“New” Sheldon ISD STEM Academy begins next school year

Students from STEM academy attended a field trip that was to a GIRLS (Girls Influencing Real Lives in STEM) Conference at Olle Middle.
Students from STEM academy attended a field trip that was to a GIRLS (Girls Influencing Real Lives in STEM) Conference at Olle Middle.

Beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, Sheldon ISD will be opening its first ever STEM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) at each of their middle schools.

What is STEM? STEM education is an approach to teaching and learning that integrates the content and skills of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Both C. E. King Middle School and Null Middle School will host a cohort group of (60) 7th graders each to start the academy. Students and their parents completed an application and were drawn from a lottery to be accepted. The school district plans on adding one more grade level a year to complete the middle school academy and progress into the high school academy in the future.

Students in this STEM academy will be given a challenging schedule next year that focuses on Project Based Learning in all of its core classes as well as an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class, a STEM Lab class, and two other elective classes that they choose. This challenging, yet supportive schedule is designed to not only prepare the students by supporting them with college readiness standards daily, but it will allow them to learn through experiences with hands-on projects, field trips, STEM career guest speakers and after school STEM activities.

Another focus of this program is on teaching the “soft skills” such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity that are required for success in the modern workforce. A STEM committee was organized a year ago to begin making site visits to successful STEM programs around the state to ask questions and conduct research to make sure the program starts small and grows into a successful program for the entire district. This STEM committee was made up of district administrators, curriculum personnel, personnel from San Jac College and business partners that are invested in the success of this program and truly understand the opportunities that it offers for the students of Sheldon ISD.

The ultimate goal is to offer a quality STEM program K-12 in the district within the next 3-5 years to be a model for others who want to start a program and so that students will be ready to enter the “future workforce” prepared for success.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in STEM fields are the fastest growing and highest paying positions in the 21st century global economy and account for over 10% of all jobs in the United States.

The decision to start small with a cohort group of 120 students in the 7th grade next school year is part of the 5-year plan for STEM. Sheldon ISD is opening a brand new high school in the fall of 2019 and they would like to have an approved blueprint for a T-STEM designated Academy in place that will allow students an opportunity to be on a STEM career path. This path will lead the students to take courses that will prepare them for careers in the fields of Computer Science, Engineering, Medical, and more.

One of the most important tasks to implement this STEM academy was to hire the right teachers. After many interviews they have chosen the 10 educators that they believe are perfect to lead this endeavor and provide the leadership and guidance the students need to be successful.

The first order of business is to provide quality project based learning professional development for these teachers from the University of Texas-Tyler in June, and then follow it up with the summer STEM camp for the academy students from July 31August 3. This camp is where students will begin to transition from learning in a traditional learning environment to one that challenges them to work within groups to communicate and collaborate to solve problems.