Special to The Dallas Examiner
In West Dallas a new pre K-8 STEM school is set to open this August beginning with students in the 7th and 8th grades. The West Dallas STEM School, a Dallas Independent School District Transformation and Innovation School, is the result of more than three years of collaboration between the District, the Toyota USA Foundation, SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development and the West Dallas community.
“We strongly believe that all children should have equal access to opportunities and a pathway to great careers,” said Sean Suggs, director of the Toyota USA Foundation and group vice president of Toyota Social Innovation. “Together with the community, we have worked on everything from building design, teacher development, curriculum and before and after school care. This extends also to addressing broader community needs, including access to transportation.”
To support the school as it opens and its new Master Principal Marion Jackson, the Toyota USA Foundation approved an additional grant of $3 million to SMU, adding to the $2 million grant the foundation awarded in September 2018. This is in addition to Toyota’s teacher and community grants, West Dallas scholarship and mentorship programs, and the recently launched transportation circulator in the area.
“We know that there many related issues – from access to healthy food to before and after school care – that all tie into academic success. This is something we need to collectively address, and we encourage additional partners to come alongside the effort,” Suggs added.
To further support the school, business leader Carter Creech, an SMU alumnus with a passion for education philanthropy, has pledged an additional $3.5 million, following his initial gift of $1.5 million to the project. Creech’s contribution will go toward a new middle school career and college readiness pilot program at the school, as well as efforts to replicate the STEM school.
“As we move from planning to implementation, we have deepened our commitment to the school, to the model, and to each other,” Simmons School Dean Stephanie Knight said. “SMU is grateful for this unique partnership, and thanks both the Toyota Foundation USA and Carter Creech for continued investment in our community’s children – the problem solvers of the future.”
STEM school at Pinkston
The West Dallas STEM School Program at Pinkston is a neighborhood school that will begin by serving the 7th and 8th grade. Pre-K through 1st grade is scheduled to begin enrollment in 2023.
The school brings together four integral components to create an innovative pre-K through 8th grade school model:
- A project-based, industry-informed STEM curriculum.
- Professional development for educators.
- “Wraparound” services delivered directly to the students by community nonprofit organizations to help with issues such as literacy, nutrition, transportation and after-school care.
- Evaluation and measurement to support a model of continuous improvement.
“This is an opportunity of a lifetime for the students and community of West Dallas,” Jackson said. “This partnership has afforded us the space to realize what’s possible when we focus our collective efforts on changing how we meet the needs of our students and families. We are committed to equipping our students to succeed in an evolving global society.”
SMU’s Simmons School is providing faculty expertise to develop project-based learning, which means that students will learn by working in groups to solve open-ended problems using design, engineering, math, science and technology. The approach prepares students to take on new challenges as they occur – and to understand how to build new knowledge on existing concepts. The Simmons School will provide professional development for teachers, and Simmons researchers will monitor and evaluate the program as it evolves, developing a model to create other STEM-focused schools.
Partnering with the community
Since the onset, the West Dallas community has been engaged in the creation of the school, advising on everything from design to input on services offered at the school.
Parents, such as José Alas, who sits on the school’s advisory council, have been engaged from the beginning.
“This school really will help bridge the gap in opportunities when it comes to education,” he said. “Every child has the potential to do great things if we can provide them what they need, and I think the school is going to do just that. We always juggle where to send our children and now we are going to have one of the best schools in our backyard.”
Organizations such as West Dallas One and the West Dallas Community Coalition also have been active in the partnership, participating in the school’s design teams and focus groups with residents. Additionally, six long-established West Dallas nonprofit groups have been working on plans to expand their services within the school to help students and their families gain quick access to resources they need.
For more information, visit https://www.dallasisd.org/westdallasstem.