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Southwest ISD Opens CAST STEM High School

The Centers for Applied Science and Technology launched its second high school Monday.

CAST STEM, located at Legacy High School in the Southwest Independent School District, will prepare students for careers in energy, logistics, advanced manufacturing and engineering.

CAST is a career-driven education initiative spearheaded by H-E-B and Charles Butt.

“The beauty of CAST STEM is we’re focused more on what happens the day after they graduate, or as we put it: beyond the cap and gown,” said Aja Gardner, the school’s principal. “We focus all of our energy on what options and choices do children have when they graduate from us.”

Gardner prepared for the school’s launch for over a year, with the backing and input of H-E-B, Toyota, CPS Energy and the other San Antonio companies that makeup CAST STEM’s advisory board.

“(The advisory board members) come in and they sit with us when we are developing the curriculum,” Gardner said. “We sit with the engineers, we sit with the folks who are really developing what it means to be someone in the career.”

Last year, Toyota gave Southwest ISD a $1.7 million grant for technology and advanced manufacturing equipment at Legacy High School, including a robotic arm to build cars.

CAST STEM Principal Aja Gardner welcomed students to the first day of school with two robots.
Credit Janice Carpio-Hernandez / Southwest ISD
Southwest ISD
CAST STEM Principal Aja Gardner welcomed students to the first day of school with two robots.

CAST STEM students will choose among four career pathways: power and energy, logistics, advanced manufacturing, and engineering. They’ll have the opportunity to earn industry certification in those pathways by the time they graduate high school.

“Though we want to say that all kids will go to college, that may or may not be the case. Or perhaps college isn’t what happens the day after they graduate from high school,” Gardner said. “If it’s going to the workforce, we don’t want them limited to be in their opportunities, so we want to provide them with industry certificates and certifications so they can have some of those more competitive jobs and salaries.”

CAST STEM freshman Rain Roque said she was excited to enroll in the new school because she’s a “tech nerd.”

She plans to take advantage of CAST STEM’s partnership with Palo Alto College, and try to earn an associate’s degree by the time she graduates high school.

But for now, Rain said she’s most excited about learning more about design — from websites to model cars.

“I normally draw a lot more than I do anything, so it will be a lot more easier for me to get into that stuff than anything else,” Rain said.

Everyone who graduates from Cast STEM is guaranteed a job interview with one of the companies on the school’s advisory board. The industry partners are also providing mentors for the students.

Southwest ISD Welcomes First Class To CAST STEM High School
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Southwest ISD welcomes the first CAST STEM class at Legacy High School.

“For four years, they’re really interviewing with these companies, and then that formal interview, obviously when they’re eligible for that position, is really just the icing on the cake,” Gardner said.  

CAST STEM is using a project-based learning model. Gardner said the school will ask students to apply what they learn to real-world problems and present possible solutions to a panel of judges. Some projects will also contain a service component, such as volunteering at a food bank.

According to Gardner, the school’s inaugural class of ninth-graders has about 150 students, and more than 90 percent live in the Southwest school district.

The launch of CAST STEM this year follows the launch of CAST Tech at San Antonio ISD last year. Both schools are open to students who live outside of their home district.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpamille

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.