The Downingtown STEM Academy is the third high school in the Downingtown Area School District. The STEM Academy opened in the fall of 2011 at 335 Manor Avenue, Downingtown, PA 19335.
The Academy is an IB World School offering every student the opportunity to earn an IB Diploma. The curriculum offers Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Pathways. Students are engaged in rigorous, challenging academic work that requires a mindset of growth and effort.
In 2009, the Downingtown Area Board of Education approved the creation of an innovative magnet school option for 800 Downingtown Area School District students. This school is now known as the Downingtown STEM Academy.
The Overcrowding Concern
The Downingtown Area is a school district of approximately 12,000 students located in western Chester County. The growth of the district’s population in the preceding fifteen years forced the School Board to seek out solutions to the overcrowding problem at the two already existing high schools. Considering fiscal responsibility and a national call to increase academic rigor, the School Board voted to renovate the vacant, original Downingtown Junior-Senior High School (circa 1932) in lieu of constructing a third high school at nearly ten times the cost.
A Call To Action
- In 2007-2008, a study was completed by central administration focusing on the integration of 21st century learning skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, technology utilization, and collaboration.
- National Call to Action – Excellence in STEM education is an important factor in the nation’s ability to remain competitive in our global economy. Initiatives at the national level include:
- Educate to Innovate
President Barack Obama launched Educate to Innovate, a campaign to improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), on November 23, 2009. This campaign includes education reform not only from the federal government but also asks leading companies, foundations, non-profits, higher education, and science and engineering societies to work with young people across America to excel in science and math.
- E2 for Innovation
Engineering Education for Innovation Economy Act – The Engineering Education for Innovation Economy Act, introduced in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 25, 2010, establishes mechanisms to help and encourage states to integrate engineering design concepts into their standard K-12 science and math curriculums. The goal of E2 for Innovation is to improve the effectiveness of instruction in these important subjects and introduce far more students to the vital fields of engineering and technology.
- National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting
An excerpt from President Obama’s speech on April 27, 2009: “I’m here today to set this goal: We will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development. We will not just meet, but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race, through policies that invest in basic and applied research, create new incentives for private innovation, promote breakthroughs in energy and medicine, and improve education in math and science. This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history.“
- The Need for Academic Rigor
The national call for an increase in academic rigor to address America’s decline in international educational rankings drove us toward three programs – International Baccalaureate Program, STEM Pathways Program, and a One-to-One Laptop Initiative.
Philosophy and Non-Negotiables
This school was to be based on effort and interest, and not a school for the elite like many other magnet schools around the country.
- Non-Negotiables presented in October 2009 by Dr. Mussoline, Superintendent.
- The school will open at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
- The school will serve 800 students from grades 9-12, pulling approximately 100 students from each grade from each high school each year.
- The main objective is to prepare interested students to gain entrance into colleges and careers related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
- One-to-One computer model for curriculum access.
- A blended approach to teaching and learning.
- Integration of 21st century learning skills.
- A school for the future for the digital age.
The Development Process
- Committee Formation
Over 100 community members, teachers, students, and business professionals were formed into specialized committees with the purpose of making informed recommendations to the school board. These committees included Curriculum, Instructional Delivery, Programming, and Facilities. Meetings took place weekly over the course of a year (2009-2010).
- School Visitations
Small committees of faculty and administration visited in-practice STEM and IB schools during the planning process.
Visited schools – Bronx Tech (STEM), Brooklyn Tech (STEM), Dwight School (IB), UNIS (IB)
- Promoting the Concept
Several large events (as well as smaller events) were carried out.
- STEM Defined Night – One year prior to opening, a Night of STEM Exploration for families was provided. Dozens of STEM businesses including Lockheed Martin participated in a fair type setting so students and parents could ask questions about careers and entering the STEM workforce.
- STEM Professionals’ Breakfast – Six months prior to opening, local business professionals discussed their role in the development of the school as well as opportunities for internships, donations, and partnerships.
- Ongoing – Promoting is an ongoing process via our online blogsite, http://dasdstemhowler.com/.
Faculty and staff hiring started approximately one year prior to the building opening. The original faculty consisted of thirty teachers, including fifteen transfers from our four other secondary schools. The remaining fifteen faculty and staff was hired over the course of the year prior to opening. Each of the next two years saw an additional 15 teachers added each year to reach our full faculty of 60.
- Professional Development
The initial faculty of fifteen (internal transfers) were given release time during the 2010-2011 academic year during professional development sessions to plan curriculum, choose resources, and work through team building activities.
- ASSET Training – All faculty members in the first three years completed ASSET training.
- IB Training – All full time faculty members received training in their respective IB courses such as IB Biology, and Theory of Knowledge.