IDEA Yukon shows growth

Lauren Lopez walks around her second grade class at IDEA Yukon making sure her students are on track last Thursday. IDEA started school Aug. 2. (Ruth Campbell/Odessa American)

IDEA Yukon’s student body has grown this year both student and building-wise.

School started for the IDEA campus in Odessa and Midland Aug. 2. In about a month, a new wing will open for ninth through 12th grade students. Ninth grade will start next year, which will make Yukon IDEA’s first Odessa high school.

They mostly follow the same calendar as Ector County ISD.

They will continue to add a grade a year through 12th grade.

They just started ninth grade at IDEA Travis in Midland.

“We have just added fourth, fifth and eighth, so we are a fully functioning K through eighth campus. We have approximately 1,115 students enrolled,” Academy Principal Bethany Everette said.

IDEA Yukon has an extensive waiting list of 1,590, College Prep Principal Stephanie Eisenmenger said.

“Usually we would just add fourth and eighth (grade), but there was such a high demand that we added fourth and fifth and eighth so we were able to accommodate the community,” Everette added.

Students are coming from all over, so they had to add more buses and routes because a lot of children come from further away than five miles.

“A lot of people tend to think that we are a neighborhood school, but we actually serve all of Odessa so we bus a lot of our kids in,” Everette said.

Bethany Solis, executive director Permian Basin, said they have a pretty consistent model.

“We keep our schools fairly small with just a little over 100 students per grade level by design, for like that smaller family feel. But we hope to build more schools. There are no details on that; no timelines, but hopefully we’ll have more schools in Odessa in future years,” Solis said.

Any new schools would be free standing. Solis said IDEA already has property in southwest Odessa.

“Then we’ll just kind of see where the demand is from there,” Solis said.

With the addition of eighth grade, IDEA has opened a career and technical education track this year that will go through 12th grade.

“We’re looking at a couple of different pathways. One of the ones that our teachers are particularly interested in is entrepreneurship … teaching kids small business skills … how to develop their own business models and things like that,” Eisenmenger said.

“Right now, we’re in eighth grade so they’re just doing professional communication and data systems — how can you effectively communicate with one another and also how to use things like PowerPoint and Excel and Word,” she added.

Eisenmenger said they will continue to “grow” a CTE class every year.

“We haven’t definitively decided on what pathway we’re going to go down. There’s nine that are offered that IDEA supports and helps us with curriculum, planning and that kind of thing to make sure our teachers are well versed,” Eisenmenger said.

Rudy Gallardo, who teaches second grade with Lauren Lopez at IDEA Yukon, checks on students last Thursday. IDEA campuses started school Aug. 2. (Ruth Campbell/Odessa American)

Although they don’t have ninth-graders yet, they have high school courses for eighth-graders such as pre-Advanced Placement biology, algebra 1, Spanish and the CTE courses will all be counted for high school credit.

“So they’re getting their start nice and early, getting prepared for high school,” Eisenmenger said.

Solis said what’s significant about IDEA’s model is that it’s not just some students taking those accelerated high school courses, it’s all students.

“When you choose to come to Yukon, you know that you’re coming to a place that will put you on an advanced track and then for students that might struggle academically, we provide the supports needed to reach that higher bar,” Solis said.

She added that as long as you have the right supports in place, students always wow them with how capable and brilliant they are.

“We have many students who come in behind in math, but then with the right supports are in a high school algebra class in eighth grade, and rocket. It’s just a reminder (that) our kids can do it. We just need to provide the pathway,” Solis said.

IDEA is fully staffed.

“We really believe in developing our teachers in the field. We provide on-the-spot training daily and I think the culture that we build here for teachers really helps us be fully staffed by day one because they grow so much with the coaching that we do, and the support that we give them,” Everette said.

Solis noted that a lot of the leadership and some teaching positions were filled with internal candidates who were developing, growing and ready for promotion.

She added that IDEA is able to provide universal free breakfast and lunch for all students.

For the first five days, they host culture camp where scholars are taught procedures and routines, how to safely transition in the hallway and how to safely arrive and dismiss, Everette said.

“We put a lot of effort into that so that our scholars can be really set up for success. Then by day six, they’re ready to jump into curriculum because they’ve learned all those skills and practice to be able to successfully engage with the material,” she added.

Eisenmenger said those first few days are also a good time to start building relationships with students.

“The teachers start to learn their children and the things that they’re interested in. I know we did a pep rally the first week of school where they celebrated their college houses, so it’s just getting kids acclimated to the school and connecting with each other, but also their teachers” she added.

Solis said more than 90 percent of last year’s students have re-enrolled, perhaps going to IDEA Travis or other IDEA schools.

The campus also has a thriving sports scene.

“We just had tryouts for flag football and we had a very, very large turnout of scholars who are interested in those activities,” Eisenmenger said. “We have cheerleading tryouts coming up, and we just had volleyball tryouts as well. So those fall sports are getting going.”

“This year, our big focus is increasing the amount of clubs that students can enjoy; things like theater and choir. We’re looking at trying to align to what our teachers are capable of supporting, but also things that our students are interested in. We’ve done a student survey to figure out what we want to prioritize to make happen this year because we’re growing,” Eisenmenger added.

At the top of the list of what kids want is eSports.

“Kids like video games and when you can compete in them, the scoreboard goes up and it becomes even more fun,” Eisenmenger said.

She added that if eSports are going to make students feel connected to the school, they will work hard to make it happen.

Solis said every year they grow, they can offer more extracurricular activities.

“One of the things we’re fundraising for right now is to create a baseball team for our school. It’s going to be really fun, and I think a lot of kids really like baseball and softball, but it’s a little more of a heftier sport to launch … We have a whole bunch of hands in the bucket right now trying to figure out how we can make it happen this spring,” Eisenmenger said.