Kiera Ocampo faced a tough decision as an eighth grader. She applied to and was accepted to all of Northside’s magnet schools.
“I loved them all,” Ocampo said. “I thought it was impossible to choose. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I dug down deep and thought – what am I truly passionate about? It was robotics, STEM, performing, and leadership.”
The now junior at the Jay Science and Engineering Academy (SEA) says she made the right decision and couldn’t be happier with the opportunities she’s had and the friend’s she’s made at SEA.
Whether it’s the robotics team, serving as class president, or earning scholarships and grand prizes for her research on water filtration at a community pond, it’s a wonder she has time to sleep. She wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m so passionate about doing everything,” Ocampo said. “I’ll reach out and help anyone.”
Amelia Wilde also knows what’s it like to be involved. In addition to five Advanced Placement courses her senior year alone, she’s also the Drum Major for the Mustang Band. She’ll have enough college credits to enter college as a sophomore, but also the memories of four years in the band and leading what she calls one of the band’s most successful seasons in years.
“The curriculum is not for the faint of heart, but you don’t have to be at the top of your class to succeed,” Wilde said. “But I had to learn how to be a better student here.”
Wilde has always been interested in life sciences, but through her courses at SEA, discovered she might want to pursue a career in lab research.
“Biotechnology was a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” Wilde said. “We went straight into labs which was cool. It’s a super diverse class and you do a little bit of everything. I probably wouldn’t have had these accelerated courses and lab experiences at any other school.”
Sophomore Victor Moran, a self-described extrovert and “theatre kid” in middle school, is surprised how much he’s come to love SEA even after a freshman year that was entirely virtual.
“I knew engineering was a passion of mine but I didn’t know about magnet schools,” Moran said. “I attended a Magnet Fair, learned about SEA, and thought it sounded fun. There were a lot of things that interested me.”
All SEA students complete an Academic Research project each year. The school hosts an annual Academic Research Symposium that is one of the largest school fairs in the state with over 400 projects. More than half a million dollars in scholarships are awarded to grand prize winners. Moran won first grand prize as a freshman for a project he’s continued this year as a sophomore – a 3D printed version of a compressed air engine.
“Academic research sounds daunting but you can choose any topic you like,” Moran said. “The freshman year class guides you and you put the project together over time. You also get individualized help from teachers.”
Moran’s favorite class at SEA? “Any class that gives me free rein in creativity and where you can develop projects, especially engineering.”
Alejandro Zertuche credits the academic research requirement with helping him develop problem-solving skills.
“You encounter problems and you have to learn how to fix them,” Zertuche said. “It’s part of the process.”
The senior in the Engineering strand has also spent the past four years playing football at Jay. He’s pursuing his SolidWorks Certification, which is for designers and engineers, and hopes to pursue a part-time job using the skills he’s honed at SEA to help pay for college. He plans to take the AlamoPROMISE, which offers eligible students’ free tuition at an Alamo Community College, and eventually transfer to Texas A&M University to study engineering.
“Sometimes I think what if I did this differently?” Zertuche said. “What if I went to another school? It’s pretty good what I’ve been given here – the friends, the opportunities, and the education. I thought I could do it and I really have. I’ve had to apply myself and give it the effort and also reach out if I needed help.”
Jay SEA offers students four strands of study – Biomedical Science, Computer Science, Engineering, and Robotics, as well as Science and Math endorsements.
The school is located on the John Jay High School campus and will next host an open house for prospective students on Jan. 11 starting at 6:30 p.m.