ODESSA - It may still be getting built from the ground up, but come fall UTPB's science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Academy will be taking in its inaugural class. Now the pressure is on for administrators to live up to their high expectations.
"It's like blind faith that this is going to be an amazing thing, and UTPB has an amazing reputation, so I think parents recognize that and jumped on board," Academy Principal Jennifer Seybert said.
Just over 300 students were chosen from a lottery pick of more than 500 applicants. Now they'll experience a whole new way of learning.
"Kids will be cutting and gluing and building and performing and things you don't always get to see at a traditional school is what we're going to be able to do here," Seybert said.
All the subjects will be integrated. Fourth graders for example will start school with a space theme, and within that, they would study the planets, incorporate some math and social studies, and of course integrate general reading into the mix.
There will also be groups for projects, in which the teacher is also a member. Each "team" will be comprised of individuals that show strength in a unique area.
"There may be someone that's really strong in math and the performing arts so they might choose to do a skit and then the math that goes behind the project that person was really strong in, so lots of peer to peer tutoring, and then also with the teacher facilitating making sure the learning is going in the right direction," Seybert explained.
And despite educator shortages across districts, the school has a full staff without having to add incentives. According to Seybert, the teachers were looking for something a little different, and the academy's project-based setting fit the bill.
"We teach the state standards which is the TEKS-that's what every public school teaches- but they're able to do it in more creative ways and teachers love that. They want that academic freedom and so I think that's what brought them here, she said.
The teachers are currently in a 4-week training where experienced workers from University of Texas Tyler are sharing the model they've been using for their own primary academy. In the process, educators will also pair up and design the curriculum for the upcoming year.
"Just starting a school from scratch means so much preparation and so much work, but we're all here and we're ready to go and everyone's excited," Seybert said.
The K-6 students will be on the same grounds as the college kids, something that could be a concern considering the students may witness some overly mature behavior or bad habits. .
"I think in a college campus the good outweighs the bad. That if our 5-year-olds can see 22 year-olds studying and doing a cat dissection or something really cool in their biology lab and we can be witness to that, then there's more good than bad that comes of it.
Christina Bock is a parent who's son had initially been wait-listed everywhere. But Thursday she got the call, that Jonathan would be attending Kindergarten at STEM in the fall.
"I think it's more in tune with what the family needs," she explained. Bock said she admires the more individualized approach, which strays from the larger class sizes she was used to.
Additionally school would virtually be a half day since it lets out at noon- perfect, Bock said for the parents who want to scoop up their kids during lunch. The parents also have a list of mandates, one of which includes supporting their children in their minimum two hours of homework daily.
"That's something he's going to have to do is homework, so its better to start them off early. That way he gets used to the idea than having to wait untill it's too lateuntilthen he doesn't like the idea at all and then he doesn't do it," she said.
More importantly, she was happy at the implications of a place like this coming to the Basin.
"I guess it's keeping up with the bigger cities like Dallas and San Antonio, and the services that they offer there. Odessa's getting there, and I like that idea.