Two schools in Judson ISD are investing in the future, not only for their students, but for the outside world thanks to a grant supplied by the Texas Education Agency.

Candlewood Elementary School and Kirby Middle School are taking part in a planning year for their School Action Fund grant, which focuses on a bold campus innovation, creating a new school model.

“What we're looking at is increasing not only the student outcomes and performance academically, but we're looking at increasing the number of A-B rated schools,” said Denise Jones, JISD Accountability and Innovation Director. “We believe that through these actions they can accomplish this.”

Choosing the right model

The two campuses were given a choice between different school models to pick from through the grant, and both selected a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus.

One of the unique aspects about the STEM model is that it will eventually be applied to all students at the two schools, not just a small group of selected students. After the planning year is complete, and if the continuation grant is awarded, sixth grade students at Kirby and pre-K through first grade students at Candlewood will be immersed in the STEM program for the 2024-25 school year. Each following school year will incorporate the additional grade level above.

“The staff at both campuses will rely on the engineering design process, and that is going to permeate through all of the different core contents,” Jones said. “They're doing an intensive school design with a technical adviser assigned by TEA making sure that they're aligning all the components of the school with this new model.”


One of the reasons the STEM model was chosen over other models was to provide STEM opportunities across the district.

“With the growth of STEM careers not only in Texas, but in the nation, our STEM model program opens up opportunities to completely change the lives of not only our kids but also their families,” Kirby Middle School Principal Nicole Rosas-Saunders said. “We strive to be able to set our kids on a path where they can go anywhere, in any field that they want, and provide them with strong math, reading and fluency skills that prepare them for all of the jobs that are out there.”

The schools are also aware of the shortage of engineers across Texas and are hopeful that getting students interested in STEM early in their education will help fulfill that need.

Zooming in

While two schools will implement a STEM focus, if awarded the continuation grant, it will look different based on the grade levels.

“We are going to have an ecology-based model of STEM,” Candlewood Elementary School Principal Rachelle Diaz said. “We will have STEM electives where we're getting a state-of-the-art library put in our campus right now. It just happened to correspond with a bond that was passed a couple years ago.”

Candlewood STEM Academy program features:
  • A new makerspace
  • A miniature orchid garden
  • Robotics and designated science lab time
  • A news crew and aquaponics area
Kirby STEM Academy program features:
  • Double blocking math classes
  • A year-long STEM lab with robotics, 3D printing, cybersecurity and auto mechanics
  • One big cross curricular sixth grade project
Next steps

Pending receipt of the continuation grant , the schools plan to expand the program to more grade levels each school year. Teachers who participated during the first year will help train other teachers who will be joining the STEM program in upcoming years.

Another big focus includes pulling in more STEM electives for the seventh and eighth graders to help prepare them for high school and college.

“We want to provide them with as much variety and experience to be able to get a little taste of as many electives as possible,”Jones said.

To learn more about Judson ISD programs, visit their website.

The above story was produced by Community Impact's Senior Multi Platform Journalist Sierra Rozen with information solely provided by the local business as part of its "sponsored content" purchase through our advertising team.