A STEM-based charter school is expanding its cutting-edge program to Grade 10 near the University of Calgary next fall, with plans to also offer its science, technology and engineering options online to any interested Alberta students.
The STEM Innovation Academy, which opened last year to grades 7 to 9 students at a former Calgary Catholic School District site, will now lease vacant space for a new high school at the Alastair Ross Technology Centre just north of U of C’s main campus.
“STEM IA’s high school programming embodies a vision for education our province needs more than ever — one that inspires students to be technology creators and innovators, not just technology users,” said STEM IA co-founder Lisa Davis.
Working with industry leaders to address the fast-paced changes in technology education, the high school will be home to Alberta’s first MIT Fab Lab, with digital fabrication equipment such as 3D printers, laser cutters and virtual reality equipment.
“The launch of the STEM IA high school is a major step toward our vision of a rigorous and engaging STEM-focused educational program for the full Grade 7 through 12 continuum,” said STEM IA board chair Carolyn Chin. “The STEM IA high school is purpose-built for a future defined by innovation and rapid change.”
This spring, the UCP government increased support for charter schools, making expansions easier with a $25-million funding injection to be used for lease payments and another $47 million to renew capital infrastructure.
Critics have called Alberta Education’s growing commitment to the charter system a step toward privatization and two-tiered education.
But Davis is adamant that STEM IA is working toward equity to allow all Alberta students access to its coursework through online offerings by the fall of 2023, as well as in-person access to its Fab Lab in Calgary.
“We want equity, and we want to work with other school boards in making this curriculum available to all students.”
Charters have also been criticized for long waiting lists and limited access to a small number of students.
STEM IA now has about 90 Grade 9 students, the majority of which will continue on to Grade 10 at the new location next year, plus another 30 students who can apply to register through the STEM website at www.steminnovationacademy.com.
But with about 500 students now on the STEM IA waiting list, Davis says she is well aware that not all applicants can be admitted for Grade 10, which is why the program will offer STEM-based options online for full credit by September 2023.
“This is something we really want to do, to improve equity across Alberta and have this programming fully accessible.”
Davis added that if critics are truly concerned about equity, they would advocate to allow charters more space for students who are interested in STEM-based education.
“We welcome all students, in fact our charter ensures that we do,” Davis said, noting STEM IA has the same percentage of special-needs students, about 18 per cent, as the public system.
Wyatt Peterson, a Grade 9 STEM student who is eager to start at the new high school next fall, says he already loves his coding classes at STEM Innovation and the opportunity to solve complex problems.
“I love how technology can always be a part of our day-to-day learning, and how it’s preparing us to eventually enter the real world in developing the technology sector.”
Peterson’s classmate, Inayat Kang, says she hopes to eventually study computer science in university. “I really enjoy the robotics, the coding, manipulating variables. I didn’t have these kinds of opportunities at my previous school.”
The new high school, which will expand to Grade 11 and Grade 12 over the next two years, will renovate vacant spaces to create classrooms and labs in the 31-hectare University Innovation Quarter, at the Alastair Ross Technology Centre, at 3553 31st St. N.W.
Information nights about the new high school will be held at the STEM IA junior high campus, at 1204 96th Ave. S.W., on May 12 and 18.
In addition to the standard Alberta core curriculum, students will have access to courses in both established and emerging areas of study, including engineering and design, digital media, computational thinking, artificial intelligence, medical sciences and applications for business.