Long Island's first regional magnet school for science and technology has started its first full week of classes with high ambitions but about half the number of students it originally planned to enroll.
Twenty-three ninth-graders are taking fast-paced lessons in trigonometry and other subjects at the Syosset school, known as the Doshi STEM Program. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. School sponsors had hoped to begin with 50 students, then bring in equal numbers each year thereafter.
Sponsors at Nassau BOCES noted that much has been accomplished -- namely, creation of a challenging regional academic program in less than 12 months. The STEM school has contracted with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory to provide guest lecturers and help with trips.
Sponsors and supporters acknowledged, however, that student recruitment must accelerate over the next few years if the STEM school is to meet its goals. The idea is to educate and mentor students who will win prizes in national research contests and then go on to become engineers, doctors and other professionals.
So far, six of Nassau's 56 local districts have agreed to send students there.
Leena Doshi, a Hicksville radiologist and a major school donor, underlined the urgency this week when she visited a classroom and told students that only their success could guarantee the school's continuation.
"Whether this program survives or not is entirely up to you," said Doshi, whose family foundation has pledged more than $1 million in funding over the next four years.
The 14-year-olds -- mostly honors students in their home districts -- appeared to take the challenge in stride. Several said later that they had enjoyed their first few days with new classmates who shared their scientific interests and looked forward to their first outdoor experiments Thursday at Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor.
"It's a lot of fun," said Jorge Gomez, 14, of Hicksville, who drew lots with other students at his local high school to determine who would enroll in the STEM program. "We're going out on a field trip, collecting water samples. Never done that before."
The STEM program is housed in a wing of the High School for the Arts, another regional center, which is marking its 40th anniversary and also is run by Nassau's Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Students spend half-days at the STEM center and the remainder of their time at local high schools.
Supporters say STEM magnet schools can potentially fill unmet needs on the Island and statewide, because many local high schools can't afford comprehensive programs in research and engineering technology.
Supporters, who include high-tech business leaders, add that BOCES magnet schools have enrollment limitations because teens cannot be admitted without permission from home districts, which pay tuition. Funds from the Doshis' foundation are helping hold annual tuition rates to $7,400 per student, compared with $12,500 per student for many BOCES programs.
A veteran educator, Frank Banta, took over the arts school and STEM center as interim principal last month. Banta, 71, a former superintendent in the Port Washington district, said he hopes for more students.
"Sometimes, people take a wait-and-see approach, to see if something is going to be a success," he said.
Baldwin, Malverne, Oyster Bay-East Norwich, Uniondale, and Westbury are also participating.Students may apply in the spring semester of eighth grade and may obtain more information by calling 516-396-2390.