As the energy industry itself undergoes transformation, Lori Lambropoulos, Principal of the Energy Institute High School in Houston, talks to Rebecca Ponton about leading the nation’s first high school of its kind, one which she believes is transforming school culture.
How is your school is different from the average high school?
Superintendent of Houston ISD, Dr. Terry Grier, wanted me to create a mission and a vision for the school, and I knew that in creating a school that was going to have this one, singular theme, it was going to look and feel much different than an academy at a comprehensive high school, so I would say there are three things.
One is the updated technology. We do not have a cell-phone policy. I want to teach kids acceptable use of their technology and using tech in their instruction. That is a major focus for the school. We got put on the Power Up initiative through Houston Independent School District (HISD). Each kid has his/her own laptop and we’re using digital platform called the Hub, where the kids post their work online.
The second way the school is really different is there is not traditional delivery of instruction. All of our curriculum is delivered in the form of project-based learning. It’s restored that curiosity in learning different subjects. It aligns itself well to the tasks they would be doing in the corporate world.
The third way our school feels very uniquely different is with our dynamic corporate partnerships. They provide us with fieldtrips that actually take the kids out into industry and they get to see a “day in the life” as to what these careers actually look like.
The corporate partners also bring in guest speakers that are in a wide variety of career fields, and they talk to the kids about the new and upcoming careers that are on the cusp in the energy industry, and it really helps the kids get excited and passionate about what they might want to study or go into when it comes time for them to decide. We also do competitions and these are afforded by our corporate partners, IPAA/PESA.
As we continue to develop, we’re looking at curriculum in three different pathways – alternative energies, offshore technology, and the geosciences.
I think we’re paving the way toward transforming school culture. I feel like I’ve latched onto something special. I feel a visionary moment, for myself personally, as I have watched how this has transformed the way students feel about school and the way they’re learning.
What, specifically, are you doing to attract more female students?
We’ve had a few events through different organizations for women in energy, where we’ve tried to reach out to different middle schools and invite kids to those associations. When our magnet recruiter has gone to the middle schools, she has taken female students and females from one of the energy companies to the recruiting table, so they could talk to the girls and get them excited and let them know that energy is not just a profession for men. We’re doing our best to get the girls pumped up!
As of January 30, 2015, we had 990 kids apply for the 2015 – 16 school year. What was interesting to us and what was exciting was almost 40% of the kids who applied were female.
What does it mean that your school is the beneficiary of the 2015 Offshore Technology Conference dinner?
We’re super excited because of all the crazy, innovative things we want to do with our [new] building. It’s difficult to fund that on your own when you’re a public school, but with these types of donations from corporate partners . . . people get onboard because they get so excited about the cool things that you’re up to. It’s kind of like winning the lotto.
The Ladies of Energy Institute High School (LEIHS) club is the brainchild of Jillian Estrella, the 9th grade biology teacher, who modeled it after a group that she helped form when she was an undergrad at Texas A & M Galveston. “It wasn’t a sorority,” she hastens to add, “but it had that kind of esteem.”
The club is in its first official year after holding an overnight workshop last spring that included sessions on how to do professional hair and make-up, how to Dress for Success, Self-Esteem and Goals, and Healthy Relationships. “It’s about the girls as a whole person, not just school or the industry.”
Last year, Estrella took select groups to two industry conferences, which she said made a big impression on her students. “There were all kinds of networking tools. The girls who are serious about [the industry] are really interested. I’m proud of the females from my school. They always exceed my expectations.”