Harmony’s newest Northwest Austin campus aims to prepare future tech workforce

Harmony's newest Northwest Austin campus opened Aug. 16.

Harmony's newest Northwest Austin campus opened Aug. 16.

Inside Harmony Public Schools’ newest campus on Anderson Mill Road, students in grades pre-kindergarten through fourth grade are already learning how to code, build robotics and follow NASA protocol in their labs.

Harmony Science Academy-Cedar Park, located at 12200 Anderson Mill Road, Austin, opened its doors to 400 students on Aug. 16, marking the first semester for the newly established campus.

The campus, which plans to eventually educate 650 students when it reaches its full capacity, opened this year in response to a rise in families enrolling at Harmony School of Political Science and Communication, located at 13415 RM 620, Austin, said Victoria Stockstill, the Austin director of outreach and development for Harmony.

Harmony School of Political Science and Communication was previously a pre-k through 12th grade campus, but Stockstill said Harmony’s business plan calls for a split of elementary and secondary schools. Once the campus on RM 620 began to fill up, the school looked for a new location to move its elementary-aged students.

The growth in population wasn’t the only reason why Harmony expanded its presence in Northwest Austin, Stockstill said. The new campus puts an added emphasis on its Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program, or T-STEM, which Harmony said complements the growing tech industry in the area.

“Harmony chose T-STEM as [its] focus by looking at the jobs of the future,” Stockstill said. “This campus is located specifically is a very high-tech area, so we feel like we’re developing feeders into the corporations and organizations that surround us as well.”

Stockstill said the campus hopes to prepare students to join the tech workforce, specifically in Austin.

“We’ve looked at some research and found that Austin is one of the high-tech capitals in the United States,” she said. “We’re still growing, but it’s people coming in from other parts of the country. We want to keep our Austinites here and we want to prepare that workforce.”

In addition to preparing students for prospective tech jobs, the curriculum at Harmony provides students with problem-solving techniques and other real-world skills, according to teachers at the school.

Harmony teacher William Dickson leads the campus’ Pitsco Education Lab, an elective class that takes objectives learned in science class and turns them into long-term group projects. Students are assigned a mission that lasts 10-14 weeks and a specific job within their group, such as acting as a mission commander or information specialist.

“Each mission is broken down into modules and it’s all student-led,” he said. “As an educator in this class, I’m just a facilitator.”

Aside from the Pitsco lab, the new campus offers coding classes to students as early as kindergarten, Stockstill said. The school is partnered with Coding for Texas, a program that trains teachers new coding strategies. Harmony also has a robotics club that teaches participants how to design a robot.

Stockstill said the charter school hopes by opening a new location near the burgeoning tech industry that the school will make new partnerships with corporations in the area.

“We seek out ways to bring in the local communities, especially the local tech community, to our campuses for mentorships or just one-off presentations and field trips,” she said. “It’s a perfect location for us because there’s so much access here in proximity.”
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