Making the Grade:School with math, science focus has balanced students

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Most students save the nervous anticipation of waiting for the official school acceptance for their college applications. Duluth resident Aiman Shahae already went through that nail-biting experience when she entered the lottery to attend the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville.

With room for not quite 1,000 students, the magnet school holds a lottery drawing to select each new class. Three years ago, Shahae’s name was one of the last called.

“It was nerve-wracking,” said the 17-year-old senior. “I wanted to be here because it has such strong academics. I’m a humanities person – I love literature, art and history – and many people don’t see GSMST as having that. But I’ve had art for three years, I’m in a Spanish AP class now, and I took AP biology. I’ve learned a lot.”

GSMST’s rigorous curriculum sets it apart from other county schools. Its high academic standards have won recognition on the Washington Post’s list of top Southern schools, and most recently, it finished in first place among all high schools in the state with the best SAT scores. (The GSMST mean total was 1848; the runner-up in the county was North Gwinnett High with 1654.) It’s also stayed in the top five of U.S. schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Those kudos have made more students and parents interested in being part of the success, said IV Bray, who has led the school since 2013.

“The first year GSMST opened in 2007, we had 300 spots and fewer than 300 applied,” he said. “This past February, we had 350 spots and 1,108 in the lottery. As a school of choice, we have requirements that go well above and beyond the minimum. Our students take four years of math and language, and we offer 21 AP classes, with five of them being mandatory - biology, calculus, macroeconomics , microeconomics and literature or language. But many of our students take more than five.”

Another distinction of the school is its internship program. Each year, students engage in various forms of community interaction, starting with speaker events featuring local industry experts and job-readiness workshops that cover details from writing a resume to interviewing skills. Sophomores spend time shadowing business partners, while juniors pair with a mentor for an entire semester. Seniors sign up for year-long internships that end with a capstone presentation of their experiences.

The strong connection to local businesses is part of the school’s mandate, said Bray.

“The initial push for this type of school came from the business community,” he said. “The metro area and Gwinnett specifically are home to many Fortune 500 companies that gave the school district the feedback that the pool of workers lacked STEM skills. As the needs have become more science-y, computer-y and tech-y, they’ve had a harder time finding workers. Gwinnett took that request, and the result was our school.”

Most of GSMST’s graduates go onto to Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, as well as top-tier schools around the country. Senior Shahae shares that goal as she gears up for another nerve-wracking acceptance wait.

“I want to work in behavioral sciences and with special needs students,” she said. “I’d go to Tech for the same reasons I came here – for the culture and the challenge. There were a lot of tears, no lies! But it’s worked out for the best, and I’m a much more well-rounded person now than I was four years ago.”