The new high school building on Bienville Street has gleaming state-of-the-art labs, high-tech classrooms and media centers — everything needed for a first-rate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. There is something missing, however: the students.
School and city officials held an opening ceremony Dec. 9 for the New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School, or Sci High, building at 2011 Bienville St. in the Tulane-Gravier area. The three-story facility was ready to welcome the Sci High ninth- through 12th-graders on Jan. 11 and the teachers and administrators on Jan. 4.
“We planned it to be a special, to give them some excitement,” said Head of School Dr. Monique Cola. “Since we can’t do that now, it’s a little sad. We’ve got this wonderful school and we can’t bring the kids in the building.”
In response to the spike in COVID-19 cases, NOLA Public Schools on Monday moved the entire school system to distance learning until at least Jan. 21.
“We’re hoping that sometime this spring we’ll be back,” said Cola, who was still unpacking her office and enjoying Sci High’s “new school smell.”
When Sci High does open for in-person instruction, the students will take classes in the only New Orleans public school built specifically for STEM education. The campus, paid for with $27.5 million in post-Katrina FEMA money, has labs equipped for engineering, digital graphics, biomedical research and more. There are outdoor spaces designed for fabrication of large scale projects, for collaboration and for presentations.
The school’s governing board, the Advocates for Science & Mathematics Education, and its foundation have been raising money to furnish and equip the building. The Foundation for Science & Mathematics Education, a development board, executed a capital campaign, raising $1.1 million for specialized equipment. Students, for example, will be able to learn anatomy with an anatomage table, a 3-D interactive display that allows them to virtually dissect bodies, without taking a knife to a cadaver.
Even Sci High’s location — next to the biomedical corridor on the former Albert Wicker Elementary School site — is strategically STEM-oriented. Alliances in the district will help place students in summer internships and give them access to potential mentors, said Cola, who knows the district well from her 20 years as a medical researcher at Tulane School of Medicine.
Sci High’s 500 or so students are moving from a building Uptown, in the shadow of Lusher Middle School, that the school has been outgrowing. The new 130,000-square-foot building can accommodate 750 students, officials said.