Not only will STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch add a class of 11th-graders when school resumes in August, but it will do so in a building that will house an extra 12-14 classrooms, a state-of the-art advanced-placement lab and a fieldhouse.
The school will initiate a $4.1 million, 30,000-square-foot expansion at its South Ridgeline Boulevard campus once school lets out June 7, helping put a huge dent into its 500-student wait list. The expansion, according to executive director Penny Eucker, also means the school has openings for 22 new teachers for next year.
Eucker said the school is seeking teachers in all areas of study who have degrees in the specific fields they plan to teach, as opposed to teacher-education degrees, and said the top priority is hiring teachers to head capstone courses. Enrollment is expected to leap from 610 to 980 before school resumes and is expected to cap out at 1,500 once a K-5 is added in the next few years, somewhere nearby.
The wait list has the potential to balloon right back up, as Eucker says the school hosts anywhere from 30-70 parents on a weekly basis for tours. In addition to the advanced study and hands-on learning, she said one of the attractions to the school is that the AP classes are not age-dependent and that if a seventh-grader, for instance, was ready for college-level work and passed the placement test, he or she could enroll in the class.
“I always tell people on the tours to look at the student engagement, because when we have 30 parents visiting a classroom, the students may look up, but they don’t break concentration,” Eucker said. “They are so focused on what they are working on that they don’t attend to distraction. You don’t get that level of engagement unless students are really excited about what they are learning.”
Students at STEM School have a lot of crossover between classes, where they may design a concept for a golf course in shop and work on a business plan for it in their writing class and present the business plan in their communications course.
“Parents that are in the know understand that the world has changed and schools are often criticized because when a child comes in they have to slow down,” Eucker said. “The world moves so fast and a lot of schools move so slowly. When students walk in here, they have to speed up. … Students here are always moving, thinking quickly and they go home cognitively exhausted, but the space is comfortable.”
Eucker said construction on the first phase is expected to be complete in time for school to open on Aug. 12. The second phase of construction consists of a $1.6 million fieldhouse — featuring a running track, climbing wall, and home and away locker rooms — and is anticipated to be complete by the beginning of the second semester.
For more information about the school, visit www.STEMHigh.org.