STEM charter school coming to southeast Edmonton


A new charter school organization says it plans to open a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focused school in Edmonton next fall.

The STEM Collegiate charter school will be the first of its kind in Alberta, co-founder Lisa Davis said, partnering with the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) to prepare students for careers in tech fields.

“As someone who has raised two kids, I can confidently say that our school answers the age-old question, ‘Mom, why do I have to learn this stuff in school?’ ” Davis said Wednesday.

The school’s future home is a currently vacant office building at 4703 52nd Ave.

Meanwhile, NAIT confirmed on Wednesday what some educators have suspected — that plans are cancelled for a 2,400-pupil, Grade 9 to 12 NAIT collegiate institute that was to be built and run with Edmonton’s public and Catholic school boards.

“We are not in the business of building high school education,” NAIT vice president of external relations Melanie Rogers said. “We want to focus on post-secondary.”

The vision for a collegiate on NAIT’s Edmonton campus came from the Jim Prentice government in 2014.

In its 2019 election platform, the United Conservative Party pledged $28 million to the NAIT collegiate project, and promised the same amount for a similar school in Calgary.

Katherine Stavropoulos, press secretary to Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, said in an email Wednesday that the UCP platform commitment “indicated support for a new NAIT collegiate in Edmonton but did not specify the model or school authority type.”

She said, as promised in the 2022 provincial budget, the government will provide the STEM Collegiate charter school with renovation and start-up costs, but could not divulge those amounts while the project was out for tender.

It was unclear by publication time on Wednesday how the government planned to use the $56 million promised for both Edmonton and Calgary collegiate projects.

Capital plans from 2017 say Edmonton’s public board planned to spend $57 million on the collegiate, and the Catholic board would spend $28 million.

NAIT spokesperson Rogers said the institute’s approach has evolved over the years.

Rogers said it’s too soon to say how NAIT will be involved with the new Edmonton STEM Collegiate charter school.

Charter school to start as junior high

The STEM Collegiate’s enrolment plans are more modest than NAIT’s vision was. Davis said she hopes to open in September with 100 students enrolled from Grades 7 to 9, then expand to Grade 10 the following year, eventually educating 450 students on two campuses.

The southeast Edmonton office building that will be the charter school’s home was previously leased by a construction company. Meeting rooms and offices will be converted into classrooms and a fabrication lab, which Davis described as a “makerspace on steroids.”

The school plans to join an international network of “fab labs” that share project designs. There will be 3D printers, laser cutters, metal machining equipment, robotics and more, Davis said.

They’re planning to build a gymnasium in the parking lot behind the building, she said.

The charter is looking for a second Edmonton location for the high school students. The charter will also offer high school STEM option courses online, Davis said.

Co-founder Lisa Davis stands in an office building in southeast Edmonton destined to be renovated into a STEM Collegiate charter school. Davis said it will be the first of its kind in Alberta. (Janet French/CBC)

The goal is to prepare students for post-secondary education and careers in the health sciences, artificial intelligence, information technology, architecture, digital media, and other fields with high demand for workers, she said.

“There is an urgent and pressing need to graduate more students in STEM, to support the tremendous growth in technology that Edmonton is experiencing,” Davis said.

However, the news was greeted with frustration by Edmonton’s public and Catholic school boards.

In September, Edmonton Catholic will start a new grade 7-12 STEM program called Spark Academy at Louis St. Laurent School, in addition to four elementary schools that already offer STEM education.

“It is disconcerting to see a charter school established in an area of learning where there is already ample choice, expertise, and opportunity for Edmonton families,” spokesperson Christine Meadows said in an email.

Next fall, Edmonton Public Schools is also starting new STEM programs in Thelma Chalifoux Junior High and W.P. Wagner High School.

Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said she’s exasperated to see the government put money into charter school expansion when some charter schools have entrance requirements. Public schools are open to all students.

“At a time when we need more investment in public education, to see dollars siphoned off and put into the charter school model is unfortunate,” Estabrooks said.

The government considers charter schools to be public schools.

Estabrooks also said failing to proceed with a joint NAIT collegiate is a “missed opportunity” for young people.


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