The GAR Foundation pledged $800,000 on Thursday for a new high school specializing in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) that will open this fall in the former Central-Hower High School near the University of Akron.
The foundation will contribute $150,000 immediately, then up to $650,000 more on a matching basis if donors in the community contribute up to $1.2 million by Dec. 1, 2014.
GAR President Christine Amer Mayer announced the high school grant at a “State of the STEM School” address at the National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM middle school. In 2008, the foundation contributed more than $1 million for the launch of the middle school.
The class that began as sixth-graders when the school opened in its temporary home at 400 W. Market St. in the fall of 2009 is graduating this spring and will comprise the bulk of the freshman class at the new high school.
Some of those incoming freshmen talked Thursday about the work they’ve done at the middle school that included making homemade night lights, refurbishing the electronic components of toys for children with disabilities, and learning to be mentors and leaders for younger students.
The school is accepting applications from students at other schools to fill out approximately 35 slots to meet an enrollment target of 100 for the ninth-grade class. A new class of freshmen will be added each year until the school enrolls between 400 and 450 students in grades nine to 12.
The curriculum and teaching approach emphasizing real-world problem-solving will be similar to the middle school’s.
The district also is developing opportunities for juniors and seniors to earn college credit, attend college courses and work with local companies and hospitals to get on-the-job experiences working with professionals in STEM-oriented careers.
Two engineers from Lockheed Martin happened to be at the middle school Thursday to engage fifth- and sixth-grade students in problem-solving exercises, such as making a cup that could hold water for a minute using only a sheet of unaltered copy paper.
The enrollment period for the new STEM high school is open to eighth-graders through March 5.
If there are more qualified applicants than openings, students will be selected based on a lottery that includes students from each part of the city and students living outside the Akron school district.
At Superintendent David James’ “State of the Schools” address sponsored by the Akron Press Club on Wednesday, someone in the audience asked if admission to the STEM middle school would continue to be based on a lottery rather than based on aptitude for math and science.
The grants and state legislation that helped create the school require lottery admission.
“The whole issue wasn’t about setting up a special program for people who had the aptitude, it was setting up a program for kids who didn’t, to develop more of that. And guess what? It worked,” James said to some of the loudest applause of the speech. “It’s building character, it’s building their achievement, and I think it should continue to be open by lottery.”
The Thursday event also included a presentation of early results of a three-year study funded by the National Science Foundation to describe the startup and spread of STEM teaching and learning at Akron’s middle school and four other “platform” high schools in the Ohio STEM Learning Network.
“Students and the staff are very positive about the school, and they’re reporting that they’re engaged in levels of cognitively demanding work at a similar rate to students at the high school level,” said researcher Melanie LaForce of the University of Chicago. “It’s very positive to see students at this age level recognizing that they’re engaging in this challenging work.”
The GAR Foundation on Thursday also announced $900,000 in grants for 22 Summit County nonprofit organizations.