When she was a high-school student at M.E. Lazerte, Cheryll Watson felt like she was out of options. Growing up in Beverly, she’d already accepted that she’d have to make some life choices after Grade 12; she knew she wasn’t going to college or university.
But, she didn’t make it to the end of Grade 12. She didn’t feel anything being offered at school was going to do anything to help her get a job, so she dropped out… and got a job.
Now, she’s passionate about a new charter school, STEM Collegiate, which is scheduled to open in autumn, 2023, at 50th Street and the Whitemud, in the old Clark Builders building (Watson is the school’s chief connector). It will offer options that Watson, the former head of Innovate Edmonton, never had when she was a teenager.
The idea is that this school will offer classes that give kids glimpses of the real world and opportunities beyond Grade 12, whether that involves post-secondary school or not.
“We are going to work with industry, so our classes have real applications,” says Watson. “We want them to help us build the curriculum.”
The Edmonton school follows the opening of Calgary’s STEM Innovation Academy, which already has 650 students and a wait list of over 1,000 kids.
“It shows that parents and kids are looking for innovative programming, outside of what’s being offered by their school boards,” says Lisa Davis, who is co-founder of the STEM schools in both Calgary and Edmonton.
Charter schools are public schools. They are provincially funded. But, according to Alberta Education guidelines, they “have a focus not already offered by the board of the school authority in which the public charter school is located.”
The new school is set to welcome junior high students in the fall of 2023, a total of 400 kids. The plan is to add high-school classes in the following school year, with a separate high-school location the year after that, till the school grows to a population of 800 students.
Watson said the razor-sharp focus on technology and science will help kids on their career paths before they get to post-secondary institutions.
“Instead of going to university with-out an idea of what to do, wouldn’t it be great if the kids could figure it out in high school?” says Watson. And she says that STEM Collegiate will work with local post-secondary schools, so kids have a clear educational path, from junior high all the way to the final year of university of college. These discussions are already happening in Calgary.
“And what we have seen is that, in both industry and post-secondary institutions, they are very motivated,” says Davis. “They want to share their knowledge… Right now, in the traditional junior high and high school, there hasn’t been a lot of innovation, especially when it comes to options programs.”
Davis says that the STEM school wants to work with school boards, to offer programs as online distance learning packages for kids who want to stay in the traditional system, but want to augment their learning. Or, they could also be offered to kids who live in more remote areas of the province without access to experts.
But Davis bristles when she hears the criticism that Charter Schools are elitist. She says the schools welcome disadvantaged kids and those with varying abilities. She says there is no meritocracy to get in, only an interest in STEM. And she says the Edmonton Public system has many programs, such as the academy schools, which require thousands in extra fees.
“Often, it’s the very people who go talk about charter schools being exclusive, who have their own exclusivity within their schools.”
This article appears in the JAN/FEB 2023 issue of Edify