Tech-savvy Saghalie Middle School awaits math and science academy

Saghalie Middle School is gearing up to launch a new math and science-focused academy set to start next September. Federal Way School District officials say the academy will prepare students to be “successful in the jobs of the future.”

Beginning next school year, Saghalie will offer a Math and Science Academy that uses “science, technology, engineering and math” — or STEM — curriculum. The academy will feed students into an aerospace engineering-focused program at Decatur High School.

“We want the kids in middle school to have a broad comprehension of STEM, and then when they get to high school, it’s narrowed a little further,” said Nancy Hawkins, director of career and technical education for Federal Way schools.

The district hopes to enroll between 150 and 200 students in the academy by next September; it will operate as a sort of school within a school. The goal is to eventually turn Saghalie into an entirely STEM-focused school.

Saghalie already offers a class called “gateway to technology,” which is STEM-focused. Students in the Math and Science Academy will take that class, and the rest of their classes will integrate STEM. For example, an English class may feature literature with a technological focus.

Parents of Saghalie sixth- and seventh-graders, plus parents of fifth-graders who will attend Saghalie, can get an overview of the new academy at a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Saghalie. There will also be information available at the middle school showcase night at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 at the King County Aquatic Center, 650 SW Campus Drive.

An exact curriculum for Saghalie’s Math and Science Academy is still in development, and the district has advertised internally for a teacher to lead the program. Hawkins said that Saghalie staff involved in the academy will receive training during the summer in integrating STEM into their classes.

Saghalie principal Laura Brown said she hopes the new academy will increase enrollment at the school. Students who may not be interested in science, math or engineering classes may attend a different middle school.

Saghalie is trying “to build interest in engineering, science, all of those fields,” Brown said. “When kids leave, they have already had that introductory piece, then they move into the program at Decatur.”

Hawkins explained that Saghalie was chosen for several reasons. Saghalie was in need of a special program, and Decatur needed a middle school that could feed into its pre-engineering courses. Decatur’s program is associated with Project Lead the Way, which partners with middle and high schools to implement STEM curriculum.

A preview of what could be in store for students who attend the academy: Right now, students in the gateway class are learning how to use engineering design software, constructing rudimentary robots, and studying the history of flight.

“In my opinion, students for too long are in one class learning just what’s in those four walls, and it may not have any relationship to what happens in their next class,” Hawkins said. “It needs to blend together in the minds and hearts of students that what they’re learning in language arts does relate to science and math.”

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