Eighth grade students Estella Fenter and Braeden Stutes talk like video players with nuanced discussions that touch on coding, graphic design, and how ant spotting can aid in software development.
Estella and Braeden have long been comfortable with computers, iPads, and popular video games such as Fortnite.
âI got my first laptop when I was 9 and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh I can do so many things with this stuff,’ said Braeden, who is now 13. Later, when he got a computer at 11, he says things just started. âI started to take an interest in programming. I started looking to build the computers themselves.
Enter Burleson KINGDOM where students like Estella and Braeden use their video game skills to learn.
REALM stands for Rigorous Educational Arcade Learning Model, a learning program that applies game design to academics.
Students learn to design and develop video games while studying basic subjects such as English and math. It is one of eight âChoice Schoolsâ programs in the district and will expand to high school next fall.
âBISD is working with educators to revolutionize the school as we know it,â Superintendent Bret Jimerson said in a recent press release. “Education like that offered at REALM prepares students for careers in professions dependent on coding knowledge and other technological skills.”
The Burleson School District, approximately 15 miles south of downtown Fort Worth, covers 55 square miles in Johnson and Tarrant counties. It serves over 12,400 students from Burleson, Fort Worth, Crowley, Cross Timber and Briaroaks. The neighborhood serves a growing suburban area and is expected to add 2,500 new students by 2027.
Educators said the district’s REALM program is an example of how schools in Texas are providing more academic choices tailored to the needs of a changing workforce and the interests of students.
It’s a style that works for Estella.
âHere you can get the information for yourself,â she said. âFind out for yourself and have the freedom and space to be comfortable and do your job. “
Need for a skilled workforce
Across North Texas, school districts have added academic programs for graduate students who are ready for college or a career. Many programs offer gateways to careers in areas of interest, including STEM or STEAM, reflecting the changing demands of the job market.
Fort Worth Schools opened on IM Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA this school year.
Arlington schools are expected to start a second early college program next year that would allow students to earn a diploma and associate’s degree in applied science or the arts.
Lawmakers are also supporting more career-related learning opportunities for young people.
“We are badly in need of a well-trained workforce,” said US Senator John Cornyn recently in Fort Worth, after hosting a roundtable on STEM at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.
The key, he said, is âyou have to start young,â encouraging students to take STEM courses and consider a related career area, perhaps in the aerospace industry.
Last year Cornyn helped pass a bill – the Mentoring, Training and Learning Innovations Act – which authorizes $ 40 million in grants to two-year colleges, four-year universities and technical schools for research into STEM education opportunities and the STEM workforce.
âIt is beyond me to see how much things are changing before our eyes,â said Cornyn.
“A school market”
The expansion of Burleson’s Choice Programs reflects the growth and changing needs of the district, as well as workforce trends.
Last school year, the district’s enrollment was 12,167, up from 10,545 five years ago, according to the Texas Education Agency. And the student body is expected to reach 14,000 in the next 10 years.
In response to this growth, the district adopted an estimated $ 85 million bond program that included construction and renovation projects that would turn Kerr Middle School into a REALM campus for students in grades 6 through 12. Kerr Middle School will be replaced by a new campus at 1320 E. Hidden Creek Parkway in Burleson.
April Chiarelli, executive director of learning at Burleson, said they promote the idea that parents should have “a market of schools to look at and to choose from.” She said this notion is coupled with an effort to ensure the district identifies the unique needs and interests of students.
In 2015, families told the district they wanted a STEAM program, or a focus on science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math. The district listened and started one, Chiarelli said.
“It was a huge success. We really saw that there was a need for this in the community because we had more students applying than we could have in this college.”
Since then, the district has grown to eight elective programs, including a STEAM Academy in Stribling, STEAM College, and REALM.
âREALM was really this unique idea that came into it, which was the game and the design,â said Chiarelli. âThe fact that this is now a huge billion dollar industry and that is what drives kids, we need to change education to suit the kids we have, not the other way around. “
REALM has proven to be popular, Chiarelli said, adding, âWe have been littered with questions from current eighth graders right now. ‘Is this going to continue? Is this going to continue? ‘â
The district responded by adding high school grades with the REALM learning model, she said.
“We are delighted to be able to continue this in the ninth grade.”
What is REALM?
REALM shared a campus with Kerr Middle School, which is 517 SO Johnson Ave. But this is the last year that the two colleges will share an address. Kerr Middle moves to a new location. The move will free up space that will be used to add high school grades to the REALM program.
Within REALM, college students prepare for future careers in graphics, programming or software development. Instead of traditional school desks, students work on homework in open spaces that resemble a cafe. When they have completed their homework, they âtake it up a levelâ to the next.
âEverything in REALM has progressed in levels,â said Braeden, explaining that ratings are like scores in a video game. “You basically want your score to be as high as possible at the end, obviously.”
Students sit on sofas while doing homework on their laptops, working at their own pace, under the guidance of teachers. They learn coding in a nearby workshop.
Starting next fall, the program expands to a high school, adding a graduating class each year.
REALM students in Grades 9-12 will not be participating in athletics or fine arts, but the students say they will reap huge rewards from their schooling.
âThe colleges will see REALM on your thing (transcript) and they’ll say, ‘Oh, my God. I want you in my college, âBraeden said.
Recently, the district converted the campus gymnasium into an esports arena for the inaugural BISD Esports tournament. The event, aimed at players from Kindergarten to Grade 12, offered a taste of those taking place at Esports Stadium Arlington.
Estella and Braeden said the school would open up careers in graphic design, programming and software development. They said that programming or coding would be helpful in many jobs. Besides, they like it.
âIf you treat a job as a hobby, you’ll never feel like you’re working,â Braeden said.
Editor Anna M. Tinsley contributed to this report.
This story was originally published 25 February 2019 00h00.