News and Features

Plano Academy Adds Art To Popular STEM Teaching Approach

For the past seven years, Texas lawmakers have funded STEM academies – public schools stressing science, technology, engineering and math. This fall, Plano ISD launches a variation on that theme, KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports on the new STEAM Academy.

Listen to the KERA FM radio piece:

Principal Renee Godi. Photo: Bill Zeeble.

Think of the STEAM academy as STEM, with the “A” tossed in for arts.

“You cannot do anything in the world without coming right up in front of something that somebody has designed; Art in some way,” says Linda Aponte. She’s this new school’s art teacher. She says art helps kids think creatively, and it’s an integral part of living.

“I don’t think you could do anything in your life if someone hadn’t had a design element in it and thought about it from an art perspective.”

In today’s world of sophisticated technological products, art and design are increasingly vital. The late Steve Jobs attributed some of Apple’s explosive success to product design. Local high tech giant Texas Instruments is aware of that. That’s one reason it’s investing $5 million into this stand-alone Plano school. Employees will work out of the academy, and help students on a regular basis, says TI’s K through 12 director, Aleta Stampley. She adds the company has helped fund North Texas science education for years, but this will be different.

“We are no longer watching and waiting to see what comes out of the pipeline and whether or not that’s somebody we want to employ,” says Stampley. “We’re going to get in there and be a part of that pipeline.”

With TI’s input and ideas from Plano parents and staff, the school’s look and design will be different too.

“There are no caves, there are no classrooms in the traditional sense.

Jacie Moore, STEAM’s English teacher, says this campus will not be “old school.”

“It is all open and we work together,” Moore says. “All the different disciplines are writing together. Every problem has the art and technology component and we won’t have offices. We have teacher spaces. This is real life. This is how they’ll be working most likely, in their creative fields.”

Moore says the physical set-up lends itself to creative collaboration among students. And Linda Aponte says students will need to collaborate. She says a lot of learning will stem from tough questions that demand creative, if not artistic, answers. She says the teaching method here, and the curriculum, will look completely new.

“I mean it doesn’t’ look like anything we’ve done in the past. We’ll start with what we’re calling a driving question – the question might be, “How on earth could we live on the moon?”

Or, as resources grow scarce, how can families live in smaller and smaller homes? These are the kinds of questions that’ll drive learning here. Parent and local business person Raj Menon hopes this school’s education will prepare today’s kids, possibly including his, for an unknown future.

“To be productive in a job or in a career that spanned the next forty, fifty, sixty years in companies that don’t even exist today, in job descriptions that don’t exist today,” says Menon.

He sits on Plano ISD’s Visioning Committee, that okayed the STEAM concept. Few exist in the country, so far. To get in, students must apply, but that deadline has already passed for this year. Principal Renee Godi says she wanted this job to help direct students who will take ownership of their education.

“When you hear about this kind of learning, you identify with learning in a way that you’ve never identified before,” says Godi.  “I think. many of our students are doing quite well in a traditional school setting. And the question I’ve challenged has been, are you thriving in that environment? I think that’s really the right question to be thinking about, and could you be thriving here v. another environment?

Godi cannot wait to find out. The school is expected to teach up to 300 students.