In 2010, a new educational culture began to blossom in Hammond.
The result of a public-private partnership between government, business and industry, environmental groups and citizens, the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology held its first classes in a borrowed space.
The shuttered St. Catherine of Siena school in Hammond’s Hessville neighborhood served as H.A.S.T.’s incubator. That year, students in grades 6 through 8 and their teachers immersed themselves in an educational environment focused on project-based learning and collaboration between staff, faculty, parents, community, business, and most of all, students.
But those classrooms were temporary because a new multi-million dollar school featuring the latest technology and learning designs was rising at 33 Muenich Court in the heart of downtown Hammond. Designed for up to 600 students, H.A.S.T. opened its doors to welcome students in the fall of 2011.
The same collaboration that created this charter school continues as H.A.S.T. prepares this fall to welcome its sophomore class back as juniors. These students will be the school’s first graduating class in 2014, said Principal Dr. Sean Egan.
H.A.S.T. can enroll students from anywhere in Indiana. Egan says 95% of those enrolled come from Hammond.
“The students are from public and private schools or are home-schooled. They are applying because they know its science and technology basis,” Egan says. “Parents are willing to try something new.”
A lottery to fill the new 6th grade classes for the 2012-2013 school year was held Feb. 12 with 230 people vying for 80 positions in the entering class. The waiting list has 800 names on it.
“Currently we have people walking in, one to five people every day, applying for their children to attend here. Right now we are processing 150 applications,” he says.
Egan says a few families have chosen to leave the school, but their numbers are small.
“Half of our departures are asking if they can get back in,” the principal says.
Teachers also are clamoring to become part of the H.A.S.T. experience, according to Egan.
“We have hundreds of applicants for teacher positions,” he says. “We have 1,110 applications for teachers – more than our student applications.”
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING & TECHNOLOGY
Teachers work hard to build the integrated curriculum created by Purdue University into the hallmark learning going on at H.A.S.T., the principal says.
Project-based learning involves intense collaboration between teachers of various subjects.
One project was the sustainable landscaping of native Indiana plants that flourishes around the school’s entrance. The project began with a $40,000 grant from the BP Whiting Refinery to a Northwest Indiana wildlife habitat council in Portage to manage a hands-on sustainable landscape project at H.A.S.T.
BP is the school’s primary partner, Egan says.
Students researched and worked in class for four months before planting day on July 13, 2011. The project was set up as an employment opportunity and positions were advertised. Students had to write resumes and cover letters, and learn interviewing skills.
“They were chosen for their positions and then divided into 10 committees,” English teacher Brooke Allen, who initiated and led the project with Amanda Miracle, science instructor, said on planting day.
During science classes and project time, the students learned the difference between an annual and perennial plant, and what physical conditions plants need to survive.
“Every group had input into the design. That creates ownership, and now it’s a piece of the school,” Miracle said during the planting.
Students also learned they can apply these small skills to their future as landscape architects, she said.
“We need to prepare students to be life-long learners,” Egan says.
In addition to meeting and exceeding Indiana Core 40 requirements for graduation, H.A.S.T. students will now be able to take dual credit engineering classes in conjunction with Ivy Tech.
The arts aren’t forgotten at H.A.S.T. Students from all grade levels created tile art featuring dunes and grasses that they researched in science glasses. The tiles are now a permanent part of the BP entrance. Students also participate at theatrical workshops at the nearby Towle Theater on Hohman Avenue.
Technology is abundant and first-class at the school. Each student has a laptop and most course work is done through computers.
“The kids carry computer cases and a notebook,” Egan says. “We communicate with home and school via the computers.”
THERE’S EVEN MORE TO H.A.S.T.
H.A.S.T. follows the same testing calendar of other Indiana public and private schools. The Indiana Department of Education approves the school’s curriculum.
“We are held to the same mandates as other Indiana schools,” Egan says. “We have an expectation of testing our students three times a year. We give the Northwest Evaluation Association test in the fall, winter and spring.”
That information is used to track students’ growth in reading and math. Students are placed in “cohorts,” or groups to learn and work together.
“What this has fostered in this school is an amazing tight-knit community. Students learn to accept and adapt to each other’s personalities,” he says.
Area colleges are also collaborating with and learning from the educational experience at H.A.S.T. This year Calumet College students observed and Purdue University Calumet used the school as a “living classroom” for students training to be teachers.
This fall, H.A.S.T. will also become a training ground for student teachers.
“Our mission is to develop critical thinkers who also give back to the community,” Egan says. “We have very compassionate students. Every grade adopts a cause and raises funds to support that cause.”