University Academy seniors

University Academy’s first graduating class will walk the stage Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at UT Tyler’s Louise Herrington Patriot Center, 3900 University Blvd.

From left: Leslie Ornelas, William Pence, Cameron Toon, Kati Rosson, Skye Davis, Kaylynn Manley, Trinity Gleason, Adam Gage, Ricky Zhu, Devin Bradshaw, Shane Moser, Corbin Brawley, Austin McQueen, Weston Davis II.

University Academy of Palestine will reach another milestone this week, graduating its first senior class. Fourteen graduates will cross the stage Saturday morning at the University of Texas at Tyler, along with graduates from sister campuses in Tyler and Longview.

Palestine’s first graduating class has retained a handful of the 30 who entered Innovation Academy (the charter school’s original name) as sixth-graders in 2012.

Six years and a wealth of experiences later, the 14 graduates are celebrating their accomplishments and looking forward to the school’s future.

This week, new modular buildings arrived at the UT Tyler Palestine campus. The buildings will join to form the base of the Academy’s new school, which opens in fall.

The new 15,000-square-foot building, south of Mathis Hall, will hold 12 classrooms with restrooms and an office area. The modular building will enable the academy to expand by three grades, adding Kindergarten, first-, and second-grade classrooms.

Meantime, graduates hope their accomplishments will inspire secondary students to stay in the academy’s challenging academic program. Seniors have each completed roughly 40 hours of dual high school and college credits earned through UT Tyler. The tuition-free college credits can transfer to any Texas university.

Staying in the academy wasn’t easy for everyone. Some students left, finding the dual-credit course load too challenging or wanting to participate in activities offered at other high schools.

“It takes a highly motivated student to stay with the dual-credit program,” said Adam Gage, who plans to become a combat engineer with the US Marine Corps.

All 14 UA graduates plan to continue their college degrees or join the military.

The school’s STEM-based curriculum (science, technology, engineering, math) has prepared them to pursue college tracks in medicine, physical therapy, engineering, education, and finance. They will continue their studies at UT Tyler, Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, and Texas A&M University in College Station.

Those pursuing military careers plan to join ROTC programs, or enlist in the Air Force or Marines. One student, Devin Bradshaw, has been admitted to the US Navy’s nuclear engineering program.

Trinity Gleason, who will study biology at UT Tyler and apply to medical school, said the academy’s problem-based learning model distinguished UA's education, and kept students engaged. Gleason, whose younger brother also attends UA, said members of the senior class have become mentors to the younger students.

Although the faculty learned important lessons while teaching the academy’s first groups, they also listened to the students’ and parents’ feedback and made adjustments, said Principal Becky Rutledge.

English teacher Heather Richmond said the seniors are “high in years,” as they are the first class to lay the school's future. Richmond is a UT Tyler alum who has taught the first graduating class for four years.

In only five semesters at UT Tyler, Gleason will complete a rigorous pre-med degree in biology at UT Tyler. Her more than 50 hours of dual credits will save her family tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses.