T-STEM 4A new opportunity has become available for Donna ISD students, thanks to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) recent decision to allow the district to operate a Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) Academy at each of the two high schools.

The change means that Donna High School and Donna North High School will oversee a T-STEM Academy for a period of one school year which begins August 2017. The campuses must meet all the requirements set forth by the TEA to keep the designation. The campuses must re-apply every year.

DISD Director of Advanced Academics Elena Betancourt Delgado said the designation would not have been possible without the support of DISD Superintendent Fernando Castillo, the Board of Trustees, and the two campus principals and their staff who spent countless hours working on the proposals that were submitted to TEA for consideration.

T-STEM designation 2“This is the best thing that could have happened for our Donna students,” Delgado said. “The opportunities for our students surpassed even my wildest dreams because I realize that what we are about to embark upon will forever change the lives of these students.”

Each T-STEM Academy will begin its first cohort with up to 125 incoming freshmen. The students selected are traditionally underrepresented minorities like Hispanics and females. The district student population is 99 percent Hispanic.

“These students are coming in the fall and will begin getting immersed in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Betancourt Delgado said. “During the first semester, they will be getting ready for the Spring when they begin taking college-level classes in the STEM areas.”

The T-STEM Academy at DHS and DNHS will function as a school-within-a school. “Some school districts have stand-alone campuses but Donna ISD is going to have what is called a school-within-a school,” Betancourt Delgado said. “Both schools will designate a certain area on campus to accommodate T-STEM classes.”

Betancourt Delgado said each high school academy will follow a Project Based Learning (PBL) curriculum. “Right now for example, students go off to their science classes and follow the science curriculum,” she said. “Then, they go to their math class and learn about math. They follow each subject’s curriculum. But under the T-STEM program, all core classes will be integrated while the students are working together trying to solve real-life problems. That’s the kind of learning they need to succeed at the college level and beyond into the workforce.”

T-STEM designation

Betancourt Delgado said the program must have the support of the business community to be successful. “The program relies heavily on community partnerships,” she said. “For example the district will need to send our students to businesses to get field work experience. That will likely occur when the students become juniors and seniors, so it’s important that the community get involved. So far, we have three partners but we need many more. We invite them to join us in this exciting endeavor.”

Each year a new cohort of up to 125 students will be selected. After the fourth year, DISD expects to have 500 students enrolled in T-STEM classes. When they graduate, the state will give them a T-STEM designation on their transcript.

“It tells the community and the universities that these students are ready to go into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields of study and be highly successful,” Betancourt Delgado said. “It says that we have prepared our students to function at high levels of integrated project based learning and helped them succeed in becoming the next generation of doctors, lawyers, architects and engineers. The possibilities are endless. It’s very exciting.”