Abilene ISD Communications

Bentley Morrow is a regular at AISD’s The LIFT Center, where for the last three years he has attended summer camps designed to promote his interest in STEM subjects. Those camps have also served to recruit Morrow – entering his eighth-grade year at a local private school – to transfer into AISD and attend ATEMS after the 2024-25 school year.

Morrow wants to become an entomologist and study insects, and although that isn’t offered as a stand-alone science class at ATEMS, he has found some other areas of interest in the last few summers at The LIFT. Morrow is also interested in woodworking, and after attending the Career Exploration Camp at The LIFT the previous week, he’s back this week for the Career Academies where he’s focusing his time and effort in an industrial trades class.

Students at the Career Exploration Camp explored hands-on learning opportunities in automotive, carpentry, coding, communications, culinary arts, cybersecurity, digital communications, electrical, engineering, graphic design, information technology, and welding. At this week’s Career Academics, students were given hands-on learning opportunities in the career cluster of their choice: Industrial Trades, Culinary Arts, Technology, Engineering and Robotics, or Design and Media.

Morrow said his time in summer camps at The LIFT has helped prepare him for what he knows will be an adjustment after next year when he begins taking classes at ATEMS.

“I was nervous coming here the first time because of the size of the building and because I didn’t know many people,” he said. “But once we started, I knew I had to return the next year. I’m having fun with the engineering, welding, robotics, and all the other fun stuff we get to play with here. I didn’t know much about The LIFT before my first camp, but I knew I wanted to go into science and study entomology. I didn’t think about The LIFT then, but after being here three years, it’s fun that they allow anyone inside or outside the district to attend camps here.”

That was all part of the plan for The LIFT when it opened its doors in August 2021.

“We have a lot of out-of-district students that attend our camps, along with a lot of AISD students,” said Jay Ashby, the director of The LIFT Center. “We don’t cap our enrollment for that very reason. We want every kid who wants to come here and experience The LIFT to attend camp and figure out if they want to be here.

“We want students from districts all around Abilene and those in private schools to have the opportunity to come here, and many of them who come to camp take advantage of that opportunity,” he said.

Crisstie Crim – Instructional Coordinator for ATEMS and the director of summer camps at The LIFT – said “somewhere between 60-70 kids” attended camps this year, about on par with previous years.

“We want to give these kids the opportunity to explore the different areas in the building, let them see what we do here, and let them figure out what they’re interested in,” Crim said. “Many of them who were here for the first week of camp return for the second week so they can focus on the one area that interests them.”

During the second week of camp, they were allowed to drill deeper into the areas that piqued their curiosity. For example, students studying automotive are learning about more than just what’s under the hood.

“I walked into the automotive area earlier this week, and they were talking about tire tread and the thickness of the tread, and how important it is to know how much tread you have left on your tires,” Crim said. “They’re learning good life skills, but also engaging with our teachers and shops so that if they decide later this is something they want to do, they’re familiar with everything that happens out here.”

The learning environment at The LIFT – whether during the school year or at summer camp – attracted Morrow. And it will help him try to recruit other students to join him.

“When my friends ask me about The LIFT or ATEMS and what I found out here, I ask what they’re interested in studying in high school because The LIFT most likely has whatever they want to study,” he said. “When they hear that, they want to come here. But they should want to come because it’s a great place to have fun doing what you love.”