NORTH LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — It may look chaotic inside the converted classrooms at Lied Academy, but former middle school is now an incubator for students eager to learn about robotics, architecture and other STEM careers.
This time last year, the school was known as Lied Middle School but Principal Derek Fialkiewicz was hard at work planning the massive conversion of the state's first career technical academy at the middle school level.
"We were literally selling a dream because none of it was in place," Fialkiewicz said.
As part of the conversion, former classrooms were converted to STEM labs where students are working with robotics and tools that look like erector sets many of their parents used as kids.
The one thing you won't find is a traditional desk for the students or teachers.
"They aren't just listening to me lecture. They are learning with each other. They are learning from each other's knowledge," teacher Jennifer Klapp said.
Those desks replaced by meeting style tables where they work together on projects aimed at teaching them about the subject at hand as well as teamwork.
"They'll learn to collaborate with each other," Klapp said. "If they can't figure it out they have their elbow partner,"
While the principal says the students know they are learning about science or math, they don't realize the setup is teaching them about skills big companies value.
"If you go to Switch, if you go to Zappos this is the way our students are going to be working, this is the environment they are going to be working in five to ten years," Fialkiewicz said.
Fialkiewicz has been working with the Nevada Contractor's Association along with other partner businesses to design programs in construction, architecture, computer programming, robotics, and manufacturing.
"Our community partners are helping us say okay your students need to know X,Y and Z need to know this if they are going to be successful," Fialkiewicz said.
Those partners want to make sure the students are ready to go to college with an idea about the career paths available to them in the STEM fields.
"In high school, they've already kind of decided what they think they might like to do as a career later in life," Emilie Kirkhus with the Nevada Contractor's Association said.
When it comes to the construction portion of the school, the contractor's association says it is all about teaching students all the options.
"To show kids what is out there in construction. What our industry is all about. There is more to it than just swinging hammers," Kirkhus said.
The school isn't ignoring the basics. Instead, incorporating them with the STEM projects so students are more engaged and learning the practical applications of the subjects.
"With building something it is more fun and experience than just writing something," 7th grader Katherine Crews said.
All of that culminating with a team final where students use everything they've learned on a Shark Tank-style project presentation.
"I want our students to leave here with something they are actually going to be using in the future," Fialkiewicz said.
The school has been so successful, they've had to expand enrollment in the first year.
Applications for the 2019-2020 school year have already closed, but you can learn more about the process for next year and submitting late applications on the district's website.