From the outside, the replica of Independence Hall in Burbank will not be changed. 

Yet inside the walls of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School’s campus, an extensive overhaul inside is currently underway, leading up to its reopening as St. John Paul II STEM Academy on Aug. 14 with the arrival of its inaugural freshmen class. 

The transformation includes new engineering and digital media arts labs, a learning commons area, and an updated library using a mix of old and new materials. The STEM Academy — STEM — for science, technology, engineering, and math, is the first Catholic STEM-immersion high school in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. 

“We are excited for ourselves and our son to have the opportunity to be present at the launch of this great school and their new educational STEM model,” said Vivian Sarkisian, parent of an incoming, or “rising” freshman. “We believe the educational model is at the leading edge of education and will provide relevance in the context of our world today.” 

Dr. Jeff Hilger, the founding director of the STEM Academy, jumped full-steam ahead in July 2018 after the archdiocese closed Bellarmine-Jefferson High School due to low enrollment. 

The STEM Academy, which is co-institutional, (co-ed, but girls and boys are in separate classrooms) will offer two tracks: Digital Media Arts and Engineering. The students choose their path in the 10th grade. 

Juniors and seniors will have the opportunity to take classes for college credit, too, through the University of Texas at Austin, Glendale Community College, and Los Angeles City College. The high school will offer four classes each semester with two interdisciplinary labs.

“Students can do three years of math in two years. Teachers are able to give the students more time with this format,” said Hilger. 

The STEM Academy will begin the day with an optional lab at 7:30 a.m in the morning followed by daily Mass. The actual school day will begin at 9 a.m. Another unique feature of the high school is that the students are required to build partnerships in the community by interviewing professionals in the media industry and visiting studios and businesses in Burbank.

An important part of the STEM Academy will be integrating science and faith and instructing students that faith and science do connect, said Hilger.  

“Catholic identity is very important to me. We absolutely do believe that faith and science go hand in hand.”

Full story at Angelus News.