Nick Gatlin isn't much of a science guru and never liked science classes too much. But that's something teachers and staff at Hamilton County's newest school hope to change.
The county's science, technology, engineering and math school welcomed its first 75 students on the first day of school Monday. Educators say the school will focus on STEM areas but also will fundamentally shift the way high school is taught.
"I think what kids are looking for is a new way of doing school that's not boring," STEM Principal Tony Donen said. "Hopefully by the way we go about attacking science, there's a new interest brought about."
Even the STEM school's building is evidence of a different way of doing things.
Instead of concrete walls, low, cubiclelike partitions divide classrooms and hallways in the wide-open space at Chattanooga State Community College. Students and teachers all wear matching khaki pants and white polo shirts embroidered with "STEM."
"It's just really different from other schools," said Gatlin, one of 75 freshmen starting out at the new high school.
On Monday, students worked with Apple technicians to learn the ins and outs of their school-issued iPads. The high-tech school will have students using their iPads for class work, homework and projects.
"It will be as paperless as possible. We'll have one device that will have literally everything they need," Donen said.
In the coming days students will decide on a school name, motto and mascot, as well as help develop school rules.
The STEM program will use a made-from-scratch curriculum that emphasizes hands-on and project-based learning. Donen said teachers will flip the way instruction is carried out. Instead of spending most of the class time lecturing, teachers will assign instructional reading and video materials as homework so students will come to class ready to apply concepts.
Students entered their name into the STEM lottery drawing for varying reasons -- some were intrigued by the new program, while others just didn't want to go to their zoned high school. The school is projected to hold 300 students when it reaches capacity in three years.
Daejanae Williams said she didn't want to attend Central High, her zoned school. But she said the opportunity is what drew her to the new school. She was surprised by the school's walls and layout but said good teachers eased her first-day worries.
"The teachers seem like they are really into their jobs, and they seem like teachers who are going to help you through anything," she said.
Teachers and staff only got into the newly renovated building Thursday, making the last few days a mad rush to get organized. There are still kinks to work out with things such as buses and lunch service -- students picked up to-go meals brought from another school's cafeteria. But most reported a positive first day.
"Everything's small steps," Donen said. "With the 75 students, it's just getting them in the door."