STEM high school to be built on campus

UCR plans on constructing a new STEM-focused magnet high school on its campus in conjunction with the Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) which will allow about 800 high school students to utilize UC facilities and resources during their education. The project, still in its early planning phase, will be built using money obtained from Measure O.

A 2015 agreement between UCR, RCC and RUSD paved the way for new ideas to expand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education in Riverside County. The Riverside STEM Academy (RSA), which as a magnet school focuses on a STEM curriculum, must adhere to state requirements and is a part of the school district, proposed building an extension campus on UCR’s grounds, and since 2016 the project has been in development. Construction is set to begin, according to planning documents, December 2019 and will be completed by March 2022.  

RSA will use approximately $55 million obtained from state Measure O to complete the design and construction of the project. This measure allows the Pacifica School District to issue bonds of no more than $55 million to facilitate projects benefiting elementary and high schools in a broad capacity, which RUSD will use for planning and construction while RSA leases the land from UCR. According to UCR Professor of Paleobiology Mary Droser, also a member of the design team on this project, neither the school nor its students will be responsible for any costs.

The location of the new building will be on the northeast part of campus off of Watkins Drive and Valencia Hill Drive, and students of the school would have access to resources such as the HUB and other on-campus stores and facilities. Planning and design of the facility are still under way, and various regulatory requirements will need to be met, such as official traffic analysis and permitting.  

Droser highlighted how the new school will be beneficial for UCR. “This … provides a close opportunity for service learning projects for undergraduate students,” she said, “as well as facilitating classroom observation, mentorship and participation in research.” Droser also wrote about the advantage that this new school will provide certain funding opportunities for UCR. “The presence of the school on the UCR campus will facilitate certain types of grants and funding opportunities which benefits the campus as a whole,” she said.

Some are concerned about the project, such as Kevin Dawson, a UCR alumnus and area resident. “RUSD students graduating from this school would have a huge advantage when applying for admission to collage (sic),” said Dawson, “They’d be able to list that they attended and graduated from an elite high school on a UC campus.” However, Droser feels differently about the project. “There are loads of magnet schools and schools of choice and other opportunities for kids in other districts across the country,” she said. “Additionally, there are examples of schools on other campuses. So yes, this is an advantage for RUSD kids but I don’t think that I would consider it as unfair to others.”

Potential issues also stem from these new high school students competing for the same resources as their collegiate cohabitants, as well as the new school’s impact on its surroundings, such as parking. “It’s taking Intramural facilities paid for by almost $2 m (sic) of student fee money,” said Dawson. “It’s bringing 800-1200 high school students to the campus to have access to UCR faculty and facilities, potentially competing with UCR Students for campus resources.” However, Droser wrote that these concerns are unfounded. “ … things like parking, etc. are being worked out. RUSD students will not impact our dining services or classes.”

This project is not the first of its kind, since two other UC campuses already have on-campus high schools. The Preuss School at UC San Diego and the Geffen Academy at UCLA both offer high school curriculums to local students. The RSA project at UCR is unique by way of its focus on STEM education.

A website dedicated to providing information about the planning and building of this new school is currently being developed.

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