New Energy Institute HS helps students, staff embrace project-based learning

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A big smile spread across Samaya Watson’s face as she looked around the wide, brightly colored hallway adorned with inspirational phrases and clusters of modern furniture, where she and her classmates could gather.

“It feels like I’m in a Disney movie,” the 16-year-old Energy Institute High School junior said, giggling as she joked that she was expecting her classmates to break out into song and dance at any moment. “The atmosphere is different. Everybody just feels excited to learn and do new things.”

The new Energy Institute High School was among the record-breaking 13 Houston Independent School District campuses to open their doors for the first time on Monday — the first day of the 2018-2019 school year.

Designed for project-based learning, the $37 million, 114,000-square-foot facility is made up of three buildings and mimics the look of a high-tech corporate environment, incorporating multi-level areas for collaborative work.

Among the highlights are a makerspace where students can gather to develop creative projects, a technology room, outdoor learning areas, and a central courtyard connects all three buildings and features a large covered learning staircase as its centerpiece.

“We’re super excited. We’ve been preparing for a very long time,” Principal Lori Lambropoulos said. “We brought this whole philosophy to fruition — teachers now actually get to exercise this very unique type of instruction in spaces that are designed for that.

It’s been almost two years since the school — previously located in an old elementary school along Sampson Street, just north of Interstate 45 — formally broke ground on their new building. On Monday, Lambropoulos stood in the driveway in front of her new building, greeting nearly every parent and student who walked passed her.

“Good morning!” she hollered to a student walking up the sidewalk to the front entrance. “Hope you have a good first day!”

This year, Lambropoulos said she’s expecting 750 to 760 students, which is just shy of her 800-student capacity.

Sophomore Ben Barnes is one of those students. The 15-year-old said he was most excited about getting the chance to work in the robotics room and makerspace. He recalled the old building had limited technology, which limited their ability to fully embrace project based learning. But that is no longer the case, he said.

“It seems like a much more welcoming environment,” Barnes said, noting that the new building inspired him to be more confident and positive. “This building stands out. Its appealing to look at. It looks super professional.”

The new school, funded with district resources unrelated to the 2012 Bond Program, is located near the intersection of Southmore Boulevard and Tierwester Street near the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.