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Tomball ISD Academy of Energy and International Business to open at BJ Services headquarters next year

Next school year, Tomball ISD will offer specialized energy and business programs through the district’s new academy, housed at the corporate headquarters of a leading oil and gas company service provider.

The school board, during its Dec. 10 meeting, voted unanimously to approve the Tomball ISD Academy of Energy and International Business which is scheduled to open August 2020 at BJ Services. The company is based in Tomball at their facility on FM 2920 near Hufsmith-Kohrville Road.

Incoming Tomball ISD freshmen will soon be able to apply for the academy and must be accepted in order to attend.

The partnership between Tomball ISD and BJ Services provides the academy’s students opportunities for real-world learning experience and on-site training with industry experts, explained BJ Services Chief Human Resources Officer Malcolm O’Neal.

“By having the Academy on BJ’s campus, we are providing students access to a real lab run by a leading oilfield services company,” he said in an email. “Additionally, students will be able to experience what it is like to work in a corporate setting alongside our employees.”

The four-year academy will offer courses for two programs of study — one focused on energy and the other on international business. BJ Service’s pre-existing facilities will serve as the learning environments in which students develop industry skills. Students will even have opportunities to use the BJ Services boardroom for presentations, said Tomball ISD Superintendent Martha Salazar-Zamora.

“Their courses are there on site; their classroom is there,” Salazar-Zamora said. “The experts in the field, let’s say a chemist…that chemist will go in and teach dually with the teacher on certain days so they will actually have, at times, two teachers — one in industry and one in education.”

Students who apply and are accepted will be bused by the district to spend part of their school day at BJ Services for academy classes, and part of their day in classes at their respective home campuses.

“We’ll have an a.m. and a p.m. group of kids. …We may have 50 students in the morning, 50 students in the afternoon and they will take three of their high school courses in a business setting,” Salazar-Zamora said.

The three courses incoming ninth-graders will take at the BJ Services campus are an academy class, English I, and Biology.

While learning alongside business professionals in the fields of energy, oil and gas, students will be exposed to top business languages including English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. They will also have opportunities for advanced dual credit courses earning a minimum of 12 college credit hours through Lone Star College-Tomball.

Multiple industry certifications can be pursued though the academy, though Salazar-Zamora said the district is working out details.

“We’re still vetting what those look like and the numbers are growing because BJ continues to think out of the box,” Salazar-Zamora said.

Academy students can continue participating in their extracurricular activities as they work to become college and career ready. Students who graduate from the academy may also have opportunities to work at BJ Services, Salazar-Zamora said, which could be an additional source of income as they pursue higher education.

When BJ Services began operations out of their Tomball campus in early 2017, community leaders were invited to tour the facility, including Salazar-Zamora.

“I would say a seed was planted at that time because they were interested in a give-back to the community in some way,” Salazar-Zamora said.

Years later as the academy prepares for its inaugural semester in fall 2020, Salazar-Zamora said she couldn’t have imagined that the partnership would manifest in this way.

“This will be the first school of its type in the state of Texas — a very large state obviously, that’s exciting — and it’s only the second in the nation,” Salazar-Zamora said.

The kind of learning experience offered at the academy may be difficult to describe using terms common in the education field domestically, though “apprenticeship” probably comes the closest, she said. It’s a term that BJ Services has also used to describe the academy.

“This type of program creates the opportunity for an apprenticeship-style experience, rather than a single internship which is much shorter in duration,” O’Neal stated. “Students can truly be immersed in an oil and gas industry environment to learn by and witness real-world examples of what it is like to work in the energy space.”

The Tomball ISD Academy of Energy and International Business will be staffed by hand-picked educators and led by a Dean of Innovation Programs, Salazar-Zamora said, a position for which Tomball ISD will soon be looking to hire.

Tomball ISD will host parent information sessions at Tomball Memorial High School on Jan. 14 at 6:30 p.m.; and at Tomball High School on Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m.

The application window will be open to incoming freshmen from Jan. 17 through Feb. 2.

Incoming sophomores may also apply and could be considered if space is still available.

Admissions interviews are scheduled to be conducted on Feb. 8.

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