LOS ANGELES—At 8:50 on a warm morning in October, a group of high school seniors paint long strips of canvas in a small science classroom. Yawns spread from teen to teen in the dimly lit room as they daub blank parchment with orange, green, and purple paints. One student’s eyes flutter as she tells her peers about staying up until 2 a.m. the night before to finish a campaign poster for the student council elections. Two boys goof off, chuckling as they dump globs of paint onto canvas, delaying the project’s completion. Once the thick layers of paint dry, the strips of canvas will be woven together to create brightly colored graph paper on which teachers will post weekly problems for a prize or extra credit.
It seems like a typical classroom in an average high school, but as the minutes pass it becomes clear how many little things are different for the 15 seniors at STEM3 Academy, an innovative private school that focuses on science, technology, mathematics, and engineering.