BUTLER TWP. — As high school freshman in Ben Evancho’s second-floor biology classroom finished observing cellular life through a microscope Tuesday, their governor was touring classrooms below.
Gov. Tom Corbett visited the Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences for a ceremonial ribbon cutting and to see what the students there have been learning since the magnet school opened this year.
“This is a role model for the rest of the state of Pennsylvania,” Corbett said of the STEM school.
In a STEM school, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, high school students get their core English and history classes, but there’s a prominent effort to develop young scientists and engineers.
The 16 giant classrooms, each adorned with sparkling new research technology, can be partitioned to make smaller rooms, but all the sliding doors were open Tuesday and Evancho’s students were running experiments with a neighboring freshman class.
Lab partners Kendry Paulino and Justin Vargas worked at their microscopes as other students behind them put samples into petri dishes to inspect microscopic eco systems. Vargas entered notes on his school-provided digital tablet, one that he takes home with him every day to produce PowerPoint presentations, take notes and do research.
Freshman students ease into a general studies with a strong foundation in biology. As they work through the grades, Evancho said, most find their way to a focus area, a preferred field they hope to pursue as a career.
There are about 330 students enrolled with the building able to hold about 480. Students from other districts are trying to get in, said Hazleton Area School Board President Brian Earley.
To be accepted to the academy, a student needs a teacher’s recommendation, acceptable grades and, most important, must show keen interest in developing a career in science or technology, Evancho said.
For the first hour of his visit, Corbett visited classrooms in which students re-capped their lessons for the day. One of the governor’s aides had to pull him away from Bob Stetz’s robotics class, where he guided an all-terrain robot remotely using joystick and a computer screen.
Hazleton Area Superintendent Francis Antonelli thanked Corbett for his support by way of securing funds for the district to buy the building from the Hazleton Community Area New Development Organization for $4.4 million and to convert it into a school, which cost about $6.2 million.
“He has been a very strong ally for our effort in making the Hazleton Area Academy of Science a reality, not only for our students but for the entire greater Hazleton area,” Antonelli said.
Corbett said these types of schools are the future, though there’s no plan for STEM programs in each of the state’s 500 districts; the task simply is too vast, he said.
So he spoke of his proposal before the state Legislature to use sale of retail liquor licenses for Passport for Learning grants, lump sums for school districts to do what they deem most important to improve infrastructure and education.
“I’m still hopeful we can get something like that through,” Corbett said.