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S.T.E.A.M. Academy named in honor of Lubbock astronaut opens for inaugural year

Updated: Aug. 17, 2020 at 4:48 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - For about 330 middle school students in Lubbock ISD, Monday was not only their first day back at school but also their first day in a new school, Commander William C. McCool Academy.

Commander McCool, a graduate of Coronado High School, was the pilot of Space Shuttle Columbia, which was destroyed upon reentering the Earth’s atmosphere in February of 2003.

“When he retired from NASA, he wanted to come back and teach,” Barry McCool said. “He wanted to teach at this level. So, he would be so proud to see these students coming into a school with his name on it.”

Barry and Audrey McCool, parents of of Willie McCool, stood outside the front doors of the former Smylie Wilson Middle School to greet the students on their first day.

The Lubbock ISD school board voted in December of 2019 to name the school after the district’s alum. The STEAM magnet middle school will focus on project-based learning.

“I think he’d be proud of the kids and their interest in learning,” Audrey said. “These kids seem really enthusiastic about learning, about being here. They have to apply to come, which means they want to learn. So, I think Willie would be proud of their attitude on wanting to learn about, particularly the STEM program, as well as art. He’d be very proud because the students are interested. They’re enthusiastic. They want to be here. They want to learn.”

Part of the grading guidelines at McCool Academy, according to Principal Carolyn Wadley, includes collaboration skills.

“We know that’s a real-world skill that we all can work on,” Wadley said. “When we’re looking at collaboration, we want students to reflect and also collaborate with their peers and their colleagues, not just now, but as they’re building towards the skill whenever they eventually get themselves into a STEAM career.”

This poses a unique challenge for the school as it works to prevent the spread of germs among students.

“We have students with our schedule, they’re kind of going in pods and crews, as we call it,” Wadley said. “We’ve got about 80 to 90 percent of our students following on the same path with each other throughout their schedule.”

Wadley said keeping them in those groups will help with contact tracing, if needed.

Collaboration spaces were among renovations to the school building, which also included new LED lighting, flooring and a Mac lab.

“We will have our grand opening in September,” Wadley said. “We have been doing a lot of collaboration with Commander McCool’s parents and just can’t wait to continue the partnership as the years go on.”

Barry and Audrey tell KCBD the school will include a portrait of Commander McCool created by his son.

“It’s an honor,” Barry said. “It’s an honor for the McCool family and it’s honoring Willie. We couldn’t ask for anything more than that.”

Wadley said the Academy is still accepting applications to transfer to the new school. However, they are over enrollment limits for the sixth grade class.

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