Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy showcases student projects along with $9 million school expansion

Elections took on another cast for David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy biology students Courtlynn Thomas and Andre Thierry, as they campaigned over which specialized structure within a living cell deserved to win the popular vote.


Should it be the Golgi apparatus or lysosomes?

The two juniors recounted their stellar cellular campaigns — a recent class project — as visitors milled around their biology class as part of the school’s celebration of its new $9 million classroom wing expansion and engineering lab.

“I have the best job in the cell,” boasted Courtlynn, who wore a T-shirt touting the Golgi apparatus’ skills for her group’s presentation. “I separate the proteins from the lipids.”

Andre begged to differ. He looked up from his class iPad screen that showed a diagram of a cell to defend the hard-working lysosomes.

“There was some mudslinging going on,” Andre said.“My group was lysosomes, and we clean up all the byproducts,” he said. The campaigns in the organelle elections — organelles being specialized cell structures — grew testy, the two recalled.

“Because everybody thinks the nucleus is the most important,” Courtlynn interjected.

The election campaign for a lesson on cell structure might be unusual for most classrooms, but it’s pretty routine at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy.

In the chemistry lab next door, their classmates next door were conducting experiments, heating sugar and salt for a lesson on determining ionic and covalent bonds.

The burned sugar left a roasted marshmallow smell in the lab.

As part of the grand opening celebration, visitors were invited to tour classrooms and chat with students. Thibodaux offers a curriculum focused on STEM disciplines ­— science, technology, engineering and math. The new larger classroom wing provides its high school students ample room to explore in laboratories and in classrooms where roundtable discussions are part of their project-based lessons.

The STEM academy first began on the campus of N.P. Moss Middle School for middle school students — separate from a new high school that had its roots as David Thibodaux Career and Technical High School.

The two schools merged on the Moss campus and eventually became David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy for students in middle through high school.

The $9 million expansion helps the school, housed in the former middle school, graduate into a high school with adequate lab space for its specialized curriculum. The labs are about 1,900 square feet each, and the classrooms in the wing are each 900 square feet. In addition, the project also funded a 2,500-square-foot engineering workshop for the school’s robust robotics program.

The school’s principal, Jeff Debetaz, said the school’s integration of STEM in other disciplines, including social studies and English, sets it apart from others. Students work on projects that impact their local and larger community, such as a partnership with a pharmaceutical company that has students working on medication sorters, he said.

The school is also one of 14 that will create a science project that will one day launch into space, bound for the International Space Station, Debetaz said.

“We can’t look at our school as a regular school,” Debetaz told guests gathered for the grand opening of the new classroom wing.

Thibodaux senior Aisha Auter, 17, is one of the school’s “Bulldog Ambassadors,” a group of students who represent the school and served as guides during the grand opening celebration.

Before putting the giant, ceremonial scissors she wielded to their proper use, the senior addressed the crowd, telling the guests she was excited they would have an opportunity to peek inside the classrooms and witness the innovative lessons she’s experienced. She said the school’s English teachers teach students the Socratic method and experiments that illustrate what they learn in books.

“In my social studies class, we had a geneticist who cloned his dog come talk to us,” she said after her ceremonial duties. That visit also piqued her interest in genetics — a field she said she’s considering pursuing as she begins her studies in biology next year at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Thibodaux sixth-grade student Lola Lancaster reported on the grand opening for the school’s newspaper, Tank Talks (named for the school’s first mascot). Lola said she’s excited about the new classrooms but she’ll have to wait until she’s older to enjoy them.

“Science is my favorite subject,” Lola said about her interest in the STEM academy. “This school does (science) in a different way. It’s hands-on. We do more projects and experiments.”

The school also boasts a robotics program with 50 students. The new workshop provides much-needed space for students to create and test prototypes, said engineering academy director Nicolette Darjean.

“We can now better accommodate the students and their projects,” Darjean said.


Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.