UISD discusses U-STEM Academy with interested families

During a U-STEM Academy Facebook Live presentation, officials discussed the ongoing registration of incoming sixth-grade students, eligibility requirements, and course and campus information.

As STEM has increased in visibility across the city’s schools and its careers have been highlighted in higher education, several changes have taken place at the district.

For the 2021-22 school year, all incoming sixth graders will be allowed to apply to the U-STEM Academy without having to take an entrance exam or participate in a lottery. This year, UISD will implement a ranking system that will evaluate students based on their fourth-grade and their first-half of their fifth-grade GPAs.

Families can start applying now until the strict March 26 end-of-day deadline. The application is reiterated to apply only for incoming sixth graders.

According to David Canales, the Executive Director of Middle School Education, any student can apply and have a good chance of entering the STEM academy, assuring that only GPAs will be reviewed. As the pandemic affected students’ course flow and work, STAAR exams will not be a part of the evaluation process.

There are currently six middle schools participating in the U-STEM Academy: Lamar Bruni, Los Obispos, George Washington, Trautmann, Raul Perales and United Middle schools. Up to 15 students will be chosen to take part for each of the campus involved in the program.

The middle schools will work in a buddy system which connects two middle schools — one with the program and one without. For example, incoming sixth graders attending United South Middle who are accepted will be attending Los Obispos Middle. Incoming Los Obispos STEM students will not have to worry about traveling to a different school for the program.

However, the parents of the USM students attending Los Obispos STEM academy will have to transport their student to the campus themselves. No district transportation will be available to travel between USM and Los Obispos. Students that are originally Los Obispos students would not have to make any changes to their transportation plans.

Once accepted, parents and students are expected to understand the commitment and be ready for more demanding school years.

Each year, students will have two STEM modules that will focus on the different fields aside from advance courses including advanced math, science and English. Canales said it’s similar to the magnet program.

Students interested can look forward to the first two modules which are design and modeling, and flight and space. Moving forward, students will take courses in app creating, computer science, automation robotics and more.

In spite of the advanced classes and the heavier workload they may demand, students are still welcome to partake in extracurricular activities such as band, athletics, etc. However, Canales emphasizes that the academy is a commitment and a responsibility that must be taken seriously. More will be expected from the children, and they are encouraged to commit.

Canales adds that this is a great opportunity for students as STEM fields are the future, considering that many of the systems used during the pandemic for virtual conferences, courses and organizations are a result of STEM field work. He believes that it is important to build a strong STEM foundation in all boys and girls, as the field will continue to get stronger in the next 10-20 years.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, fields in science, technology, math, engineering and others are becoming more vital. This is why they believe students everywhere should have access to STEM learning opportunities and environments.

The U-STEM program was started three years ago as a pilot program at United Middle School, and its first class is now moving on to high school. However, the program has not seen the number of students necessary to continue.

The UISD Board of Trustees have opened up the program for a number of other middle schools to bolster that number, and Canales encourages parents and students to take on the commitment.

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