A transformation is underway at East High School. Starting next year, the historic school will begin a three-year transition into Shelby County Schools’ first T-STEM Optional program – with the “T” meaning transportation.
With Memphis being a global hub of the transportation industry, the program will be a pipeline to high-demand degrees and career fields in transportation, distribution and logistics. SCS is excited to team with the University of Memphis and local corporations, such as FedEx and Autozone, to develop a hands-on curriculum not found in traditional classrooms.
“I think the most exciting thing about this program is the industry support and the industry demand,” said Optional Schools Director Linda Sklar. “Industry really took the lead on this. They came to us with hopes we would incorporate transportation into our STEM programs.”
The unique curriculum was on display during an open house on January 18. Parents and students toured the school and visited the many STEM labs on campus, and teachers explained courses that will include engineering, flying and building planes, driverless cars and traffic control technologies.
In East High’s aviation lab, Zachary Wiggins watched with excitement as a current student demonstrated the flight simulator. Wiggins will be a freshman next year and is considering applying for the program next fall. His mother, Rebecca, says he has wanted to be an engineer since Kindergarten. She was amazed at the technology her son could be exposed to in the new T-STEM program.
“It’s wonderful. It is exactly what we have been looking for. My son has dedicated his life to his goal of becoming an engineer and this is exactly up his alley.”
East High’s transformation would not be possible without the support of the University of Memphis. Academic leaders are working closely with engineering professors and faculty from the Intermodal Freight Transportation Institute at the university. Dr. Stephanie Ivey, who is the director of the Institute, first presented the idea of a T-STEM school. She is keeping East High School connected to industry leaders who expressed a need for qualified employees.
“One of the things we are hoping to see out of this model is that it becomes a national example of how to develop a unique, industry-driven program of study and truly prepares students to be successful when they graduate,” said Dr. Ivey.
Engineering students from the U of M will also play an integral role at East High School as STEM ambassadors. The ambassadors will assist SCS teachers and students with lab work. They’ll also serve as mentors for students interested in pursuing a career in a STEM field.
Willie Sandifer is a STEM ambassador and East High alum. He knows first hand how important it is to get a good foundation in math and science before entering college.
“I think it is a great idea for the community. It brings a lot of opportunities to the community. It gives students a better chance at life. It broadens their horizons,” said Sandifer.
The T-STEM program will begin with ninth grade only in the 2017-18 school year. New students will attend East with current students in grades 10-12 as part of a school within a school. Each year, another grade will be added to the T-STEM program, making East High an all-Optional school beginning in August 2020, when the founding class will begin their senior year.
It isn’t taking long for upcoming freshman to get excited about the challenges and opportunities this new program will present. After getting a look at the student-built car in a lab and a room full of flight simulators at East’s open house, eighth grader Destiny Bonds is excited about what the new T-STEM Optional program has to offer.
“Its something that I want because I’ve never seen anything like it. It would help me get better opportunities in life, especially job-wise.”
For more information about the SCS Optional Schools application process, click here.