Math and Science Academy to welcome 68 freshmen, continues growth

The Math and Science Academy is an accelerated STEM program open to all SUSD high schoolers. (Submitted photo)

The Scottsdale Unified School District’s Math and Science Academy will welcome 68 freshmen for the 2019-20 school, marking its largest cohort for the STEM-based learning program.

The academy, based out of Saguaro High School but open to all district high school students, aims to provide a curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM. It also hopes to have students motivated and qualified to seek degrees in STEM fields at the next level.

MSA Booster Club President Lissa Erickson said the country is heading in a direction where there is continuing growth in science and technological fields, making it important to provide STEM opportunities at a young age.

Current STEM programs, Ms. Erickson says, don’t teach students how to think or achieve uniquely.

“The Scottsdale Math and Science Academy addresses this duality: the need to help our students grow in the sciences and technology, while yet retaining their own sense of individuality, creativity and self-determination,” she said via email.

Of those 68 rising freshmen already accepted, SUSD Governing Board President Patty Beckman’s twin daughters are among them. Ms. Beckman said the academy embodies what her family wants out of an academic experience and she thinks others want the same.

“My family, and others that I know, feel that with the MSA we have an opportunity not found anywhere else,” Ms. Beckman said. “It is that perfect balance of strong academics and educating the whole child. We couldn’t be more excited.”

The academy

Students in MSA, which began in 2006, start as freshmen in a cohort program, which they continue on through their sophomore years. This cohort takes math, science and English classes together at that time, all at the honors level.

Saguaro High School is at 6250 N. 82nd St. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

If they choose to continue into their junior and senior years, students must take nine accelerated math and science courses as well as STEM-based competitions and a field experience. Students also have access to a dedicated adviser who helps them choose their program of study and find internships.

Upon completing all requirements, students receive an extra diploma as they graduate from the distinction program.

With the unique approach to teaching, Ms. Erickson said students take an active role in their futures. This yields two benefits, she said. They include higher student engagement and an added measure of confidence.

“We are telling them we believe in their intrinsic right, and ability, to choose the futures they want,” Ms. Erickson said. “This engages students on a far more personal level in deciding their academic futures; which tends to drive a far more engaged and self-deterministic academic experience.”

Program Coordinator Chris Brandt said he’s seen students reap many benefits after completing the programs including higher acceptance into prestigious schools as well as better prepared for college-level work.

Mr. Brandt, who helped start the program, said it’s most rewarding to him to see how far they go and what they accomplish after they graduate high school.

“We’re about opportunities,” Mr. Brandt said. “Seeing the kids take the opportunity and go the extra mile knowing that ‘hey, you did more, you worked harder and now you get paid off.’”

But it’s not only about the academics. Program Coordinator Susan Lindberg said students have many opportunities an average high school student does not.

One such experience Ms. Lindberg remembered involved several female robotics students who wanted to put on an event to inspire young women in the area to participate in STEM activities.

In preparation for the event, the students took control. Ms. Lindberg said the students named the event, organized, made a logo and t-shirts. Her only role, she said, was to be “along for the ride.”

The overall event was a success, Ms. Lindberg said. She noticed many young women attended and got excited about STEM.

“I love that the kids are excited to do more than just school,” she said. “They want to reach out and share everything with the younger generation, the upcoming kids from our feeder schools.”

Overall, Ms. Beckman said the district benefits because the program assists in reaching its goal of helping students reach their academic potential.

Academy growth

When the academy first began, Mr. Brandt said there were only three students who signed up. The first graduating class had six who completed the distinction program.

Robotics students in the Math and Science Academy. (Submitted photo)

This year, Mr. Brandt said there are 21 students who will graduate after completing the distinction program.

Typically, he said the academy brings in a cohort of about 60 students and as the years pass by, they lose some students between the sophomore and junior years.

Despite that drop off, Mr. Brandt said he is still seeing growth among those who graduate with distinction and anticipates that growth to continue.

“It’s been very positive seeing it grow,” he said. “I’m almost to the point where I just can’t believe how many kids are so interested in technology and engineering and math.”

Traditionally, Ms. Erickson said STEM programs foster a belief that in order to succeed, students must compete against their peers for their share of success. She said this creates winners and losers, implying there’s only a limited amount of success.

This program, however, doesn’t exclude what Ms. Erickson called “viable candidates with a strong academic foundation and a will to succeed.” It also looks for ways to maximize opportunities for success while trying to accommodate all interests and skill sets.

With this uniqueness, Ms. Erickson believes the learning environment is healthier and open to all students. She thinks this adds to the appeal, saying each individual success drives other successes.

“Students want to help each other, because they know that one students’ gains can — and will — be shared with all, over time,” she said.

“We help them to understand that they succeed as a community — or not at all.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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