Beginning this fall, St. Paul’s Arlington High School will become Minnesota’s first high tech high school, reinventing itself as the Bio*Smart magnet program.
The Bio*Smart program, according to Arlington High principal Patty Murphy, is intended to give students “an opportunity to explore careers in the biotechnical, bio health sciences and bio business/marketing areas.”
Bio*Smart is an offshoot of a statewide plan called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), purporting to promote those fields in the public schools. It is supported by the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota High Tech Association, Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a vocal supporter of STEM.
In the Bio*Smart program, students will choose a curriculum that will help to set them on a career path in science, technology, engineering and math. Students will make their choices as early as ninth grade. Arlington High School’s partner, Washington Middle School, is the counterpart high tech middle school magnet program. Students beginning at Washington will be able to continue at Arlington High.
If current plans materialize, during their senior year, Arlington students will also be able to begin classes at Century College or enter into internships at Gillette Children’s Hospital or Medtronic, depending on their career choice. Arlington is exploring partnerships with St. Paul College and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, and already has a partner relationship with the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
Murphy explained that although Arlington’s focus will be on math, science, and technology, students will also receive a regular high school education. Arlington has applied for a $6 million federal grant, and will be notified some time this fall about whether the grant is approved. The school plans to continue with the Bio*Smart magnet program whether or not the grant is approved.
Arlington High, opened in 1996, is St. Paul’s newest high school. Located at 1495 Rice Street on St. Paul’s east side, Arlington has a majority population of students of color, many of whom are immigrants. The school’s test scores have been lower than average, but Murphy feels
this is not a reflection of the school’s quality, but rather of a significant number of students that come from non-English speaking homes and are expected to pass standardized tests in English.
Murphy strongly feels that the potential of the students at Arlington is limitless: “These kids are ready to take on the world—they just come from circumstances where they might not get a lot of exposure about how to maneuver,” she said. “And we’re going to help them do that. These are fabulous, fabulous young people that can do fabulous, fabulous things. What we know is that students that go on to college and get jobs—good jobs—will be better able to contribute to society.”
Murphy said that the goal is that those students who choose to attend Arlington will be well prepared to take better advantage of the career opportunities available locally. The Twin Cities is home to outstanding medical facilities like Gillette Children’s and Abbott- Northwestern Hospitals, as well as biotechnical organizations like Boston Scientific and Medtronic. The St. Paul school district’s hope is that the Bio*Smart magnet program will provide the raw materials to allow students to succeed in an increasingly technological world.
Murphy admits that Bio*Smart won’t be for everyone—not everyone is interested in pursuing careers in bio technology—and that not every junior high or school student knows what they want to do for a career. But for those students that choose to attend Arlington, she says that, “…we’re trying to help them see opportunities where we know there are going to be good jobs in specific areas and say, ‘You really might like this. Let’s help you, and when you’re here, let’s work on some of the training and exposure in terms of curriculum and career that you might need to have as a background as you pursue things. We’re not going to drop the ball and neither are you.
“Arlington’s like this hidden little jewel that nobody really knew about until recently and now we’re just going to exemplify what we’ve always been,” Murphy maintained.