HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The new Hattiesburg school focusing on science, technology, engineering, arts and math welcomed students for the first time this week.
The new Lillie Burney STEAM Academy for Hattiesburg Public School District sixth graders finished its first two days of class on Friday.
"It was good," said Mason Cathey, one of the new students. "The hallways were crowded, and there was just a lot going on."
The school combines students from six HPSD elementary schools. Cathey said he likes being in classes with students from other schools.
"It's just an opportunity to meet more people," Cathey said.
"In combining, things seem to be going well," Superintendent James Bacchus said. "The elementary schools are excited about not having the sixth graders and the sixth graders are excited about being in their academy. So everything is going well."
Bacchus also said combining the students now will make the transition to middle school easier.
"They'll all be coming as a unit into the seventh grade," Bacchus said. "So that's going to be even better for the middle school. They can come in and get directly focused, and won't have to spend time adjusting. So these students will already be accustomed to the concept."
Cathey said he was a little nervous to change classes for the first time, but said he's getting the hang of it.
"It seems like the day goes by a whole lot faster," Bacchus said.
Most importantly, according to the principal, teachers and Bacchus, it exposes students to technology and engineering classes well before high school.
"It's predicted that by 2018, you will have thousands of jobs that relate to the STEAM or STEM aspect, and many of our students aren't prepared for it," Principal Andrea Short said. "But we are making sure that Hattiesburg Public School District students are prepared."
Short said it was important to include the "A" for the Arts portion in the new school's curriculum.
"Performing arts always helps the students with motivation, and it allows them to focus. So we wanted to make sure we incorporated that."
Bacchus said, "One of the things we want to get out of this, by the time these sixth graders get to high school get to high school, we want at least 30 to 40 percent of these students to be focused on science and engineering academies and in that direction to make sure they are ready for these high challenging jobs."
Kerry Sumner, a teacher in one of the new Project Lead the Way classes, said, "A lot of these kids want to be singers and NBA players because you don't really know the different career options. They're not exposed to a lot of things. So when they go through this class they're going to learn about all the different types of engineers. It's just going to be something that changes the way they think, and it's going to give them career options that they already know."
Sumner was one of three teachers at STEAM Academy who attended Project Lead the Way training at Mississippi State this summer. She says that class was "the best thing that's ever, ever happened" to her.
"I know I can make, I can design, I can create, and the kids are going to be the same way," Sumner said. "The kids are going to come in here and feel like they can change the world. I'm so excited about Project Lead the Way and what it's going to be for Hattiesburg Public Schools because I think this is exactly what we have needed for a long time."
Cathey said Math and Science are two of his favorite subjects, and is excited for the new tailored classes.
"Well, I'm actually pretty good at math, so I just like subjects that I'm good at. It'll prepare me more. Different subjects and stuff that wasn't in a regular elementary school."
Cathey said he wants to be a baseball player and own his own business when he grows up.