What started as an idea to boost the local tech talent pipeline and help students start their tech careers in San Antonio has become a reality. CAST Tech, San Antonio’s first technology-focused high school, is graduating its first class this week.
Local business, education, and civic leaders implemented this innovative school model called the Centers for Applied Science & Technology, or CAST. The San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) in-district charter is the result of a public-private partnership that includes SAISD, tech industry advocacy nonprofit Tech Bloc, H-E-B, entrepreneur and philanthropist Graham Weston, and others who helped fund the new high school.
In 2016, the vision for CAST Tech was “to grow our own tech talent so graduates could be hired by companies in San Antonio’s downtown tech district,” Tech Bloc CEO David Heard said. The school’s proximity — only four blocks away from the tech district — helped when it came time to build a robust network of industry mentors and internship opportunities for the student body.
Melissa Alcala, CAST Tech principal, knew “we had a clear vision of what learning would look like and our intended outcomes, but we had no proof of concept.” The 133 graduating students have produced “evidence that our schooling model is effective,” as Alcala shared impressive numbers:
- The Class of 2021 garnered almost $6 million in scholarships
- Over 75% of graduates are attending college
- A solid 70% of the class earned an industry-recognized certification
- Over 70% completed an internship with an industry partner, other local business, or non-profit
The students echoed how transformational attending CAST Tech had been. When Nathan Cazares first started at CAST Tech, he read at the fourth-grade level. He will graduate as the first in his family to go to college with a scholarship to Trinity University.
“Just think about how far we have come individually and as a class. We all have grown right alongside the creation of CAST,” Cazares said.
Alena Errisuriz-Chavez, who plans to attend Texas State University, emphasized how CAST introduced the students to each other and the world beyond San Antonio. “We’ve visited four countries across seas and 10 states throughout the U.S. What inspires the CAST Tech graduating class of 2021 the most is us.”
Fernando Garcia received an esports or competitive video gaming scholarship to Texas A&M University-San Antonio, the first esports scholarship athlete for the Texas A&M system. Four years ago, Garcia was one of a few homeschoolers attending CAST. With no public or private school experience, Garcia had no idea what to expect.
He went on to launch a successful esports student club and recruited players from other local high schools such as John Jay and Burbank to compete against CAST Tech teams. Garcia plans to become an esports coach to help other students.
CAST supported the students with project-based learning to encourage the teens to do more research, step out of their comfort zone, and understand real-world issues. Garcia and other seniors agreed CAST Tech helped prepare the students for college and the real world.
“At the age of 15 or 16 years old, my buddies and I were able to build the gaming club with at least 70 students at our first meeting, which is about half the size of our graduating class,” Garcia said. “CAST helped make my dream a reality and create one of the top esports clubs in the nation.”
Bret Piatt, Jungle Disk CEO and industry board representative for CAST has championed the new school model since its inception.
“CAST has proven that you can do high school in a revolutionary way that produces better outcomes for the students, aligning them for success in the workplace. The faculty is also excited to teach in this format and structure. This model is delivering concrete results.”
Jeanne Russell, executive director of the CAST Network, said that accomplishments such as Andrea Torres’ QuestBridge full-ride scholarship to Caltech University and Garcia’s esports scholarship to Texas A&M “are testaments to the world of possibilities that are now at our doorsteps.”
Thomas Gossman, who will attend Hofstra University in the fall, shared a sentiment that had many seniors nodding enthusiastically in agreement.
“CAST Tech is the greatest adventure I could’ve embarked on.”
The featured image shows CAST Tech esports club founders Fernando Garcia (left) and Joseph Rodriguez (right) celebrating a recent victory with trophies in hand, courtesy photo