iStem program draws more than 1000 people to Aldershot high school.

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

November 14th, 2018



There were more than 1000 people wanting to know more.

They filled the auditorium, then they filled the cafeteria and then they asked some people to move to the library where briefings were being given on the iStem program that will be offered to the September 2019 grade 9 class at Aldershot high school.

Cafeteria crowd Nov 2018

This is the crowd in the cafeteria – there were even more people in the auditorium and more in the library.

The program was one of the outcomes of the Program Accommodation Review that took place in 2016 that closed two of the city’s seven high schools.

Aldershot was spared in part because the original recommendation was to close Central high school.

In 2016 the debate was about closing schools. The Board of Education was close to desperate in wanting to get some good news out.

The idea of doing something special, something almost radically different got put on the table by a trustee and staff took to the idea.

Blackwell and Miller at itsem Nov 2018

Superintendent Terri Blackwell and Director of Education Stuart Miller- delighted with the turn out.

Director of Education Stuart Miller handed the task of overseeing the closure of the two high schools, Lester B. Pearson and Bateman high school, to Superintendent Terri Blackwell who ran with it.

She researched, pulled together a rather impressive group of advisers from the academic community and came back with a report that didn’t require a lot of additional funding and was academically sound.

The trustees bought in and Blackwell was in business; creating a new program that said to students: We won’t ask what you want to be…We will ask: What problem do you want to solve?

It was a challenge that brought out, perhaps the largest crowd Aldershot high school has ever seen.

student signing up

Students filling in the application forms for the iStem program.

People were filling in applications on the spot.

The Board of Education got far more people than they expected. They ran out of brochures and Superintendents who were explaining the course content had voices that began to fail them.

Superintendent Julie Hunt-Gibbons said she didn’t expect to have a voice she would be able to use the next day as she answered detailed questions.

The audience she was talking to had a hunger for something different for their children.  Hunt-Gibbons stressed that while Stem – Science, technology, engineering and mathematics were core, English, history and French also mattered.

The program starts with grade 9 students.

Kerry in white coat 2

Kerry Sagar, lead instructor for the iStem program at Aldershot high school.

Board staff wore white lab coats and actually scurried from place to place in the school. They were pumped, excited about the program that was being offered, and just a little stunned at the number of people who kept streaming through the doors of the school.

Miller told the audience that the world we live in needs innovation and ingenuity and schools needed to teach differently so that students could go out into a world much different than the one their parents took part in.

The iStem program is, in part, a program in which students will learn how to learn.

Learning by rote and memorizing will not be as important; students would learn by doing.

istem brochure part 1

iStem Curriculum for grades 9 and 10

istem program part 2

iStem curriculum for grades 11 and 12

The Board at this point has no idea how many people will actually apply. Their initial enrollment projection was pretty low – they hoped there would be at least one full grade 9 class. If the size of the audience and the questions they asked are any indication – there could be three different grade 9 classes at Aldershot in September of 2019.

The board has said there will be no caps on the size of the program.

There is a lot more to tell about this program.

The iStem program is set to run in the western end of the Region – this will end up being offered in Milton and Oakville.

Miller said the program could become a model for the way students are taught. He could be right.

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1 comment to iStem program draws more than 1000 people to Aldershot high school.

  • Phllip Wooster

    iSTEM is an excellent, innovative program that was developed in 2012 and has been operating since that time in Australia, the USA, India, and the UK. Congratulations to the Halton Board for deciding to implement it here in Burlington. It certainly offers students to focus in an area that is growing in importance in post-secondary education and in the economy more generally.