STEM Certification Score: 3

The STEM School supports non-traditional student participation through outreach to groups often underrepresented in STEM program areas.


Rockhurst High School believes that all students can achieve success in STEM curriculum. Over the course of a six year period, the mathematics department transitioned from a restrictive AP Calculus program into an open enrollment opportunity for all students. In 2008, 65 students took either the AP Calculus AB or AP Calculus BC exam. However, the math department supported the increased participation of students to 132 in 2015.

Students used to believe that only the “smartest” of them could take AP Calculus. In fact, prior to opening up the AP Calculus program, the students who took the exam were often all coming from the same feeder schools. Those students were fortunate to have exceptional sixth through eighth grade math teachers. Success in AP Calculus was not a function of innate, genetic ability, but really was determined by how well they were mathematically prepared before their secondary education even began. Now, the Rockhurst mathematics curriculum is much more vertically aligned to support all students resulting in about half the senior class taking an AP Calculus Exam each year. Efforts in both the mathematics and science departments have increased ACT STEM Scores over the course of the last five years by almost a full point. In fact, across the entire school, 49.6% of students will expect to take an AP Exam before graduation. In the spring of 2017, 640 AP Exams will be taken by students - a school record!

When the Rockhurst High School STEAM initiative began in 2015, the STEAM director and two coordinators immediately identified a need for improvement within the computer science department. Previously, only the top students were taking computer science courses and none of those students were given the support to succeed on an Advanced Placement computer science exam. Beginning in 2016, every freshmen is taking a one semester Introduction to Computer Science course where they learn how to program with a language called Processing (an extension of Java) and JavaScript. With this course, we will set interested students up for more success in future AP Computer Science courses. Currently, Rockhurst now offers AP Computer Science A and AP Computer Science Principles. Additionally, stereotypes will be broken as every students realizes that learning computer science is possible and accessible for all. Rockhurst strives to set every student up for success; one example is a free computer essentials summer course to help teach necessary skills for all incoming freshman.

Students receiving extra attention from Mr. Clark in Introduction to Computer Science

At the start of the 2015 school year, Rockhurst kicked off its Robotics program. One freshmen class (Introduction to Robotics), and four junior/senior classes (Robotic Engineering I) allowed 20% of the student body to learn and to implement the engineering design process. In conjunction with these classes, the robotics team competed in the FIRST robotics competition. In 2017-2018, the Principles of Engineering (POE) course administered through Project Lead the Way (PLTW) will introduce even more students to the engineering design process.

Beyond these courses, which are open to all students, Rockhurst has several programs that are targeting at-risk students and helping them with STEM curriculum. First of all, the Hurtado Scholars program identifies at-risk sixth graders at three urban Catholic schools. Between eight and twelve students are accepted each year. These students receive bi-weekly tutoring from Rockhurst math and English teachers. The students also engage in a five week summer school program, which emphasizes STEM curriculum in multiple ways. The students take both a problem-based math class and an applied math class. They also learn about the engineering design process with a robotics component. The very first group of Hurtado Scholars all got into Rockhurst High School this year and every single one of them found academic success.

All students take a High School Placement Test. For the lowest performing students, Rockhurst requires them to attend a four week summer school program. This program includes a rigorous math class that teaches them everything they need to know in order to be successful on the first day of Algebra 1. Of the summer school group, the lowest group that is still admitted into the school enter our Magis Academy program. These students take a specialized math class their freshman and sophomore year that coincides with a study skills class. These students are then mainstreamed into the standard mathematics curriculum during their junior year. The previously described support pathways creates opportunities for all students to be successful.

The STEAM initiative also organized student volunteers to work with younger students at the STEAM Studio. This service learning opportunity helps provide non-traditional students outside of Rockhurst access to STEM curriculum. It also introduces some of our “non-STEM” students to STEM curriculum through the lens of volunteering.

Steam Studio Video from Nicole Smith RHS on Vimeo.

-Above video created by student Evan Isom

This year the STEAM initiative partnered with MindDrive. Two Rockhurst students are now spending 27 consecutive Saturdays 3D printing and programming an autonomous car!

Finally, some of our students can’t find a pathway to fit all of their interests. Many want to pursue STEM education, but have to make choices because there isn’t enough room in their schedule. In order to provide more access to STEM classes, Rockhurst began a Summer Academy in the summer of 2016. This allows students to take a full year of Chemistry in a six-week intensive. This helps students get ahead in STEM coursework, but it also helps students pursue multiple academic interests so they don’t have to make a choice early in their lives that will impact their entire academic future.

Key Exemplars

Hurtado Scholars

The Hurtado Scholars Program is an educational and leadership opportunity offered by Rockhurst High School to prepare middle school boys for success at a college preparatory high school and beyond.

Opening up AP Calculus

In the 2014-2015 school year, the Rockhurst math department chose to double the enrollment in our AP Calculus 1 course. This decision was based on the idea that our students deserved every opportunity, and we were confident that this number of students could be successful in an AP course.

Introduction to Computer Science for all

July 1, 2016 marks the completion of my first ever high school credit course, Intro to Computer Science. It was nice to be able to focus on just one course as well as rehearse the curriculum planned for release this school year as a required technical credit for graduation.

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