Grantee Corner  |  Houston Independent School District

Three students squeeze liquids into test tubes
Rusk Middle School biotechnology students practice loading wells to perform gel electrophoresis

A row of students work with pipe cleaners
Wesley Elementary School kindergarten students build their own Mars Rovers at NASA's 50th Anniversary celebration

Two boys use an iPad
Wesley Elementary School students participate in a robotics activity

A boy stands at a podium on stage
Rusk Middle School eighth-grade student is the state champion at the HOSA - Future Health Professionals Texas Conference

Two female students in pink lab goggles hold an eye
Rusk Middle School sixth-grade students dissect an eye during an exploration of the sensory system

A student speaks to a doctor in a lecture theater
Rusk Middle School neuroscience student learn alongside world class doctors at Baylor College of Medicine

A student wears an astronaut-style bed
Davila Elementary kindergarten student gets ready for bed NASA style

Five students work on the floor
Davila Elementary School students accept a STEM challenge: creating the fastest Mars Rover

A girl wears a virtual reality headset
Davila Elementary School students engage in a virtual trip to space

A group of teachers pose around a spacesuit
Davila Elementary School instructional staff excited to take picture with “Neil, the Astronaut”

Justin Fuentes, HISD Project Director

Houston Independent School District (HISD) is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the United States. Encompassing 333 square miles within greater Houston, HISD serves approximately 209,000 students at 280 campuses and is one of the city’s largest employers, with more than 27,000 staff. The student population of HISD is about 62 percent Hispanic or Latino, 23 percent African American, 4 percent Asian, and 9 percent White. Most HISD students (80 percent) meet federal criteria for free and reduced-price meals, and about a third (32 percent) participate in programs for English language learners. 

The six schools funded by the Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) implement instructional approaches that emphasize rich science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curricula to prepare students for college and career, and to promote racial, economic, cultural, and geographic diversity. HISD is expanding two partial magnet high school programs into whole-school magnet programs, revising a middle school magnet program’s theme and grade levels, and converting two elementary schools and a middle school from traditional programs to whole-school magnet programs. For all six MSAP schools, the whole-school program began phasing in by grade level in the fall of 2018.

Milby High School Academy for Aerospace, Engineering, and Medicine Professions offers a significantly revised whole-school magnet program with the following pathways: an Aerospace Academy, an Applied Science and Health Professions Academy, and a Petroleum Exploration and Engineering Academy. The new Academy of Energy, Medicine, and Aerospace at Deady Middle School and the new Energy, Medicine, and Aerospace Academy at Davila Elementary School will complete the vertical alignment of the magnet theme within the Milby High School feeder pattern. Vertical alignment is also happening with the two other MSAP schools—the new Academy of Aerospace and Engineering at Wesley Elementary School supports the significantly revised whole-school aerospace and engineering magnet program at Washington High School. 

Partnerships with industry, university, and community organizations support and enhance the schools’ magnet themes. Four of the partners are particularly critical to the MSAP project: Pumps & Pipes, Project Lead the Way/Chevron, Baylor College of Medicine, and NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC). 

Pumps & Pipes is a professional association of medical, energy, aerospace, academic, and community professionals and leaders, housed at the Institute for Technology, Innovation & Education of the Houston Methodist Hospital. Through Pumps & Pipes, MSAP teachers participate in summer externships with area STEM professionals such as medical researchers, bioengineers, surgeons, astrophysicists, geologists, and subsea engineers.

Project Lead the Way/Chevron provides lesson plans, teaching resources, and extensive educator training to empower the next generation of innovators with learning pathways in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science. Five of the MSAP schools use the partner’s project-based learning curriculum, which is augmented by support from Houston-area employer and industry leader Chevron. 

Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) supports the BCM Biotech Academy at Rusk, which provides a significantly revised whole-school program focused on health and medicine. Students experience specific classes developed and delivered in partnership with BCM; these include neuroscience in sixth grade, scientific decisionmaking in seventh grade, and biotechnology in eighth grade. 

While BCM is the primary partner for Rusk, NASA-JSC is the primary partner for the other five MSAP schools. Through the Office of STEM Engagement at NASA-JSC, students and teachers can draw on NASA’s extensive archive of curriculum content and lesson plans, teaching materials such as lunar rock and meteorite samples, professional support for integrating theme-driven content into the classroom, and special opportunities such as a May 2019 video conference with an American astronaut aboard the International Space Station. 

Justin Fuentes is the project director for HISD’s 2017 MSAP grant. A 20-year veteran of HISD, he began as a mathematics teacher at M. B. Lamar High School, served as both Dean of Students and Principal at Challenge Early College High School, Principal at Sterling Aviation High School, Director and School Support Officer over High Schools, and is now Assistant Superintendent for School Choice. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of Houston.