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Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Tony Smith, left, listens to speakers during the launch of the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) center at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. Project Lead the Way, which is funded by Chevron, is in partnership with the school to help prepare students for technical careers. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

OAKLAND -- For sophomore Kelton Runnels, being a McClymonds High School Warrior meant playing football and competing on the track team.

But this school year, 16-year-old Runnels has found a new hobby: engineering.

He is one of 13 sophomores at McClymonds High School selected to take the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) class. The class was revealed to the community Tuesday with the grand opening of the school's West Oakland STEM Center, a lab of computers needed to teach the STEM curriculum.

"The class keeps you thinking on your feet, and I have friends in the class who make me want to stay," he said. "We learn more and have more fun."

The audience listens to speakers during the launch of the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) center at McClymonds High School in Oakland,
The audience listens to speakers during the launch of the new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) center at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

In partnership with Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit organization that develops the STEM program in schools nationwide, and Chevron, ¿Principal Kevin Taylor spent almost three years working to get STEM into his school.

"We are proud to bring a program we believe wholeheartedly will be the difference," he said. "This plus the pipeline will hopefully get students fully integrated with engineering."

The pipeline is a plan to keep students in West Oakland by establishing STEM programs at elementary, middle and high schools in the area so the curriculum stays consistent from kindergarten to graduation.

"What impressed me was that Taylor said, 'If we can change these students, we can change the community,'" said Duane Crum, state leader for Project Lead the Way. "The magic is in the teachers, in the classroom."


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Kathryn Hall, who teaches the STEM class, joined the McClymonds staff this school year for the sole purpose of teaching STEM.

What students need most is a basic understanding of how the world functions today and in the future -- and STEM does that, she said.

"Engineering is so unique, just the educational experience is the exact opposite of writing essays. You're not just solving problems; you're taking real world problems and using critical thinking to solve it," she said."This is all I ever wanted to do as a teacher. It's phenomenal."

Runnels plans to stay in the STEM class until he graduates. Since taking the class, his interests have expanded to include science and engineering and hopes to study biology or forensic science in college. Even his mom is happy he's found this new hobby, he said.