St. John STEM school puts students on pathways to future careers

Published 12:10 am Saturday, August 11, 2018

RESERVE — Eighth grader Jaiden Reed sees the new St. John the Baptist Parish STEM Magnet program as a pathway to a future in biomedical engineering.

“I was really excited about it because my family has been hoping for a STEM school ever since we moved here from Northern Michigan,” Jaiden said. “I’ve always wanted to help people by making prosthetic limbs. I was inspired to apply here when I learned about opportunities for scholarships, grants and college credit that will help me prepare for that job.”

Shelisa English stands in the Mac Lab, where she serves as the STEM program’s digital storytelling teacher.

Eighth grader Carlo Travis is equally ambitious, eager to take technology and math courses to one day become a 3D software developer.

“STEM is applying your mind using tech, math and everything used to make creative productions in games, movies and TV shows,” Carlo said.

“Learning how to use the technology will help me get into college.”

This year, 220 St. John the Baptist Parish eighth through 10th graders are exploring digital media and pre-engineering pathways at the old Leon Godchaux Junior High School, the site of the new STEM Magnet program.

Classes including robotics, engineering design, programming, digital storytelling, web design, photography, motion graphics and video are modeled after Louisiana State University curriculum, and some come with opportunities to obtain dual enrollment college credit.

Each student receives a laptop and is required to take an introductory computational thinking course to learn how to code, according to master teacher Keila Joseph.

The STEM classroom design includes small tables.

Eighteen teachers stepped into the roles of students at LSU this summer, Joseph said, completing projects and tests to earn certification to teach the courses.

Though still considered students of East St. John High or West St. John High, students attend the STEM Magnet school full-time, a model Principal Terran Perry said is based on top performing school districts in Louisiana.

The program starts this year with eighth through 10th graders with plans to expand a grade level each year until it is an eighth through 12th grade school.

“We have some of the top performers throughout the parish at this school,” Perry said. “So often, we tend to focus our attention on struggling students, as we should. However, when we do that, we tend to forget about kids who are already performing at high levels.

“We want to continue pushing those high performers so they can move their ACT scores from 25s to 30s and have the choice of whatever college they want.”

The STEM cafeteria has a college student union vibe with charging stations and small group seating.

According to Perry, who also maintains principal duties at Garyville-Mt. Airy Magnet School, a partnership with Xavier University will see the introduction of a pharmacy pathway for the 2019 school year.

Traditional core subjects and literacy are also taught and held to high standards, he said.

Plans for the STEM Magnet program developed quickly, Perry said, and the goal was to create an environment closely resembling a college campus.

Students are not held to a dress code as long as they present themselves appropriately, and classroom seating is easy to rearrange for collaborative projects.

Joseph compared the school cafeteria to a college student union, compete with technology, charging stations and small group seating.