By David Porreca Since its founding in 1921, the UI Laboratory High School has been noted as an innovator in curriculum development and teaching methods. Its accomplishments have ranged from the creation of the "New Math" to more recent developments such as the Illinois Web Access Virtual Education project, an undertaking designed to disseminate mathematical teaching software to other high schools in the state. But for all of their school's achievements, Uni High students and faculty members over the years often have felt isolated from their surrounding campus and community, says new Uni High Principal Shelley Roberts. In the view of Roberts, who has been on the job since July 1, one of the main tasks facing Uni is to overcome this sense of being "an island unto itself." She hopes to help reconnect the school to both the UI campus and the Urbana- Champaign community. "We are a public school, although not everyone realizes that," Roberts said. "It's important for us to fit in and meet the needs of the community." One way the school is increasing its interaction with the campus is through research projects that involve cooperation between UI researchers and Uni High students and faculty members. About seven or eight such projects are under way involving campus researchers - mainly graduate students, Roberts said. The projects include a study of what goes on in the cognitive processes of students as they learn how to write, as well as a study of how students handle and incorporate new ideas that they are exposed to in science classes. Other studies involve work in educational anthropology, educational psychology and multicultural education. In cooperating with such research work, Roberts said, Uni High is not simply being altruistic. The school gains in many ways, not only by forging more direct links with the UI but also by exposing students directly to the nature and logic of the research process. Indeed, how much educational benefit students would derive from participating in a project is a key factor in determining whether Uni agrees to take part in a study. After a researcher contacts Roberts about a project, she forwards the proposal to the school's executive teachers (department heads). "If they think it's manageable, we try to identify teachers and students who would be appropriate to work with the researcher," Roberts said. "They have the right to say no. It has to be a fit." Roberts herself came to Uni High fresh from completing her doctoral dissertation in educational anthropology in the College of Education's educational psychology department. In fact, her own ties with the UI were strengthened recently after the department granted her adjunct status on its faculty. "This allows me to be in a position to supervise and grade students [in the department] and to work collaboratively with teacher educators," Roberts said. She also is being reviewed for an appointment to adjunct status in the curriculum and instruction department. Roberts, who is married to Dewey Moore, a senior scientist at the Illinois Geological Survey, earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and anthropology from Occidental College in Los Angeles, and a master's degree in social relations from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. A native of Los Alamos, N.M., Roberts worked from 1980 to 1987 at Knox College in Galesburg, serving variously as assistant dean, associate dean and acting dean of students. From 1988 to 1990, she was a teacher and director of curriculum research at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, N.M., before beginning her doctoral studies at the UI. "Uni High bridges the world of research and practice," Roberts said. "It's the perfect job for me. I feel very fortunate." With an enrollment of 284 students and a rigorous admissions process, the school often has been thought of as an elite preserve remote from the Urbana-Champaign community, even though it is a public school with students from a fairly broad spectrum of backgrounds. "It's important to me that people realize that we're not a private school," Roberts said. But because the school has no power to tax, Uni asks parents for donations to make up for whatever funding the state does not provide, the ideal being $1,600 to $1,800 per family. However, admission is not based on ability to pay, and the Parent-Faculty Organization provides scholarship funds to cover fees and book costs for needy students. It is this donation that often leads people to believe that the school is private. Moreover, even though Uni High takes in students from as far away as Danville, Arcola and Paxton, and even though two- thirds of the student body are not children of UI faculty members, the image still persists that the school is mainly for faculty children from Urbana and Champaign. Overcoming such an image will not happen overnight, Roberts said. In all likelihood, the school will need three to five years to put into place all the changes that Roberts and the faculty have in mind, such as outreach programs that would get students more directly involved in their communities. Developing a greater interaction with the UI also will take time, Roberts said. In addition to expanding its ties to the campus and community, Uni High will continue its own innovative work in teaching and curriculum development. Recently, the school received a $64,197 grant from the Scientific Literacy Board of the Illinois State Board of Education in support of the school's Web Access Virtual Education project, or WAVE. The money came on top of a $5,000 grant for the WAVE project the previous year from the Alcoa Foundation in Pittsburgh. Led by Carol Castellon, head of Uni High's mathematics department, the WAVE project consists of Uni and five other central Illinois high schools working together to develop computerized math-teaching material that can be transmitted over the Internet. "It's a nice model for a cooperative approach to working with technology," Roberts said. Indicative of Uni's strengthening ties with the campus and community, the WAVE project makes use of the math software Mathematica, developed by Wolfram Research Inc. of Champaign. The project will distribute its teaching material over the Internet by using NCSA MosaicT software developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the UI. In the meantime, as Uni faculty and students go about their work, Roberts will continue her efforts to bridge the remaining gaps between the school and its surroundings. "I want to assure the staying power of the high school," she said. "I want this to be a fitting place for kids. It's not a school for everyone, but I do want to try to attract students who may never have thought they could do well in an environment like this."