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Turning on the Lights

Lubbock ISD and Texas Tech University Partner on New AgriSTEM Complex

by Blair White

LISD AgriSTEM ComplexLubbock ISD’s mission is to nurture, develop, and inspire every child every day. That’s precisely what the district is doing by partnering with Texas Tech University on its new multi-million-dollar AgriSTEM facility.

In 2018, LISD presented a $130 million bond package to the community containing $10.5 million for a new agriculture complex. Michelle Pieniazek, Coordinator of Agricultural Education for LISD, said the community signaled its support for educational progress with 75% approval.

“There’s so much STEM associated with agriculture, and we are wanting our students to be college and career ready,” she said. “I think they need to know how to feed and clothe the world as well. I think that’s part of what brought this facility here. There was an advisory group in place – people with big visions and big dreams.”

Despite supply chain challenges and in- creased material costs, completion of the 44-acre facility at 4th Street and Quaker Avenue is expected in the fall of 2023. Five high schools make up LISD: Monterey, Coronado, Lubbock High, Estacado, and Talkington School for Young Women Leaders. LISD partnered with Texas Tech University, which provided a 99-year lease on its campus.

“The piece with Tech is very exciting because they are a Carnegie Tier I Research University,” Pieniazek said. “Having access to those leading researchers and leaders in the field of agriculture is amazing for our students. I am not aware of another place like this that is associated with an entity like Texas Tech.”

The AgriSTEM complex will provide a high-impact learning experience featuring seven classrooms, a lecture hall, a greenhouse, an arena, and labs for animal science, meat science, plant science, food science, and more. The entire construction is focused on one primary idea: college and career readiness for students brought to them via agriculture.

Upper-level classes will be offered at the facility, with LISD providing transportation for students. There are 756 students served by seven ag teachers who will have access to an expanded agriculture curriculum and industry certifications.

Pieniazek pointed out that whether students are headed for college or straight to a career, they will gain the necessary skills in animal, plant, and food sciences. Agribusiness, natural resource management, and ecology round out the focus of AgriSTEM. Students will be able to gain industry certifications by completing the programs. In a school district where 76% of the students are economically disadvantaged, helping stop poverty cycles through education is also a high priority.

“We feel that if our students can graduate with an industry-based certification, and they can make $50 thousand a year, and if they can find a life partner that can also make $50 thousand a year, then we have changed the complete trajectory for that family,” Pieniazek said. “So that’s going to have a big impact on their life and the community, and possibly the industry as well. I think that’s going to be a big game changer to break that cycle of poverty.”

With a new facility comes a new approach to agricultural education. Until last year, if students wanted to enroll in an ag class or be in an FFA chapter, they had to attend Coronado or Monterey. Now, all five campuses have FFA charters, with Estacado’s coming later this year.

“I think it’s important for our students to understand that there’s more than stock shows out there, and there are jobs in agriculture that probably haven’t even been invented yet that they are going to fill one day,” Pieniazek said. “It’s important for them to know that agriculture is food, it is fiber, it is what keeps you protected every single day. It’s hard to tell someone that if you are just in a traditional classroom, but when you have the live space, and you are able to bring learning into it and make it come to life, I think that’s going to turn on a lot of lights for students.”

Community support, the complex’s advisory board, and the district brought the project from concept to reality.

“There’s just something so special about West Texas and the people of West Texas and their warm hearts,” she said. “The people here are amazing, they are just salt of the earth, good people. They support our kids in everything they do. I don’t know that it matters the size of the place you are in but rather the people that are there with you that make the difference. I feel like Lubbock ISD really seeks opportunities to help students find a niche, find something they are going to be truly good at, so regardless of what they do after graduation, they are prepared and have hopefully found a passion. Even if they go away for college, hopefully, they come back at some point and can be good leaders in our community.”

The community and economy of Lubbock were built by visionary people who dared to invest in the future. Even with how expansive and innovative the Hub City is today, the future is still just as important as it was 100 years ago.

“I am very thankful for the people that have been so instrumental in building this,” Pieniazek said with a smile. “Just people who really pour into students – they have given so much of their time to make this happen. Because of their dreams and hard work, this is going to be something pretty special for kids and for Lubbock for many years to come.”