The Calcasieu Parish School Board curriculum committee voted 14-1 to recommend the opening of E.K. Key Citgo Innovation Academy, a STEM magnet school on the E.K. Key Elementary campus.
The lone dissent was from board member Glenda Gay.
Tommy Campbell, chief academic officer, said the board was approached by Nikos Kiritis, dean of McNeese State University’s College of Engineering, about three years ago with a proposal to begin a program called Engineering is Elementary in 12 of the parish’s elementary schools.
“That program in the first year was extremely successful and popular with our students and our parents,” he said. “With our partnership with McNeese and Citgo, it allowed us to expand that EIE program to 24 of our elementary schools.”
Campbell said that about a year ago, E.K. Key Principal Laura LeDoux presented a proposal to create a STEM-based magnet school in an eight-classroom pod under construction on E.K. Key’s campus.
Campbell said he and Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus worked out the initial guidelines with LeDoux and asked her to create a model as to what her vision of the school would actually look like.
“Using EIE as an after-school program we currently serve our third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at E.K. Key,” LeDoux told the committee. “The first comment I heard from one of our very first student participants has stayed with me throughout this adventure: ‘I didn’t know what an engineer was; now I want to be one.’ ”
LeDoux said the E.K. Key Citgo Innovation Academy would be modeled after Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, which has a regular campus and a separate STEM academy wing.
She said the STEM learning environment her school is already creating allows students to engage in questioning, problem solving, collaboration and hands-on activities while addressing real-life issues.
Elementary Curriculum Specialist Tricia Miller, a member of the state’s LaSTEM Advisory Council, said the STEM magnet school is a step in the right direction.
“Our students lose interest (in science) by the time they are in fourth grade,” Miller said. “They are naturally curious, inquisitive. They are innovators at a young age; they’re sponges for those types of activities. We need to tap into that.”
Katherine Gertz, a teacher at E.K. Key, said her students are passionate about STEM curriculum and “light up” over the lesson plans.
“They run to class and are like, ‘What are we going to do today? How are we going to solve the problem? How are we going to work this out?’ ” she said. “We put them in groups and they work really well together, designing solutions to problems they feel really tied to.”
Campbell said the eight-classroom pod the academy would use would be made up of six classrooms — one for each grade — and one lab and a resource room for teachers.
Admission guidelines would be similar to those for T.S. Cooley Elementary Magnet School, Campbell said.
Campbell said that because of the school’s geographical location, the magnet academy would only be open to residents of Sulphur, Westlake, Vinton, Starks and DeQuincy.
An amendment by School Board President Mack Dellafosse to open the school to the entire parish failed.
The full board will vote on the recommendation in February.