A new year at School of Dreams Academy

........................................................................................................................................................................................

School of Dreams Academy is fast becoming an early college high school.

This year, it will place even greater emphasis on its high school dual-credit program with the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: The School of Dreams Academy, Valencia County’s only charter school, is located east of the Rio Grande in Los Lunas.

“We already have students in dual enrollment, earning a lot of college credits, but being a (formal) early college high school would allow students to have a systematic way of obtaining both a high school diploma and an associates degree, or a high school diploma and a job-ready certification,” said School of Dreams Academy Principal Mike Ogas.

To get the program rolling, school officials have applied for an Early College High School program grant from the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The funding would allow them to hire a liaison to work between the school and the college to advise students on their academic trajectory. It would also provide the money to train both SODA and UNM-VC staff to develop curriculum offerings that align classes of each school, Ogas said.

“We don’t necessarily need the grant to establish ourselves as an early college high school but you need a little money up front to provide people with stipends to work (during) their off time, for university professors to work off their time and meet together.”

The plan is to have seven SODA teachers and seven UNM-VC professors meet together to discuss curriculum and how the courses from each school can be aligned.

“We matched our program with what UNM-VC offers and they’ve been tremendous partners in this whole (grant) application process,” the principal said. “It falls in line with statewide initiatives — there’s a whole nationwide early college high school initiative, many states are going to it.

“It goes well with serving the community, getting students ready for high-wage, high-skill areas, so they can compete in a global market,” he said.

It also falls in line with the school’s expanded mission to embrace STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math.

Students can potentially graduate with an associates degree in pre-engineering, media arts or digital filmmaking, Ogas said.

The program will offer students a path to associates degrees and job-ready certification in auto mechanics, business administration, computer-aided drafting, digital media arts, game design and simulation, information technology, office and business technology, studio art, sustainable building, construction technology, liberal arts, emergency medicine, general science, health education, nursing and pre-engineering.

Academic progress will be tracked using Power School software for the Public Education Department’s Four-Year Next Step plan, which shows all the courses a student needs to graduate and how to get there, Ogas said.

SODA modified the plan to include individual learning plans, and they’ve added individual associates degree steps.

“We’re taking the notion of our individualized model to a whole different level in terms of being able to clearly show parents and students what they need to pursue some of these goals,” he said.

Parents can help their students succeed by encouraging them to watch Khan Academy tutorials on YouTube and to read as much as possible offline.

All the school’s elective classes are focused around literacy, math and science.

Staff will work together to incorporate the STEAM model throughout the disciplines so that science overlaps into literature and the arts, art overlaps into science and math and so forth. Cross-disciplinary projects will also be devised.

“We’re going to figure out ways to deliver instruction so that everybody knows we’re a STEAM school,” Ogas said.

Staff will spend a good part of the year doing in-service trainings to slowly build out the STEAM model of academics.

The school was recently awarded $15,000 from United Way to supplement the robotics program and will re-apply for the state robotics program grant.

High school robotics students have been asked to mentor another elementary school Botball challenge to be held in October at the Daniel Fernandez gym.

“We had 17 teams at UNM-VC last year,” Ogas said. “This year we’re hoping to have as many as 50 teams for Botball. This could be something for New Mexico that could get really big and I don’t want to take it anywhere outside of Valencia County if we’re going to be the ones doing it.

“There’s no reason that New Mexico can’t be every bit as big as the Houston area, where they have NASA right there. We have the labs, we have Los Alamos, we have the Space Port, we have New Mexico Tech, and UNM — we’ve got all these major institutions,” Ogas said. “There’s no reason that the students in this state can’t participate at the level that these other kids are doing.”

The new PARCC assessment will be administered at the end of the year. It is based on Common Core Standards, and all New Mexico public schools will take it as the final exam.

SODA’s core curriculum classes are online E2020, now called “Edgenuity,” meets Common Core Standards in every way, Ogas said.

“In our master schedule this year, we’re trying to give grade levels common preps as much as possible,” he said. “We’re spreading the teacher preps throughout the day, which is actually giving us one more class period. That’s not a new thing, but we’re going back to an 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. school day for students, moving back to a seven-period day.”

As for a new school facility, school officials had planned to have a new school last year, but they did not find a lender with suitable terms. Now, they are applying for a USDA Rural Development loan.

“Our goal is to be in a new school, or at least be planning the move by this time next year,” Ogas said.

The school’s enrollment cap is 525, but the current facility isn’t large enough, and the state requires public school to move into public school buildings or construct a new school rather than rent.

The state granted SODA about $16,500, with a $5,000 match, to develop the architectural plan for a new campus, and SODA still has plans to add an elementary school.

As early as September, school officials could be sending a proposal to the Public Education Commission to add elementary grade levels to the school, Ogas said.

A five-year charter contract renewal was granted from the state Public Education Commission last spring, in glowing terms.

Kelly Callahan, the director of the charter school division, said, “The School of Dreams Academy exhibits a fine combination of arts and sciences. What we were particularly pleased to see was that the leadership is well-organized, efficient and that includes the governing body, as well.”

The charter school is more specific on academic target areas, such as individual learning plans and performance indicators, Ogas said.

“I thought it was a tremendously beneficial process,” he said. “I was a little leery about the whole new charter contract mainly because it was new, but once we started working through it, I was extremely pleased and at the same time, it reaffirmed the really good things we’re doing here,” he said.

Another new development is the extension of the community service learning program.

Over the years, SODA students have filmed elders at senior citizens centers, created artwork at community and non profit organizations, government agencies and they have been mentors for elementary school robotics projects.

This year, a culminating activity was added for all 22 advisory classes. Each will take on a major community-service project of their choice.

“We’re going to have a time frame, a rubric that by, let’s say by the end of October, all the advisories — everybody has decided what it is they’re going to do,” Ogas said. “There will be a proposal they submit to me saying this is what they plan on doing during that time in May.”

The project ideas will be reviewed, tweaked and fine-tuned. Once they are approved, the teachers and students will have from December to May to make all the necessary prearrangements, make the contacts or whatever plans they need to do to for their project.

Over the last two weeks of school, they will perform their community service and build a project portfolio book with narrative, pictures, charts and graphs that will be worth half a credit, he said.

“I’m really looking forward to see how this one turns out, because I’ve known other charters and other high schools that have done just that and it’s an extremely rewarding and creative experience,” Ogas said. “Once they get the hang of it, things take on a life of their own.”

Parents are encouraged to visit the school any time; they don’t need an appointment, and they are always welcome to come to school activities and events, Ogas said.

School of Dreams Academy starts classes at 8 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 11.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.