When Stephanie Knight became the dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development in 2017, she had a vision for a campus that would integrate everything she had learned in her decades-long career as an educator and education researcher.
She imagined a mold-breaking school, deeply involved in its surrounding community, and using evidence-based education research to prepare students, parents, and teachers for success.
But Knight never expected that all the pieces of such a massive project would materialize and fall into place during her first year at SMU.
After helping to create the MLB Youth Academy in 2017, the Toyota USA Foundation wanted to continue its involvement in the West Dallas community. It sought guidance from the Simmons School and SMU’s Budd Center.
Once a private nonprofit and now a subsidiary of Simmons, the Budd Center has spent the past decade in West Dallas, focusing on students who live in marginalized and low-income communities. Its mission: creating a social safety net that prevents students from falling through the cracks on their way to high school graduation.
“STEM is everywhere. Even if you don’t go into a STEM field, you’re going to live in a STEM world.” -Dr. Richard Duschl
After a series of meetings and input from Dallas ISD and the West Dallas community, Simmons received a $2 million grant from Toyota for planning a new STEM school in West Dallas.
Since 2018, design teams comprised of representatives from SMU, Toyota, Dallas ISD, and the West Dallas community have been hard at work completing models for curriculum and community engagement, laying the foundation for the school to open its doors to the inaugural class in the fall of 2021.
The range of contributors, all leaders in their fields and passionate about education, have given the project an extraordinary feel. Dean Knight refers to their collaboration as an “alignment of the stars.”
Toyota brings insights for educating today’s children for tomorrow’s jobs and a desire to provide a pathway by which West Dallas students can come into STEM fields via college, community college, or vocational work.
The Budd Center’s intimate relationship with West Dallas will help the school to achieve the vision of a school involved in its surrounding community that provides opportunities and support for parents and students.
Leaders at SMU — from Simmons, Dedman, and the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education — play a crucial role in shaping the curriculum and guiding teachers.
Dallas ISD has provided the soon-to-be-former Pinkston High campus as the site for the new STEM school, and an architecture team is planning a remodel that will transform the former high school into a learning environment suitable for students ages 3 through 14. Dallas ISD will also name the school.
The benefits of STEM education are numerous, regardless of the career path these future alumni ultimately take.
“STEM is everywhere. Even if you don’t go into a STEM field, you’re going to live in a STEM world,” said Dr. Richard Duschl, executive director of the Caruth Institute for Engineering Education.