teachers and educators pose in front of Lancaster ISD bus

September 28, 2023 

LANCASTER, Texas --  Eleven years ago, Lancaster ISD received a $ 4.8 million grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation focusing on implementing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education across all grade levels. The district was the first in Texas to become a K-12 STEM district. Today, Lancaster ISD remains a leader in STEM Education.

On Tuesday, September 12, the Texas Instruments Foundation and Educate Texas returned to Lancaster ISD to assess the impact of their partnership on students, staff, and the community. After School All Stars, United Way, and Cospero team members also attended the visit. While at Lancaster High School, attendees toured student demonstration stations, including Robotics, Tiger Student Media, Drone, Engineering, and Virtual Reality. As they traveled from station to station, the students explained their projects and how their Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses have impacted their lives.

"We are, first and foremost, a STEM district with a STEAM focus," said Dr. Cassandra Barker, Lancaster ISD Deputy Superintendent of Teaching and Learning. "We aim to find STEAM in everything because, for us, STEAM is engagement. Implementing STEM has helped us innovate in the classroom and gives us the necessary tools for our teachers and students to thrive. We are planting the seeds and preparing our students for jobs that don't exist yet. They will go out into the world and create jobs based on their education from the district."

During the visit, Lancaster ISD leaders shared the district's journey from STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and how it has grown, enhanced, and improved its approach to STEM teaching and learning. Lancaster ISD, United Way, and After School All Stars also spoke about the Heal, Play, Learn program and its positive impact on students' social and emotional development.

The quick pace and success of the accomplishments over the last eleven years were only possible with the Texas Instruments Foundation. The Foundation dispersed the grant funds to Educate Texas, which helped the district facilitate its STEM for All mission. When Lancaster ISD was selected for the grant in 2012, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for Educate Texas, Dr. Reo Pruiett, said the district had the ingredients for success, which made selecting it for the program a no-brainer.

"We saw great things in Lancaster ISD as we looked through the applications," said Pruiett. "There was student will, parent will, community, and higher education partner in Dallas College across the street. The district also had an amazing opportunity and a story to tell. The secret sauce was the willingness to do the hard things and put the work in to grow and develop into the powerhouse district Lancaster ISD is today."

The Texas Instruments Foundation was confident that Lancaster ISD would transform into a model school district for STEM Education. 

"The Lancaster ISD STEM structure was composed of practices at each grade level emphasizing awareness in elementary, exposure in sixth grade, engagement in middle school, and experience in high school," said LaTasha Murry, Lancaster ISD Executive Director of College. Career, and Military Readiness and Enrichment. "From pre-k to graduation, all students participate in STEM experiences through various activities and benchmarks indicating their readiness to progress to the next level."

The STEM for All mission and the partnership's goal focused on the students and how to prepare and train teachers to lead STEM instruction.

"STEM implementation includes providing opportunities for teachers to develop those additional skills like STEM thinking, teaching, and learning," said Kenya Wilson, Director of College and Career Readiness Programs with Educate Texas. "We often don't realize that most of our teachers did not grow up in STEM schools because they didn't exist. So now, we're developing students and teachers on a parallel path, which will be crucial to developing our future workforce."

Wilson went on to say that professional development for teachers is imperative because of the emphasis on project-based learning and the need for creative thinking in instruction.

"A teacher has to imagine what Algebra 1 looks like in 15 different careers so that they can help students translate that knowledge and that learning. That type of innovative instruction doesn't happen without intentional and intensive preparation for teachers," noted Wilson.

Sam Self, former chair of the Texas Instruments Foundation, was integral to the program's launch in 2012. He was in awe of the district's achievements over the last eleven years.

"I was blown away by the student demonstrations I saw," said Self. "The things the students are doing today didn't even exist eleven years ago. I am thoroughly pleased and impressed, from robotics to drones to the engineering aspect. It's easy to see the teachers and leaders are passionate about propelling the students forward and giving them access to multiple career opportunities."

Since the STEM implementation began, Lancaster ISD has expanded from STEM education to STEAM education. But the education framework goes much deeper than just those subjects.

"In our district, "STEAM" also refers to Service, Teaching, Entrepreneurship, Athletics, and Manufacturing," said Murry. "We have revised our structure to emphasize experiences. We believe that the experiences we afford our students make a difference and bridge abstract ideas to practical realities."

Lancaster High School junior Cedric Hudspeth reflected on his experiences as a CTE student studying engineering.

"In my classes, I was able to learn about engineering design and even design my own iPhone," said Hudspeth. "It's great because I know design is the career field I want to pursue. But I'm also getting experience outside of the classroom. Over the summer, I completed an internship with South Toyota. My engineering classes taught me skills that would allow me to work anywhere, and I'm motivated to push myself, be productive, and succeed in any environment." 

Today, the district boasts a highly successful STEM education program that has prepared students for the high-tech and high-demand jobs of the future, giving them a competitive edge in the global economy. This program has helped students develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, and a love of learning.

Lancaster ISD will continue to evaluate the career and technical education programs and add Esports to the offered programs of study. All Lancaster High School students will participate in one of three designation areas: STEAM (includes CTE, P-TECH, and Military), Advanced Academics (Advanced Placement, On-Ramps, and Dual Credit), or Early College. The district has partnered with McMurry University to increase the dual credit courses for designated advanced academic students.

Lancaster ISD's dedication to STEM/STEAM education has paid off tremendously. Thanks to the Texas Instruments Foundation's grant and Educate Texas's support, the district has become a model for STEM education. The district's success is a testament to the hard work and dedication of its teachers, students, and community. With the right resources and support, Lancaster ISD has inspired a new generation of scientists, engineers, artists, and innovators.