STEM Academy kicks off 10th anniversary celebration

Ermilina Rangel and Eleana Scott give cupcakes out to students during the STEM Academy 10th anniversary kickoff Friday. Other members of the STEM PTO were on hand to help with the celebration. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

With cupcakes, music, dancing and a photo booth, students and staff at STEM Academy kicked off a year-long celebration of the school’s 10th anniversary Friday.

Executive Director Shannon Davidson has been at STEM all 10 years.

The school is located on the University of Texas Permian Basin campus.

“I came over as a teacher in 2014 … It was originally part of the university. We were open enrollment charter under the university in 2014 all the way to 2022. That’s when we partnered with ECISD, but we’ve been in the same location for all 10 years,” Davidson said.

They would like permanent facilities, but they love being on the UTPB campus.

Davidson said it is good for students to see the university right next door, so to speak.

“That was the whole intention and goal of it in the first place was to create a pipeline all the way from kinder all the way up to 12th grade and even paths where they’re focused on the STEM curriculum, STEM pathways. When they leave here at the STEM Academy in 12th grade, they just walk over to the university and continue their education. That was always a goal and it’s been working for us forever since our first graduating class of 2021,” Davidson said.

A group of STEM students strikes a pose during the 10th anniversary celebration Friday. (Courtesy Photo)

The campus has just under 800 students kindergarten through 12th grade and just under 70 staff members.

“When we first started in 2014, we were just these two buildings and it was kinder through sixth grade and we had just over 300 students,” Davidson said.

The first graduating class was in 2021.

“The fun thing is our first group of kindergarteners in 2014, they are now our freshmen in ninth grade this year. So we’re watching them, we’re going to follow them all the way through,” she added.

They have a waiting list for primarily kindergarten through eighth.

“We have quite a heavy waiting list in those grade levels. There’s the highest demand in those … for us,” Davidson said.

There isn’t as much of a waiting list for high school.

“But we’re hoping to change that next year,” Davidson said.

She added that the partnership with ECISD has helped retain students.

When students got to eighth or ninth grade, they were choosing to go to other schools so they could participate in fine arts and athletics.

Members of the STEM Academy PTO distribute cupcakes to students Friday during the school’s 10th anniversary kickoff celebration. (Courtesy Photo)

STEM Academy has been a big part of Davidson’s life.

“This school is very special to me, to watch it transform and become what the goal or the intention of the school … we’re fulfilling that mission of having our kids focused on those STEM pathways and helping them graduate with college credit hours and then helping them see what their future could be like. It’s really been an exciting journey for me to be a part of this and every time we bring on a new staff member or teacher, we always want to help them see how they can put their imprint on this school because every little piece of this is different staff members’ vision and goals, the things that are important to them and what they bring to the school,” Davidson said.

She added that she thinks that’s why people want to be there.

“Every person here is so important to the well-being of our school and the students’ success. It’s our little community. I call it our little village,” Davidson said.

Kathleen Halford, director of business operations, has been at STEM Academy for eight years and UTPB for 10 years. She is the committee chair for the 10th anniversary committee.

Along with Friday’s kickoff, a STEM Gives Back month is planned that will be dedicated to community service for staff, students and parents.

A group of STEM students strikes a pose during the 10th anniversary celebration Friday. (Courtesy Photo)

A 10th anniversary logo was designed by one of the teachers, a time capsule will be created with a tin creation since tin is the metal for 10 years and a 10 reasons why STEM is the best, Halford said.

“We are hoping to have a large fundraising event in March. The money raised for that will help create a scholarship and hopefully a mural here at the school as a gift to the school for 10 years. We’re still working on planning that one, but we are hoping to have community support and businesses just really go out and help us with our goal this year,” Halford said.

Her oldest child started in first grade.

“I remember when we started classes in the UTPB gymnasium. We had no Wi-Fi and we had kids in racquetball courts, but they were learning and they loved it,” Halford said.

“When we got our first building, it was like we had won the lottery and we’ve just been able to expand since then. Our enrollment has increased and our students are amazing. They really take PBL (project-based learning) to a whole new level,” she added.

There are currently 10 people on the 10th anniversary committee, but they are always seeking more volunteers.

Wendy Sanchez has three children attending STEM.

Her oldest, Zachary, started in first grade and is now in third. She has twins who are now in first grade.

She said 10 years of STEM is truly awesome.

“This school itself has just been a huge blessing for our family. They pushed the students. They always encouraged them to do better. They not only work academically, but also for their self-confidence and it’s just been really fun to see them grow,” Sanchez said.