Reporter: James Gherardi l Videographer: Jonathan Merryman
Danville, VA - As a part of Governor McDonnell's "Virginia, Growing Stronger" tour this week, members of his cabinet have been meeting with people all over the Commonwealth.
The Secretary of Education was in Danville Wednesday to meet with students and teachers at the governor's school, a collection of the best and brightest students from the Southside.
A college-level curriculum focused on science, math, and technology is preparing these kids to be the next generation's innovators and intellectuals.
"I will graduate with my associate's degree. So I will be entering James Madison University in the fall as a junior," said Manuela Vazquez.
At just 18 and a month away from graduating high school, Vazquez is already halfway through completing a college degree. For two years now, she's traveled to and from the governor's school five days a week and completed a research thesis. All the while a full time honors high school student.
"It gives you a lot of hands-on experience with college level classes, but it also teaches you how to manage your time wisely," said Vazquez.
"They are going to be very well prepared for what they end up doing in the next phase of their education," said Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash.
Fornash spent the day touring the governor's school's classrooms and laboratories. She says the learning that goes on among these wide-eyed students is far beyond preparation for college, but for careers of the future; ones focused on engineering, science and technology.
"Those are the jobs of the 21st century. And when we're here at the Governor's School, we really see that these schools are really preparing students for those careers," she said.
"It wasn't easy at all. But I think with hard work and dedication, anybody could accomplish it," said Vazquez.
Because the governor's school is free so was Vazquez's associate's degree. With the sky-rocketing cost of college, she was able to complete her first two years without paying a dime of tuition. About 30 students will be graduating from the program this spring.