Meet 4 teachers bringing hands-on learning to this new 6-12 STEM program in Birmingham—apply now

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STEM teachers at Birmingham's Magic City Acceptance Academy
T.R. Freeman, Trevor Hauenstein + Lisa Balazs. Photo via Bham Now

For a while now, we’ve been telling y’all about Magic City Acceptance Academy (MCAA), a new tuition-free public charter school for 6-12 grades opening in West Homewood in fall 2021. We did a deep dive into the school’s plans for their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program so prospective parents can decide if this is the school for your kiddo. If it seems like a fit, they’re taking applications now for rising 6-12 graders for the 2021-22 academic year

Academics is a priority at MCAA, with innovation and acceptance baked into everything

academics at MCAA. STEM is a big part of that.
Trevor Hauenstein and Charity Jackson of Magic City Acceptance Academy, making plans. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

In May, we talked with STEM Director Trevor Hauenstein and Chief Academic Officer Charity Jackson to find out how the school plans to foster excellence through academics

Highlights include: 

  • Removing distractions so students can focus on learning
  • Using project-based learning
  • Setting students up for success with individual learning plans
  • Helping students plan for the future

Meet Magic City Acceptance Academy’s new STEM teachers

Steph Munkachy
Steph Muncachy will be taking science at the Magic City Acceptance Academy. Photo via Steph Munchaky

To learn more about STEM at MCAA, we talked with four new teachers: 

  • Steph Munkachy, science
  • T. R. Freeman III, math
  • Chasity Cauthen, science
  • Lisa Balazs, math

I have to admit, when I asked them to share a brief bio, I wasn’t fully prepared for the wealth of experience each teacher is bringing to their new job. Prepare to be impressed.

STEM teacher bios

T.R. Freeman III is looking forward to being one of the STEM teachers at MCAA.
T.R. Freeman III will be one of the founding math teachers at MCAA. Photo via Bham Now

Steph Munkachy is passionate about science, equity and access to opportunity, and believes in the power of education to transform lives. An alum of Teach For America and Johns Hopkins Graduate School in Education, they’ve been teaching secondary science for five years now. As a non-binary person, Munkachy is excited to provide access to student-centered, holistic, world-class science instruction.

Theodore Freeman, a University of Alabama grad, brings 36 years of electrical engineering and industry experience to the classroom, plus over 20 years’ worth of part-time college-level and two years’ full-time high school teaching. Making math relevant and accessible to students is second nature to Freeman.

Chastity JaNae Cauthen is a graduate of Ramsay High School and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She’s been teaching for four years and is committed to creating an environment where the creativity and innovation of all students can flourish through STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math) education.

Lisa Balazs brings math concepts down to earth for students through hands-on learning while encouraging them to reach for the stars. She’s got a B.S. in Geology from Duke University, an M.Ed. from the University of Massachusetts in Boston *and* has done graduate work in planetary science at Wash U in St. Louis. Balazs worked for NASA’s education department at the Goddard Space Flight Center for 2 years and recently became one of 37 teachers from across the US to be certified by the American Meteorological Society

Want your child to learn from teachers like these? Apply today for rising 6-12 graders for the 2021-22 school year.

To learn more, we asked each teacher two key questions: what are you most excited about, and what attracted you to Magic City Acceptance Academy. 

Here’s what they said: 

Bham Now: what are you most excited about, getting ready for MCAA’s first year?

Lisa Balazs will be a math teacher at Magic City Acceptance Academy when the school opens in the fall
Lisa Balazs realizes this dress makes her look like Ms. Frizzle from The Magic Schoolbus and she’s not mad about it. Photo via Bham Now

Munkachy: I love the hands-on nature of science because it comes from a student’s curiosity. 

Coming off the pandemic and all the public health questions that have been debated in our public discourse, I’m looking forward to helping students learn how to tell what is science versus what is pseudoscience. Those are incredibly important life skills that we can apply on a day-to-day basis right now. 

Freeman: I have always liked bringing industry into the classroom. Students always want to know “how is this going to benefit me in life? Why do I need to know how to determine trigonometric functions?” 

Whenever I introduce a new math concept, I also introduce how that concept is actually used in industry. 

Cauthen: I’m looking forward to being more creative in STEM in an environment where teachers are supported to do so.

Balazs: Whether we work on a school garden or another project, we can give students the opportunity to put their math skills into practice in scenarios where they might use them in the future.

We have one specific project we were just accepted to work on through a NASA-funded program. The students will have an opportunity to do research looking at features on an asteroid or on the moon and put together a proposal guided by a scientist at NASA. 

Bham Now: What attracted you to Magic City Acceptance Academy?

Chasity Cauthen
Chasity Cauthen will be teaching science at MCAA in the fall. Photo via Chasity Cauthen

Munkachy: It’s kind of a dream position for me. I basically relocated to come work with MCAA. I identify as queer and non-binary. Being able to work with students and provide a supportive learning atmosphere while they are navigating their identity is a complete dream to me. 

Freeman:  The fact that they are going to be intentional about focusing on diversity, inclusion and equity. I also really like being part of a startup from the ground level to help shape it into what it ultimately becomes. 

Cauthen: The commitment to diversity and inclusion, and restorative practices for students. I also love the positive atmosphere that MCAA brings to education. 

Balazs: Since I first stepped into the classroom, I’ve always been a huge fan of inclusion and diversity, and am attracted to the mission of MCAA. I’m excited to come to a school that’s very student-focused and determined to make sure everybody gets the education they deserve.

Trevor does cartwheels in front of the rainbow wall.
What Magic City Acceptance Academy’s STEM Director Trevor Hauenstein does in his spare time. Photo via Bham Now.

Magic City Acceptance Academy is taking applications now for rising 6-12 graders for the 2021-22 school year. All are welcome to apply. 

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