The first students who enrolled in Springfield’s Global Impact STEM Academy graduated Wednesday.
The school’s 57 seniors have achieved much in their four years of high school, the director and a teacher said.
Combined, the students have been granted more than $1.6 million in scholarship money. Fifty of the students are going to college, five of them are entering the military and two are going right into the workforce — and have jobs waiting for them.
“It really speaks to the teachers we have and the students,” academy director Josh Jennings said. “This group of students that we started at Clark State with was instrumental in building the culture of our school.”
The Global Impact STEM Academy opened four years ago with 50 students. The school employed four teachers and was held in two classrooms at Clark State Community College. It has since moved to the old South High School — renting space from the Springfield City School District — has been granted millions of dollars for renovations and plans to open a middle school next year.
“The graduating students took a massive risk,” English teacher Michael Payne said. “They could have gone to any of their local schools but made one of the most incredibly brave decisions to venture out to a new school that had a bizarre Ag focus. No one ever heard of this place.
“And then all of a sudden it became a close, tight-knit group of people,” he said. “Almost like a family.”
Students who are graduating from the schools said it took some convincing for their parents to allow them to participate.
“(My mom) was so dead-set on me having the normal high school experience,” Senior Class President Angel Canter said. “But after some begging, she went to a meeting, and once we all came in the room and everybody started talking I made a lot of friends.”
The class of 2017 has seen their school change.
“I am so proud of my school,” Canter said. “Seeing it grow and get as big as it has it warms my heart, it makes me feel very emotional and happy. Other people have invested their time.”
Payne said the students are just as responsible for the school’s growth as the teachers are.
“I would say its probably 80 them and 20 us,” he said. “It was up to the 50 students to want to say and want to create a culture.”
He said the graduating ceremony makes the hard work done over the last few years worth it.
“This is incredible and also climactic and in the same breath, unbelievably,” Payne said. “Four years ago we had a handful of 50 kids and you’re thinking, are we going to be around for a while?”
Senior Wesley Sizemore described his class as goofy, but smart and goal-oriented.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “I have had the best experience here. It is so personal. I am so grateful to come here.
“Our graduating class is a good group,” he said. “We are very different, and I am very proud to be a part of it.”