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Video+Story: EPISD Young Women’s STEAM Academy Students Meet for First Time at Zoo

The Young Women’s STEAM Research & Preparatory Academy inaugural cohorts began their educational journey at the El Paso Zoo by signing a commitment letter.

“The signing ceremony is a commitment, a pact that we’re making with our students,” said principal Dr. Cynthia Ontiveros. “We’re committed to engaging our students in a rigorous curriculum, a safe and nurturing environment but also pushing our students and supporting them to be successful beyond their expectations and beyond their goals.”

The new academy, which will be housed inside Armendariz Middle School, opens this fall with 225 sixth and seventh graders. It will add a grade level each year until it becomes a 6-12 grade campus. The academy will focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics and will incorporate the New Tech Network model to give students an engaging, collaborative experience through project-based learning.

unnamed (38)The zoo perfectly set the tone for the historic occasion, celebrating the new academy and its focus on STEAM. Students and their families mingled in the indoor reception area overlooking the zebras and wandered around the nearby lion’s exhibit to take photos and selfies.

“We’re a STEAM academy, so we’re celebrating the significance of signing a commitment where STEAM is all around us – the zoo,” Ontiveros said.

Parent Cesar Martinez also enjoyed the venue and its significance.

“It’s a beautiful location and getting to see the zebras, that’s exciting,” he said. “It just another neat indication of the unique conceptualization of what’s going to be going on at this campus.”

Martinez’ daughter Paz Elena Martinez wants to be an engineer when she grows up. She’s looking forward to the educational opportunities the STEAM focus brings and the chance to work with her classmates to pick school colors and the mascot.

“It sounded like it would be fun,” said Paz, a Mesita Elementary fifth grader. “It has everything a girl could want to learn.”unnamed (52)

Students sat in rows in front, smiling and already making friends. One by one, they walked on stage to receive their commitment letter, a special pen and pose for a photo with Ontiveros.

“It’s going to be an amazing experience for all the girls around the District,” said Victoria Hernandez, a Bond Elementary fifth grader. “We’re going to experience new things, in a new way and hear different ideas from different girls and meet new people.”

During the ceremony, Ontiveros talked to the students about the experiences the new school will bring for service learning and project-based-learning.

“I want to assure parents that our students are going to have an amazing opportunity here at the academy,” she said. “Our curriculum will be rigorous but our students are going to feel a connection to our community. Through our service learning component, they’re going to see the value in what they’re learning.”

Pete Delgado, currently a GT teacher at Cooley Elementary, can’t wait to start the school year at his new campus.

“I feel passionate about empowering these young ladies and helping them to dream, design and deliver real world solutions,” said Delgado, reiterating Ontiveros’ message. “To me, it’s important for these young ladies to be in an environment that helps them grow, be creative, learn problem-solving skills and learn those crucial communication skills they need for career readiness and college readiness.”

The father of two girls also likes the opportunity it affords his youngest daughter, who will be in sixth grade this fall.

“She’s going to be graduating from here in seven years,” he said. “As a father, I’m going to watch her grow from the little fifth grader she is now to eventually the senior that will be ready to go out and conquer the world.”

After each girl received her commitment letter, Ontiveros talked to them about the pact they were making together. She promised her students would receive a rigorous and rich academic opportunity and, in turn, they promised to have an open mind and be ready to learn and ready for the challenges they’d face as middle and high school students.

“We are making history and I’m excited to take you on this journey,” she said. “You will be learning and developing skills that will make you strong, amazing leaders.”

“Are you ready for the challenge?” Ontiveros asked. A roaring “yes” echoed throughout the room.

In unison, the graduating classes of 2023 and 2024 signed their commitment letters with the special pen etched with the name of their new school.

“My first challenge for you is to save your pen,” Ontiveros told them. “I want to see it when you graduate.”

“How many years from now is that?” Ontiveros asked.

A student responded from the crowd: “A lot.”

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