to building a stronger foundation and who pay attention to correcting areas of mathematical weakness adjust much more rapidly to SWVGS and experience greater academic success in courses such as chemistry, physics, and calculus; they also find their classes more enjoyable, and have greater confidence as students.

The faculty at SWVGS like ALEKS because the math questions it asks are NOT multiple choice. Students must understand how to "do the math" to get correct answers, often without a calculator. Numbers in problems are randomized so no two students see the same question and the learning and assessment experience for each student is unique. ALEKS differentiates to meet the varied needs of individual students. Students can work at their own pace to master each topic and at any time, students can click on the Explain button to see step-by-step instructions for solving the current problem. This aids students who need more structure and smaller leaps of knowledge. Students get instant feedback on problem solutions. Students do not have to sit through repeated explanations of topics they already know and understand.

SWVGS encourages students to work on ALEKS during the summer before their junior year for two reasons:

  • First, ALEKS allows students and teachers to gain a real, current assessment of algebra and trigonometry skills. Students and the teacher can communicate at any time using ALEKS's messaging system. A teacher can easily monitor student progress through a variety of reports. Student work and progress is closely monitored by a SWVGS mathematics instructor. This instructor maintains regular contact with each student regarding ALEKS progress. ALEKS helps the student and the teacher to understand which skills require further development and what a student should concentrate on learning next.
  • The second reason is that mastery of mathematics skills, as confirmed by ALEKS, could allow students to advance to a higher level mathematics course at SWVGS. A student who masters at least 85% of topics in the ALEKS Precalculus course will be able to enroll in College Trigonometry at SWVGS even if that student has not taken a high school precalculus course. A student who masters at least 85% of topics in the ALEKS Trigonometry course will be able to enroll in Calculus of One Variable at SWVGS even if that student has not taken a high school trigonometry course. Mnay students take advantage of the opportunity to use ALEKS during the summer and are able to move into a more advanced math class at SWVGS than they would have had they been placed solely based on their NRCC math placement test score and their previous high school classes. This means that students have an opportunity to move into calculus as a junior even if their home high school did not offer trigonometry to them in their sophomore year or earlier. Students who take calculus as juniors have the opportunity to take multivariable calculus, differential equations, and cryptography as seniors, courses that are not commonly available to most high school students. 

During the school year, students are required to use ALEKS:

All students are required to use ALEKS to support development of math skills required in math courses at the Governor's School. Students are required to spend a minimum of two hours working in ALEKS each week and to master a minimum number of topics each week. This requirement is differentiated by course so that the applicable math topics are mastered to facilitate timely and proficient acquisition of new math skills as concepts are introduced throughout the current course. The required time in ALEKS is a standing assignment expected to be completed weekly even if onsite course meetings are disrupted by inclement weather. Students receive grades for required work in ALEKS.

In addition to the ALEKS work described above, instructors will often make additional practice assignments available in ALEKS. These assignments are individualized to offer student opportunities for additional practice solving problems. Individualized quizzes may also be assigned in ALEKS.

Parents should encourage their children to use ALEKS until they reach 100% mastery of the topics.

What if my child has difficulty?

Changing from a situation where a student is the top kid at a school to being in a school with all top kids is not an easy thing to do. Students must learn to face challenges, cope with different social situations, and compete academically in a new school with a different environment and set of expectations.

It is extremely difficult for gifted, successful students to ask for help. Many have progressed through their entire school experience without having to ask for clarification of instructions, assistance with solving a problem, the meaning of a term, an instructor's expectations for a written assignment, etc. However, every successful Governor's School student will find a time when they must choose between asking a question or failing. Students fear and dread this moment because they worry that they are the only one with that question, fear that they are the only one without a complete understanding, and are concerned about how they will appear to their peers or their teachers. However, asking questions and participating in clear communication is essential to success in challenging courses. SWVGS teachers and students are very willing to provide answers and assistance. Often, students can avoid hours of struggle if they are willing to ask a single question. SWVGS teachers go above and beyond to make themselves available before and after school hours. They answer questions by phone, email, and online. Recitation periods and Saturday Study Sessions are also wonderful opportunities for asking questions and gaining clarification. Parents should encourage their children to take the step of asking questions and to help them understand that overcoming the fear of asking for help is part of growing academically and intellectually in preparation of success in college and beyond.

Many students experience difficulties daily during the first weeks of school. The Governor's School experience is entirely new, they are adjusting to a new sleep schedule, they are interacting with new peers, they are coming to understand the expectations of their new teachers, they are becoming a part of a community of gifted, motivated, high-achieving, competitive students, they are measuring their own abilities against (what they assume to be) the abilities of everyone else, they are experiencing a heavier homework load, they are being required to solve problems independent of a calculator, they are learning to read critically, they are asked to understand and learn from figures, they are learning the importance of time management and the value of strong study skills, and they are balancing their new obligations to the Governor's School with obligations to their family, friends, home high school, and extracurricular activities. Students struggle when they first attend SWVGS because they need time to find their way.

