By Melissa Quinn
After several years of planning and preparation, T.C. Williams administrators unveiled a newly created STEM Academy, open to students starting next school year.
The STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — program has been in the works for two years, and Alexandria City Public Schools recently opened enrollment for incoming freshman at the school’s Minnie Howard campus.
“What we’re hoping is that we’re going to be able to get a group of students together to really look at project-based learning and being able to grapple with some real-world problems we have in our community and work through a solution using science, technology, engineering and math,” said Sara Schafer, lead academic principal at the Minnie Howard campus.
Administrators have set aside 100 spots for interested students. Those admitted will participate in a curriculum developed specifically for the program.
Students will take math, English and science courses, as well as a course in world civilizations and an engineering explorations class. They also will participate in a new STEM explorations course, designed specifically for the academy’s pupils.
The institution is a first for T.C. Williams, with Cora Kelly hosting the only other STEM-driven curriculum in the district, said Pierrette Hall, the lead academic principal at T.C. Williams’ main campus.
Though the program is only available to first-year students at the Minnie Howard site, the academy’s coordinators hope it will eventually expand to all four grades at the school — and accept as many as 400 students.
Additionally, Hall said, the academy’s administrators hope to give students the opportunity to work with outside corporations such as defense contractors, museums and government offices for hands on experiences as the program evolves and develops.
The STEM Academy is fully staffed with T.C. Williams teachers who expressed interest in participating, and Hall hopes the tight-knit academy creates a niche where students and faculty cultivate a familial relationship.
“By providing a school within a school, we’re hoping the students have a community and create a family environment related to STEM so that kids are all working toward the same goal,” she said
And, T.C. Williams’ administrators hope the STEM Academy helps students move toward a more focused educational career — contrary to many who choose courses that run the gamut.
“From the time they walk in our doors, [the academy] will focus them on what they want to do with the rest of their lives,” Maxey said. “It’s providing them with a focused education from the get-go.”
Though the STEM Academy still remains in the preliminary phases, Maxey hopes the program becomes another avenue for T.C. students to explore their interests.
“One of the things we’re trying to create here is a culture of opportunity and make it available for our kids,” she said. “Whether it’s athletics, arts, ROTC, or the STEM Academy, this is what it’s all about and we want to encourage kids to take advantage of those incredible opportunities.”
Incoming freshman interested in learning more or enrolling in the STEM Academy are encouraged to call T.C. Williams’ Minnie Howard campus.