Delta Sierra opens STEM Academy to prepare highly skilled workers

Aidan Backus, Online Editor

Delta Sierra Middle School shocked its students last spring with the announcement that it would be opening a STEM/Career Tech Academy, where, as an elective, students will learn skills that are vital to many 21st-century jobs.

STEM, which stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics,” is a common buzzword in American education and immigration laws; it refers to highly skilled workers and researchers who work in high-tech and high-paying jobs, such as software engineering and chemical research. Delta Sierra’s STEM program has classes for Android app design, medical technology, MESA, robotics and video design.

“STEM is the future – it’ll be a tough transition, but these are important skills for the 21st century,” MESA (Math, Engineering, Science and Architecture) teacher Ann Gamboa said.

Gamboa’s whiteboards are covered in mathematical formulas, such as the volume of a cylinder (V = πr^2h), that her students apply in her class. They are working on a bookshelf made of duct tape and cardstock, with each group of students working on a different shelf.

The robotics class had so many sign-ups that many students ended up being placed in other STEM classes instead.

Seventh grader Angelo Yuw and his classmates are planning to build robots that would be separated from each other by a metal partition, and would try to throw foam soccer balls and footballs over the partition to the other side; the robot with the fewest balls on its side wins.

“I chose this class because I think robots are cool!” Yuw said.

In every class, not just robotics, competitiveness between students is evident. In MESA, a group spent most of the period arguing over whose shelf had the best design: the one that was falling apart and held together by duct tape, or the one that had tears in the cardstock.

Yet most students realize that their class had benefits other than the fun of it. The U.S. Department of Commerce believes STEM programs will “add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy” in technology, research, supply, and retail.

“I took this class because I want a better future,” seventh grader Elijah Sanford said. “I don’t want to work at McDonald’s.”

Delta Sierra has long held a reputation for underperformance. The problem was made worse by parents taking their children out of Delta Sierra and transferring them to nearby Christa McAuliffe, leaving behind mainly students with lower socioeconomic statuses, trapping the school in a downward spiral. A $500,000 grant was Lodi Unified’s answer.

However, principal Brad Watson says that there was another reason for the creation of the STEM program: outside of MESA, which had been a long-established class, there were no options for high-performing math and science students, and Watson felt MESA did not suffice.

“My vision for Delta Sierra coincided with the boundary change issue at Christa McAuliffe,” Watson said.

Engineering, medical, and computational fields have been long dominated by white or Asian-American men, but this demographic isn’t evident at Delta Sierra. A sizable number of the students are African-American or Hispanic, and students of both genders take an active role in class.

Not only are the academy’s students very diverse, they are also very driven and very mathematically adept.

“[MESA] and robotics are the best two classes,” seventh grader Brendan Bockman said. “I could see myself in engineering.”

Some students in the academy want to join the army, while others want to become engineers.

Seventh grader Manuel Cisneros said it best: “I want to make new inventions. I want to make peoples’ lives easier.”