Students who ask questions, accept and follow advice, avoid procrastination, discard study habits that do not lead to success, and focus on meeting the expectations of their new school adjust more quickly. Parents can help by encouraging their children, reminding them that the initial struggle is an experience common to all new Governor's School students, reassuring them of their abilities, and reminding them that in time everything that is new and unfamiliar becomes "normal". Parents can also help by making sure that students study effectively without the distractions of television, cell phones, the internet, and other devices. Parents should remind their children that EFFECTIVE study time is much more important than lengthy study time. Parents should encourage their children to find value in the required study skills course; just like the title of the book says, Study IS Hard Work, work that requires a thoughtful plan and a committed individual.

What support is available if my child struggles beyond the first few weeks?

The value of having your child learn how to handle academic difficulties while in high school and living at home with your support compared to being alone and away at college is immeasurable. Governor's School students have caring teachers, counselors, gifted resource teachers, like-minded peers, long-term friends, and their families to help them balance responsibilities, identify and implement effective study strategies, hone skills in reading and mathematics, and learn to communicate effectively.

If your child seems to be facing difficulties beyond the experiences described above which are common to the initial adjustment to Governor's School, please contact appropriate individuals at SWVGS to discuss your concerns. Parents are always welcome to contact the Director, Assistant Director, Guidance Counselor, or classroom teacher to discuss concerns, ask questions, find our more about an assignment, be updated on course progress, etc.; we are willing to arrange in person meetings or to communicate by phone or email.

Occasionally, students benefit from outside tutoring. Since all SWVGS students are dual-enrolled, they are eligible for academic assistance at NRCC. Parents who are interested in this option may visit this site or contact SWVGS for more information.

Will my child do group work?

Many college courses and situations in the working world require skills in teamwork and collaboration. Students will be asked to work in groups at SWVGS, especially during laboratory work. Group experiences at SWVGS are often more positive because the student body at SWVGS is filled with motivated, interested, achievers. Instructors help students in effectively distributing tasks, negotiating with peers, setting goals, and ensuring group member participation.

What is science fair?

All students are required to complete an independent research project on an approved topic as part of the SCT198 and SCT298 courses which are part of the Core Curriculum at SWVGS. Students are expected to complete meaningful projects that offer new information. Simple projects and step-by-step demonstrations found on many websites are not acceptable projects for SWVGS students. It is important that you encourage your child to begin thinking about and researching a science fair topic very early in the school year. More information about the SCT Science and Technology Seminar and Project courses is available here.

At the end of each January, SWVGS holds its own science consortium, usually in Edwards Hall at New River Community College. The SWVGS science fair is an opportunity to showcase independent research projects completed by all SWVGS students. Students create and present project displays and discuss their work with judges familiar with the content area. Project sponsors score project displays according to SWVGS rubrics for grades in the SCT198 and SCT298 courses.

Place awards are given by judges in fourteen different categories. First, Second, and Third place, as well as Honorable Mentions, are awarded based on project merit. Grand award winners are selected in Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences. First place winners of the Southwest Virginia Governor's School Fair will attend the Blue Ridge Highlands Regional Science Fair at Radford University, usually held in March. Additional place winners may also attend the Regional Fair according to availability of slots. Participants in the Regional Fair have the opportunity to compete to attend additional Fairs at the State and International levels. The Grand Award winners at the Regional Fair will also win an all-expense paid trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair.

How can I help my instill honor and academic integrity in my child?

  • Talk to your child about what it means to have integrity
  • Emphasize and demonstrate that you value integrity over grades
  • Reward honest effort even if it does not produce "A" work
  • Make sure your child understands that you do not expect perfection
  • Help your child mangage their time, work consistently and effectively; for example, mark a calendar with the dates of your child's exams and important due dates, and make sure that they prepare in advance
  • Monitor your children's time on the computer; block common paper mill websites using available parental controls
  • If your child is caught cheating, take immediate disciplinary action; also, find out why they cheated, and take steps to remedy the situation; emphasize the need for your child to take responsibility for their choices and to accept the consequences of their actions

How will colleges know my child attended the Southwest Virginia Governor's School?

Students should send transcripts from both SWVGS and their home high school when applying to college. Availability of Governor's School transcripts make admissions officers aware of the types of courses in which your child was enrolled and provides a profile of our school as a specialized science, mathematics, and technology school for gifted, high-achieving students.

Students may request SWVGS transcripts through the SWVGS guidance counselor. Students should notify the guidance counselor of the number of transcripts needed and allow several days for the transcripts to be prepared.

How can my child request transcripts from New River Community College and Radford University?

After accepting admission to a specific college or university and upon completion of all senior year course work, students will need to request official transcripts from the dual-enrolling institutions. Students are responsible for having NRCC or RU forward transcripts to a college of their choice. Only semester grades will appear on a student's NRCC or RU transcript.

  • Students may request SWVGS transcripts through the school’s School Counselor. Students should notify the School Counselor of the number of transcripts needed and allow several days for the transcripts to be prepared.
  • Students may request NRCC transcripts by creating a Parchment account; general information on requesting NRCC transcripts can be found at:
  • Students may request RU transcripts by creating a transcript ordering account. A link for creating that account, as well as general information on requesting RU transcripts can be found at

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