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Local students transform school into STEM sanctuary

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A high school in the Nampa School District is trying something new — closing the book on the old way of learning and giving students a chance to learn the way they want to!

This year, Columbia High School in Nampa turned one of its wings into an entirely separate school that is geared toward science, technology, engineering, and math.

It's called Columbia STEM Academy.

"We took over an entire hall, we broke down a wall just to make the rooms bigger, we even designed the rooms ourselves as a STEM project," said Jennifer Picazo, a Sophomore at Columbia STEM Academy.

Out of Columbia HS's more than 1300 students, 140 were accepted into the STEM Academy.

"A lot of the time, school is something that is done to kids," said Dan Neddo, Program Lead for Columbia STEM Academy. "These kids choose to do school the way they want to do it."

It's all project based — So, instead of learning general information about each of the core subjects, these students learn the core subjects by mastering one big project.

The students have control over what they work on and when.

"I feel like we are getting trusted with a lot," said Hannah Comes, a Senior at Columbia STEM Academy. "They trust us to work at our own place and [to] have the freedom to go about the rooms as long as we get done with what we need to get done."

The school is made up of five rooms — designed by the students — each with a personality of its own.

The Breakfast Club: A lounge-style area where students collaborate on projects, have lunch, or just hang out.

STEM HQ: The headquarters, a hub for all things related to science, technology, engineering, and math.

TORT: The one room that you do stuff in. It's the quiet room for studying and taking tests.

The Lyon Den: A place for learning and sharing ideas among peers.

The Lab: Where questions are asked and answers are sought through experimenting.

One look around and it's not hard to see, Columbia STEM Academy is unlike traditional high school!

"We are all connected. It's a family within a family," said Susan Waskosky, a Junior at Columbia STEM Academy.

In the future, administrators plan to open the STEM Academy up to students from other schools within the Nampa School District, as well.

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