Overview. The UTPB STEM is an innovative public, open-enrollment charter school currently located on the UTPB campus in Odessa, Texas. 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. Other school campuses will be added as funds are available until the maximum enrollment of 3,900 is reached within the two counties. The 2016-2017 enrollment is at 574 to date.
The UTPB STEM Academy is dedicated to implementing the newest and most promising practices in education with an emphasis in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The foundational belief is that learning should be both engaging and social. Students work collaboratively on challenging curriculum, which in turn, enable them to experience engaging learning opportunities in order to develop conceptual knowledge and depth through project based learning (PBL). Research provides evidence that this type of engaged problem-solving results in a better understanding of concepts and improves cognitive development at all ages. Students learn 21st century skills like communication, research and collaboration, and problem solving which are deeply embedded into the PBL environment of the Academy. Teachers work together to design projects lasting usually 3-4 weeks. The projects are designed using the state standards, TEKS and CCRS, which provide students the opportunity to not only learn the information required at each grade level but to also have the opportunity to put the information into action through real-life simulated projects.
General Information. All students are engaged each day until 2:30 in problem/project-based learning and spend the remainder of the day receiving instruction through the use of technology. All classes are capped at 22 and teachers are required to have master’s degree or in the process of obtaining a master’s degree. Students also have many opportunities to learn from college professors and other community leaders and professionals.
Students in grades K-4 receive iPads and grades 5 and above will receive Surface Pros or similar technologies. Most textbooks and library books will be virtual and downloaded onto their electronic devices. Upon reaching the 9th grade, it is expected that the majority of the students will begin to take dual credit courses from UTPB and that upon graduation, each student will be well on their way towards their bachelor’s degree.
The students at the Academy are taught research skills beginning in kindergarten which will greatly increase their likelihood for success in the pursuit of degrees beyond high school and in making life decisions. Beginning fall 2016, the Academy will begin phasing in the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) and focusing more heavily on the T-STEM Blueprint.
Long Term Goals and Objectives. It is believed that the Academy will be the model district that other districts will desire to replicate based on the expected success. Students already embrace the model and are enthusiastic and excited about taking charge of their own learning and the Academy is seeing amazing results early in the first years of operation. Scores indicate the success of the Academy in that the scores of the students are higher than ECISD, MISD, and the state.
Beginning in the spring of 2015, UTPB opened the UTPB Ingenuity Center which will seek to 1) prepare college and workforce ready students; 2) support STEM teachers and students; 3) address the quality of the current STEM teaching force; and 4) prepare more qualified STEM teachers into the pipeline. The center will be closely aligned with the Academy in that it will seek to promote the innovative design and assist other districts in replicating the “21st century skill” instructional model and promote STEM among students and teachers. The UTPB Ingenuity Center will help promote the UTPB STEM Academy as the model district and facilitate active student learning environments across the region.
A major goal of the Academy leadership team is to secure external funding to open other campuses so that all parents who desire to send their children to an Academy school can be accommodated and not have to be placed on a waiting list. The goal is to have two other campuses within the next five years, one in Midland and one in West Odessa. By 2021, the UTPB STEM Academy will begin graduating students who not only have an exceptional high school education but will have as many as 60 college credit hours.
The UTPB STEM Academy is representative of UTPB’s commitment to education, not only to post-secondary, but to the entire educational spectrum including meeting the economical need of the Permian Basin and Texas as a whole. STEM careers are plentiful in Texas and yet the demand outweighs the number of students graduating with STEM degrees. The UTPB STEM Academy is one way in which students are encouraged at a very young age to see the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and provides the environment in which they can not only learn but enjoy learning while actively engaging in critical thinking opportunities and exploration.