Although St. John Paul II STEM Academy at Bellarmine-Jefferson is more than six months away from opening, the high school’s prospective students, teachers and administrators met during a first-ever open house Sunday afternoon.
Sixty families reserved spots for the two-hour event, which was divided into a presentation, school tour and demonstration of the school’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, equipment.
Approximately 200 people attended and were treated to free ice cream from Westwood frozen treat icon Diddy Riese.
“We’re still in the early stages, but the school is set to open in August, and we’re working toward that,” said Jeff Hilger, founding director of St. John Paul II. “It’s a lot of fun, and we want to let the community know about us.”
St. John Paul II is slated for an August 2019 grand opening on the site of Bellarmine-Jefferson High School, located at 465 E. Olive Ave., Burbank.
In October 2017, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced it would suspend operations at Bell-Jeff at the conclusion of the 2017-18 school year “to undergo an analysis and restructuring process, with plans to reopen for the 2019-20 school year.”
The school’s enrollment dropped over a 10-year period from 295 students to 98.
“The school is going to open with 40 to 80 students, with our goal around 60,” Hilger said. “It’s just a ninth-grade class for the first year. We’re reaching out to the community, and we’ll see where the cards fall.”
Hilger has another distinction besides being the founding director.
He will be one of the school’s first three teachers, along with deans Bridget Higgins and Michael Parks.
“The number of faculty will be dependent on the number of students and it’s going to be how many of the right students are we going to find,” Hilger said.
He added, “We’ll be adding a few more teachers in the spring, maybe as many as four as soon as we confirm the number of students.”
On Sunday, St. John Paul II received an assist from another Catholic STEM high school.
Rosemead Don Bosco Tech sent a small delegation to help, including robotics equipment and students.
“Jeff came by our school to take a look two weeks before, and we gave him a tour,” said Memo Gutierrez, vice president of administration and development at Bosco. “He said he was holding an open house and could use some help.”
As for St. John Paul II’s prospectus, Gutierrez was positive.
“Our school has been doing it for 65 years and has been changing and adapting,” he said. “There is an appetite for technology and STEM and this is a great time to get involved.”