By Gladys Nuñez
San Antonio’s first STEM early college high school will provide 130 local students the opportunity to receive an associate’s degree in science as they complete high school.
Harlandale Independent School District and Palo Alto College joined in a partnership to develop the Harlandale STEM Early College High School, which will be the first in a large metropolitan area in Texas.
STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is a growing field in San Antonio. Demand for students to occupy jobs in those fields has increased. STEM Coordinator Anthony Khosravi said this program will help that.
“These programs, these STEM early college high schools, especially the one here at Harlandale, is going to prepare our students for their future high technology job,” Khosravi said.
Dr. Eddie Muzquiz Rodriguez, Harlandale STEM Early College High School principal, said the early college will have a real impact on students in the South Side. Rodriguez also is an adjunct professor who teaches secondary science methods in the College of Education at this university.
In the future, Rodriguez said, “We will have students, who are probably 17-year-old high school seniors, already with an associate’s degree in an area of STEM, which is needed right now in San Antonio.”
“At the same time,” he continued, the school “is going to provide these students with financial assistance because they don’t pay for the classes. Plus, the time that they’re saving is going to be phenomenal.”
Students in the program can take up to 60 credit hours by the time they graduate from high school.
“Because they’re so young, when they earn their associate, two years after graduating from high school with that associate [degree], they will have a bachelor’s [degree]. They’ll be 19 years old earning a bachelor’s [degree] and they will probably be 21 years old with a master’s [degree],” Rodriguez said.
The school will officially open in the fall semester. In the meantime, classes will meet temporarily at Frank Tejeda Academy until the Spring 2015 completion of the school’s $12 million building.
The STEM Early College High School will have its own stand-alone campus at Memorial Stadium on the South Side of San Antonio. Students will take classes there and at Palo Alto College.
Khosravi said the program wants students to be college ready.
“We really want our students to build that college readiness, both by curriculum and their skill set, in regards to classroom instruction but also that they’re familiar with the campus and they’re used to college resources and definitely college instruction,” Khosravi said.
Abel Gonzales, director of Gateway to College at PAC, said students could potentially take “their first college course as early as their spring semester of their freshman year.”
“It’s not going to be kind of a sudden immersion into college course work. We’re really gonna try to use that fall semester to prep students to kind of understand that process, the responsibilities and the skills associated with going to college,” Gonzales said.
Any student entering high school for the first time who has a 90 percent attendance rate while attending middle school and interested in STEM can apply. The application consists of demographic information and an essay.
“Because we’re following the blueprint or what is required from the state of Texas, we cannot be selective on the student who comes in,” Rodriguez said. “The only real thing is that we’re looking for a student who is interested in STEM.”
The Harlandale district students have embraced the early college high school and are excited about it.
“They really, really are,” Rodriguez said. “We went to recruit at the different middle schools and we had presentations for the parents.”
He added the program has collected more than its target number of applicants.
“It was announced on our website and we only needed 130 applicants, and we’ve far exceeded that number,” he said.
The idea for the early college high school came from the Harlandale ISD board of trustees and superintendent.
Gonzales said Palo Alto wanted to partner with Harlandale ISD to expand access to the community was one.
“This is really about expanding access to our local community and giving them the first step in feeling success at a college campus,” Gonzales said.
Harlandale ISD will complete a memorandum of understanding with Palo Alto to define the partnership and how it will work.
“In order for Harlandale ISD to receive this early college high school partnership, TEA [Texas Education Agency] has mandated that we work together and we formulate and execute a memorandum of understanding before the fall of 2014,” Gonzales said.
TEA is a state education governmental body, which oversees primary and secondary education.
“Palo Alto and Harlandale Independent School District are sitting together and collaborating what the partnership looks like, and the idea is that both institutions are trying to create the best possible plan for our students,” Khosravi said.
The memorandum of understanding is a negotiation of the partnership and how it will work.
“We’re looking at curriculum, we’re looking at facilities, we’re looking at every different facet to ensure that we have prepared a program that is the best quality for our student,” Khosravi said.
University could see enrollment boost
The program affects the schools involved, the South Side, and potentially A&M-San Antonio.
“Because we are located so closely to Texas A&M-San Antonio, the idea is that our students, not just get that associate [degree] but continue on to earn a bachelor’s [degree],” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez predicts A&M-San Antonio could see an increase in enrollment.
“We will have — hopefully if they all remain in the program –130 students every year that could possibly enroll into Texas A&M-San Antonio and their success rate would be much greater because they already have the college-going culture instilled in them to do well,” he said.
Khosravi said the early college will change the education environment in high schools.
“I’m super excited to be a part of this because I think that this is going to be a reformation of how high schools prepare students,” Khosravi said