STEM Projects in Active Learning Spaces at Samueli Academy

“If they know we care, they respond,” said Anthony Saba, Executive Director at Samueli Academy in Santa Ana. He’s learned that “You can’t have good academics without a strong culture.” A culture of trust, respect, and hard work is evident in every classroom at Samueli Academy.

Saba spends most of his time on student recruitment and fund development–and the full enrollment, waiting list and sponsored spaces and programs is evidence of his success.

Named for Anaheim Ducks owner and Broadcom co-founder and chairman Henry Samueli and his wife Susan, the school has been successful at rallying the support of Orange County families and businesses.

“Samueli has recruited a diverse group of teachers, with a portfolio of backgrounds and experiences. Several have industry experience and a deep understanding and experience with project-based learning.” Said Tim Presiado, Chief Operating Officer at New Tech Network. “The head of school, Lee Fleming, also brings over 15 years of experience working in New Tech Network schools, as a teacher, a principal and within the non-profit sector supporting new school development. You couldn’t ask for two better leaders than Lee and Anthony,” added Presiado.

A summer engineering bridge camp gets new students ready to succeed in the STEM curriculum.

Ninth graders take a design class and then select from two pathways, design and engineering.

The school serves 550 students.

High-Quality Project-Based Learning

“This school all about projects,” said Saba. Most classes are project-based. Most projects are done in groups of four with well-defined project management roles.

Samueli is a member of the New Tech Network which supports team taught integrated projects with a learning management system, assessment rubrics, and professional learning experiences. Head of School Lee Fleming has worked at four New Tech schools.

Students in an engineering class spend the second semester preparing for the Orange County Maker Challenge. A great way for students to have truly public work as well as manage a multi-faceted project from start to finish.

Mr. Nino Polizzi Engineering Teacher

Cultivating Agency

Students feel ownership for Samueli. Part of that is being heard. A student advisory council ensures that student voice is part of big decisions in the life of the school.

Students choose pathways, courses, and get some project choice in most classes. Students also help interview new teachers.

Before or during their senior year, Samueli students participate in an internship. Many seniors take part in “senior defense”, an opportunity to present to faculty and the incoming junior class about how they addressed challenges, sought feedback and developed agency.

“Agency is the most challenging outcome but also the most valuable,” said Saba.

Extra Support

Wrap around services are available to all students but especially important for foster youth–an important part of the Samueli mission. The school is well known in the community for their foster youth support.

Three new buildings on campus this year will include a residential dorm for 48 foster youth. Most will spend five days on campus. Support for students continues after graduation with a full alumni program run by the Alumni Success Director who contacts former students at least monthly to connect them with mentors and ensure college completion or job placement.

Supporting alumni, work-based learning, athletics and all the extras at Samueli cost $1500 more per student than they receive from the state–about $750,000 of annual fundraising and their $75 million capital campaign is almost 90% complete. We’re excited to continue to watch growth at Samueli, and this is definitely one worth adding to your list.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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