What was once a condemned, otherwise vacant eyesore of a building at the corner of Wynn Drive and Bradford is now a unique and vibrant educational facility that has quickly become a source of pride among city and state movers and shakers.
The Alabama School for Cyber, Technology, and Engineering drew dignitaries, luminaries and a group of high-achieving students for a ceremony to celebrate the four-year old school’s latest endeavor – a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning for the Sentinel Center.
The student activities center will include a 1,100-seat gymnasium for the school’s volleyball and basketball teams, two sports among 16 that ASCTE fields.
Among its student body of 330, the school has produced two perfect SAT scores, 50 scores of 30 or more on the ACT, and five national merit semifinalist/finalists but interests aren’t confined to the classrooms at its three-story academic facility.
“Our students have so much to give more than just the expertise that they’re learning inside those classrooms,’’ said Matt Massey, school president who also coaches tennis, said to the gathered crowd inside the academic building.
The event attracted board members and politicians from Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle and Councilman John Meredith to State Sen. Arthur Orr.
U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville addressed a VIP breakfast prior to the groundbreaking.
“Our kids are the greatest asset we have,” Sen. Tuberville (R-Auburn) said.
“We have an obligation to make sure they are set up for success. The Alabama School of Cyber Technology and Engineering is a great example of school choice at work. Every child is unique, and parents should be empowered to choose a school that works best for them. I look forward to meeting the next generation of cyber security experts, engineers, and scientists who graduate from ASCTE.”
One of the speakers at the ceremony was Alicia Ryan, president of the ASCTE Foundation board of directors. She’s been with the project, which is currently the only school of its kind in the nation and ranked in the top 1 percent academically in the country, since inception.
At the beginning, she said, she figured the brainy students wouldn’t be interested in extracurricular activities, particularly sports. But, with the Sentinel Center about to rise next to the dormitory, planning will soon turn to adding a soccer field on the campus.
“Our studies showed that they spent most of their time on video games,” she said. “We never dreamed we would need athletics. So I encourage all of you to think bigger.”
In addition to the 16 athletic programs, the school has 25 clubs that range from music to drama and 100% of the students is involved in at least one of the 41.
“What we learned was that once they came to school,” Ryan said, “was that they found their tribe.”
Battle said the emergence of ASCTE reflects the Rocket City’s current growth.
“We were at the breakfast and we were talking about people coming here and want a benchmark against Huntsville, wanting a benchmark to the school and see how we did it,” he said. “What’s the secret sauce? I say the secret sauce here is the people. The secret sauce is the people sitting out there in those chairs whose companies have given money so that we have the bricks and mortar to be able to do this school.
“The secret sauce is these young people who came here and they uprooted from their homes. They came here for an education. When you get the best education you can have the best. The secret sauce is this faculty who is sitting here and the administration that Matt has put together, and they are one of the best administrations you can find. The secret sauce also comes about somewhat in leadership.”
Massey pointed out how the school’s winter sports programs would be practicing Friday at four off-campus locations. That won’t be the case in the near future.
“We’ll have ’em right here,” he said. “It makes all the difference.”
Also, tuition is free at the school which has students from all across the state.
“Huntsville is a shining star, with or without this school,” Orr said. “The state already has several other magnet schools, but because of many (donors, ASCTE) did happen. And it is happening because of the care and commitment of our supporters and sustainers who want our students to be challenged and to receive the best education that they can to achieve the fullest of their God-given capabilities.
“This school is making a difference in the lives of its people, and it’s making a difference in all of our future.”