STEAM camp generates interest

Published 10:45 pm Thursday, March 14, 2013

A residential camp to test the waters for a specialized public boarding school, the first of its kind in Virginia, has generated considerable interest, according to one of two Suffolk citizens behind the project.

M. Caroline Martin, developing the Virginia Science, Technology, Engineering and Applied Mathematics (STEAM) Academy with Judy Stewart, told a School Board work session Thursday that 300 applications have been received for 50 available spots.

Friday is the deadline to apply for the free one-week camp for rising sixth- through eighth-graders, which will offer two tracks: math/encryption and physics.

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Suffolk public and private school students, as well as homeschoolers, have applied for the camp, Martin reported.

“We hope … they will go back (to their regular schools) as ambassadors,” she told board members.

The academy, for which the General Assembly has awarded a $200,000 planning grant, would induct its first cohort of ninth- through 12th-grade students in fall 2014.

Martin and Stewart got acquainted serving together on nonprofit boards. Martin said her friend approached her with the academy idea in late 2010, when she was running for City Council.

“I read the concept paper and said, ‘Win or lose, I’m in,’” she said.

Last December, the Fort Monroe Board of Trustees approved a memorandum of understanding giving the academy, specializing in subjects for so-called careers of the future, a two-year option on a 290,000-square-foot site at the former defense facility.

The academy’s college-level education partners include Virginia Tech, the Virginia Military Institute, the College of William & Mary, Tidewater Community College, Eastern Virginia Medical School, the universities of Virginia and Maryland-Baltimore County and Old Dominion and Norfolk State universities.

Meanwhile, an agreement also was signed in December with Jefferson Science Associates/Jefferson Lab in Newport News.

Martin and Stewart have been briefing various school divisions on the plans, and Martin reported that Deran Whitney, superintendent of Suffolk Public Schools, has expressed considerable interest.

According to plans, students and faculty at the academy would reflect Virginia’s demographics. The selective school would accept high achievers as well as students with the potential to thrive if given the opportunity.

Virginia’s 134 school districts would each automatically be allocated at least one student position at the academy, while a “weighted lottery” would decide remaining placements, Martin said.

Close relations with school districts would help overcome issues such as reintroducing any students who drop out of the academy back into local schools, she said.

The review process for camp applications will begin Monday, Martin said, with placements to be announced April 2. North Suffolk’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center will host the camp.