In hopes of being more competitive with surrounding school systems, Lenoir City Schools will offer a science, technology, engineering and math academy in the fall.
Superintendent Jeanne Barker said with the wealth of career and technology classes already offered at the high school, it seemed like a natural fit to establish a STEM curriculum to better prepare students for their future careers.
The academy will offer focus areas in pre-veterinary medicine, plant science, professional health care, pre-engineering, math and science.
Barker, along with the Lenoir City Board of Education, believes the academy will offer countless benefits for students as they prepare for college or a career.
"We have students who are willing to step into technical disciplines, and I think it's the next logical step to some of the programs that we already have," Barker said.
BOE members and school administration discussed the STEM academy during Thursday's workshop. "Our main goal here is to just better prepare students for what they're going to need to be successful. We believe STEM is a big part of that," Melanie Harris, Lenoir City High School CTE director and assistant principal, said, adding she believes a STEM academy better prepares students for the workforce.
With the STEM academy, students will complete a minimum of 30 credit hours and three courses in their area of focus to graduate. Students will follow a four-year plan geared for their area of focus. LCSHS seniors now are required to graduate with 28 credit hours.
"They would have to have an initiative and a desire to want to do this, to be involved with it to begin with," Board member Glenn McNish said about the jump in credit requirement.
"This is a different sort of kid. They're driven and they're competitive. We want those opportunities for them to be able to challenge themselves," Harris said.
"You describe the student right there. We know those are the kind of students who need the hands-on, let me do it kind of classes. That's what this is," Barker said.
LCHS Principal Steve Millsaps believes the academy will better prepare students for the local workforce.
"I think this serves a great community. ... It's unbelievable how many (jobs) go unfilled because there aren't the laborers to meet the requirements," Millsaps said. "It's important that we all stay involved in supporting this type of initiative."
Students must apply and meet certain requirements to participate in the STEM academy. Harris said incoming freshman and rising sophomore and juniors for the 2013-14 school year are eligible if they meet certain requirements.
"Now if we have seniors who have met all of the requirements on that path and if we can pull this STEM course off by the second semester then they will be eligible to apply too," Harris said.
"STEM is a way of thinking. It's not just a discipline. It's a whole way of thinking, and you're dealing with children that have this desire to be problem solvers and critical thinkers," she added. "They want a challenge, and those are the types of students that we are targeting. It's a whole different way of thinking."
Barker said since the school's CTE courses parallel classes required for the STEM academy, the biggest expenditure for the academy will be upgrading technology. Barker said she hopes more classes can be offered through the school's new virtual classroom to give students an opportunity to take a variety of courses and open up elective credits should a STEM student need them.
"Are we going to struggle and have challenges? Yes, but it's exciting to be able to step out and say we are doing this. We are taking this first step, and we are going to meet each of the challenges as they come along."
Barker said the CTE program will continue as it is.