New Deal's STEM Academy about more than science
Jan 22, 2013 (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A three-dimensional block shape glows blue on Taylor McWilliams' laptop computer in an Introduction to Engineering Design class at New Deal High School.
A freshman, Taylor was learning how to recreate in 3-D software a physical object she'd made out of wooden blocks in class.
"There's a lot that you wouldn't expect to be in engineering," Taylor said.
Engineering courses are not typically offered at Texas high schools, but New Deal is not a typical high school. It is a state-designated STEM Academy, focusing on preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
Superintendent Steven McCray said the Texas STEM Academy program, which is run by the Texas Education Agency and a public-private partnership known as Educate Texas, allowed the district to design the high school to engage students in rigorous learning with high expectations.
"It also fosters critical thinking and it allows us to have our commitment to have a college- and career-ready focus at all levels," McCray said. "That's what we're building. And that's what we're seeing."
Taylor took her first engineering course, Gateway to Engineering, as an eighth-grader at New Deal Middle School. While she is planning to become a pediatrician, she also plans to continue taking engineering courses.
"Next year, we'll be doing more in mechanical engineering," she said. "We learned a little about that already. I like mechanical engineering."
New Deal High is one of 65 STEM Academies across the state and one of two in the South Plains. Harmony Science Academy, a charter school in Lubbock, is also a STEM Academy.
The STEM Academy at New Deal is funded in part by a grant from TEA and from the Texas High School Project.
"When the first round of STEM grants were announced seven years ago, we decided to pursue the grant because it would provide opportunities to benefit our students and provide our teachers with resources in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math to prepare our students for college and career opportunities for the 21st century," high school Principal Jerry Adams said. "We are always interested in pursuing anything that will benefit our students and support our teachers in these efforts -- and certainly, the STEM grant was a perfect fit for these needs and supporting our students for life after high school."
He said the "STEM philosophy" is now part of the "campus DNA, our culture."
"Our social studies and English teachers are as much involved as science and math teachers with developing of rigorous and relevant projects in their classrooms," Adams said.
The New Deal STEM Academy's motto, "College Ready, Career Ready, Life Ready," is displayed in every hallway of the high school campus, a reminder that every student is working toward life after graduation.
"Not everyone wants to be a scientist," Adams said. "That's why we emphasize college ready, career ready and life ready for the 21st century. That applies to everyone."
The state's STEM Academy guidelines require that students demonstrate critical thinking and use of technology across all disciplines but also interpersonal and organizational skills and participation in athletics, band, student council and other organizations.
About 100 of the high school's 200 students participate in band, Adams said, while about 70 students are enrolled in engineering courses.
New Deal High has transformed its Friday class schedule in order to support its STEM program objectives.
A weekly advisory period is used to encourage students to make plans for their post-high school education. Guest speakers visit the campus to talk about college and career readiness and students learn how to apply to college, seek out financial aid and to think in terms of career pathways.
New Deal students also can take "flex classes" on Fridays in a wide range of topics, from robotics, rocketry and aviation to chess, guitar and photography, many taught by instructors from outside the school.
Adams said the flex classes offer students a chance to learn in a low-stress environment that is not part of the state's standardized testing. Students also get the opportunity to interact with experts with business, industry and university backgrounds, contacts that may help them pursue their goals.
The results were demonstrated this past May at the school's first "College and Career Commitment Signing Day" ceremony, modeled on the signing ceremonies held for student athletes. Nearly all of the school's 42 graduating seniors participated.
"It's important for our students to know in New Deal, Texas, that they can compete not only on a state level but on a national level," Adams said.
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