STEM Academy getting a lot of applications

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin STEM Academy has proven so popular that there are just a handful of spots available for the upcoming lottery.
The lottery is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. April 27 in the multipurpose building of the STEM Academy on the UTPB campus, 4901 E. University Blvd. Superintendent Juli D’Ann Ratheal-Burnett said the campus currently has 590 students and its capacity is 594. As of April 11, 888 applications had been received, she said.
The campus goes from kindergarten through eighth grade this year and will add ninth grade next year.
“We’re actually at capacity this year, so we’re full right now and we’ll add another grade next year,” Ratheal-Burnett said. She added that most students will return, but there will be some that move during the summer.
A waiting list will be compiled with applicants that didn’t make it in the lottery, so as school draws nearer those youngsters can take those spots, she said.
“If we reach 1,000 applicants by the time we do our lottery on the 27th, we’ll put every single student on the wait list to ensure that we accommodate as many students as we can. We wish we could get them all in, but it comes down to having the facilities to accommodate that many students which we don’t have at this time,” Ratheal-Burnett said.
The campus has 66 students per grade, so next year, it will have 666 students, she said.
“I don’t think we’re going to add anybody else, probably, until the lottery. But if somebody comes in and says, ‘I want my child in right now. We would go ahead and put them in, but most people don’t move their children this late in the school year,” Ratheal-Burnett said.
The school doesn’t need to advertise or market anymore. All their interest comes from word of mouth, she added.
“Our students talk to other students at their Little League games and at other activities that they participate in. Our students really love the learning environment here and I think we hear that a lot from parents that as they come in for an interview when they’re interested in our campus, they share with us that they heard about the campus from other parents and other students that attend here,” Ratheal-Burnett here.
“We feel that our instructional model is … highly successful and the students are engaged in the educational process in such a way that it’s working,” she added.
For the lottery, Ratheal-Burnett said, they literally draw names and will draw until the last applicant is drawn.
“When one name is drawn, all of their siblings will automatically be selected as well. We don’t want families to be split up, so if we draw a second-grader’s name and they have a sibling in fifth and seventh grade we will automatically put those children in the academy as soon as that other child is drawn,” she added.
“We maintain this waiting list throughout the year. Even as far as January and February, we were pulling kids from the waiting list as we had openings. If they don’t get right now, there’s a possibility they could get in anytime during the school year next year,” Ratheal-Burnett said.
UTPB STEM Academy is an open-enrollment charter school, which means it is open to everyone and it’s free. It receives state funding but does not collect property taxes.
Ratheal-Burnett said the STEM Academy would love to accommodate every child, but facilities are the issue. “We will purchase buildings over the summer. That stretches the limits of the funds that we have just to get those,” she said.
Ratheal-Burnett said she attributes the success of the school to recruiting some of the best teachers and training teachers in an innovative STEM instructional model which includes project-based learning.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math. Project-based learning is when students learn by doing.
“Anytime you engage the kids and get them involved in active learning, you’re just going to increase the probability that they’re going to be successful, and if they like what they’re doing, they’re going to learn more,” Ratheal-Burnett said.
She added that the other factor in the STEM Academy’s success is that its parents are very involved in their child’s education.
“They have to agree to be an active partner with us in order to have their children here. It’s formal in writing. We not only have high expectations for our students, we have high expectations for our parents and they exceed that every day. The parents are just an amazing support system for our teachers,” Ratheal-Burnett said.
Chris Hiatt, president of the UTPB STEM Academy board and associate professor mathematics at UTPB, said the popularity of the academy is due to its focus on STEM topics and project-based learning.
He added that students have access to the most current technology, class sizes are small maxing out at 22 and teachers are highly qualified and the school focuses on college readiness.
“I think the STEM Academy represents the heart of West Texas – it’s diverse and filled with determination,” Hiatt said.
The charter was approved by TEA for a total of 3,900 students in its service area of Ector and Midland counties. The Academy started with K-6 in 2014 and will add one grade level each year with the intent to erase the transition barriers between high school and post-secondary education and to prepare college and career ready students.
Approximately 8 percent of Ector County Independent School District residents in kindergarten through 12th grades are enrolled in private schools, charter schools, or other ISDs, data from ECISD’s demographer, Population and Survey Analysts shows.
Private and charter schools expect to add just under 1,300 in enrollment during the next five years. The PASA information shows 384 ECISD residents enrolled private schools in kindergarten through 12th grades and 2,222 enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The information said 87 ECISD residents were enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade in other school districts.