(Audio Above)
What We Make

By Emily Ware

Americans have a dilemma they haven’t addressed. Teenagers hate high school. This

isn’t the first time we, as a society, have talked about this. It’s not a newtopic

So, why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?

“Oh, it’s just kids being kids,” society says as they blame teen angst and stereotypical

rebellion. But, what if it’s not? What if sticking kids in classrooms for 8 hours a day and throwing

mindless worksheets at them isn’t a good thing? What if there were choices†within the public

school system? What if school districts didn’t cram their students into frames of what they

wanted them to be?

What if the focus was the needs of the students, rather than the needs of the school?

Don’t get me wrong, there are many students who do really well in a traditional, prescribed

environment, because it’s all they’ve ever known. But what if students knew something


A few years ago, I found myself as one of those students. Shuffled from room to room

throughout the school day, completing worksheets, memorizing tables and vocabulary, even

dealing with classic high school social issues. About midway through freshman year, I learned

about a new project in Plano ISD, something that had never been done before. An experiment,

one could call it. A new school of choice was opening and the district was seeking pioneer

students. I had a choice! After much consideration, I made the decision to enroll as one of these

new guinea pigs.

Here we are, three years later. I am part of the first graduating class at Plano ISD

Academy High School. A school designed around an interdisciplinary, projectbased,

and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts†, and Mathematics) curriculum.

Attending the Academy as a student presents its own unique set of challenges. To put it

mildly, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I have struggled here more than any other time in

my life. Students are pushed through some of the strangest and most challenging situations one

can be put through as a high school student, some of which most adults wouldn’t even ponder.

Has the average adult ever worked with a major airline (Southwest Airlines) to solve problems

within the company? Probably not, but that’s what creates the challenge. It’s incredibly difficult

to comprehend, we can’t handle it most of the time.

But we love it, the challenge, the work, the school. We love questioning everything we

know. We love learning. Our school is actively preparing us for the real world, the workplace, the

rest of our lives, and we know it. Rather than worksheets, homework, and busywork, hallmarks

of a traditional school, we see companies, presentations, and student ideas truly coming to life.

Learners at the Academy know that their school is part of a widespread movement to

reform education. We’re completely aware of the fact that what we do now is going to be with us

for the rest of our lives. We’re blatantly aware that what we do at this school is important and

necessary for our futures.

As a graduating class, the time has come to move on. We’re moving on from the place

we’ve grown up, the place we’ve learned to be comfortable with uncomfortable situations. It’s

over. Excruciatingly, excitingly over. Painfully, terrifyingly over. After three years in this

wonderful place, we are graduating. But we know we’re ready. We know we’re prepared for

whatever life hurls at us, because of the experiences we’ve had here.

Now, we begin our lives and separate from each other. In a matter of months we will

walk the stage and say goodbye. Goodbye friends. Goodbye facilitators. Goodbye mentors.

Once we move away, goodbye parents and goodbye siblings.

Goodbye, life we’ve known. Hello, new college world.

For some, the transition will be easy, others will struggle to stay afloat in college.

Regardless, our school has prepared us for any outcome. Our futures are up to us, and

Academy High School has empowered us to accomplish anything. I have an invitation for

anyone listening. Let’s do†something†about our flawed education system. Yes, people have

tried, focusing on the test scores. Let’s focus on the learning, not the test scores. This idea of

“education reform” has been around for generations, which begs the question, why hasn’t there

been any significant change? I’ve illuminated one way that I†believe works, because I’ve lived it.

I’ve lived through education focused on learning. Focused on students. It works. And it’s about

time the world follows. Let’s make a difference, for the sake of our children and children to come.

Let’s make lifelong learners.

So, in closing:

Dear Academy High School,

Thank you for showing me who I really am.

Thank you for allowing me to explore what I want to pursue.

Thank you for helping me grow, in every aspect of my life.

Thank you for showing me love and support, when no one else would.

Thank you for giving me a shoulder to cry on.

Thank you for putting up with me.

Thank you for the frustrations, thoughts, worries, stresses. Without those, who would I be


Thank you for giving me a safe place to thrive.

Thank you for letting me thrive.

Thank you for being what you are and making me into who I am.

20160413_031404000_iOSAbout Emily:  

Emily recently graduated from Plano ISD Academy High School with endorsements in Stem and Multi Disciplinary Studies. Plano ISD Academy is a project-based, interdisciplinary, and STEAM-focused environment. Emily will start at Oklahoma State University in August, majoring in Secondary Education and English. She hopes to one day teach in the Dallas area.


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About the Founder & CEO

Dr. Koshi Dhingra has dedicated her career to STEM education and is passionate about having every child live up to their potential. Seeing a lack of girls and other underrepresented youth in STEM programs, she founded talkSTEM in 2015 to address the imbalance. She has a doctorate in science education from Teachers College, Columbia University, has years of experience teaching in graduate and undergraduate programs, and has held leadership roles in universities. She advises and collaborates with a broad range of educational institutions globally. Dr. Dhingra began her career teaching science in middle and high school in New York. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, three children, and two dogs.


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