A very special place on the campus of the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science is the stairwell in the Administration Building, as it is lined with large photographs that feature each graduating class since 1993.“It is awe-inspiring to walk up the stairs and contemplate the extent that ASMS has made a positive difference in so many lives,” says ASMS President Dr. Larry Turner. “I never underestimate just how foresighted the founders of this school were. When graduates come back to campus, I have noticed that they enjoy spending time in that stairwell.”
In the late 1980s and amid a backdrop of news about poorly performing high schools, a group of determined Mobilians joined together to establish an advanced high school that would enroll students from across the state and train them to become Alabama’s future leaders. In 1989, the Alabama State Legislature approved a bill creating the Alabama School of Mathematics and Science and gave the school’s founders $300,000 in start-up funds to hire faculty and staff and to purchase books and office equipment.
Shortly thereafter, the ASMS Foundation, a non-profit organization, was created to raise additional funds to purchase a campus and to furnish labs and dorm rooms. After much consideration, the 15-acre former Mobile Dauphin Way Baptist Church campus was purchased for $12 million and renovations began shortly thereafter. The ambitious goal was to have the campus complete enough to enroll students in the fall of 1991.
“Many of the folks pushing for this school were members of Mobile United, a civic-minded organization that understood that Alabama could benefit from an advanced school that operated differently than other high schools by catering to the best and brightest students,” says Ann Bedsole, who was influential in founding the school and currently serves on the ASMS School Board and Foundation Board of Directors. “At the same time, we knew we were facing a great challenge in readying the campus for students; but, it was exciting to see it all come together so quickly.”
In fact, when the first students arrived in the fall of 1991, much of the campus was under construction. Hard hats were even passed out to students, who were often awakened each morning by the sounds of bulldozers and jackhammers. Back then, the Humanities Building and the Auditorium were empty shells. There was no boys’ dorm, as boys bunked on two floors in what is now used as the Girls’ Dorm.
“All of the construction was just part of the excitement in the early days,” says physics instructor Dr. Garvin Wattuhewa, who has worked at the school since it was founded. “I remember thinking, ‘how is this all going to get done.’ But, I also remember how optimistic we all were to be a part of something so different and new.”
Bedsole speaks fondly of the first graduating class. “They were pioneers,” she says. “Their parents should also be recognized, as they risked a lot in sending their children to a new residential school – they wanted a better educational future for their kids. We all did.”
Fast forward to 2012. ASMS has graduated 1789 students. The ASMS Foundation has overseen the renovation of every building on campus as well as the construction of a Boys’ Dorm and the state-of-the art Ann Smith Bedsole Building, which houses the school’s library. Renovating the Old Dauphin Way campus has also revitalized the Dauphin Way Historic District.
But beyond brick-and-mortar projects, ASMS has created a culture where learning comes first and graduates matriculate to colleges and universities totally prepared academically for the challenges they will face. Further, the school is seen as a valuable asset to Alabama, and government leaders speak of how the school has improved the state’s educational landscape.
Like many grads, Thad Wheat, who graduated in 1996 and works as an attorney in Auburn credits ASMS as being critical to his success in life and important for the State of Alabama. “ASMS is a springboard for kids who may have otherwise started college at a disadvantage,” says Wheat, who is also the first alum to serve on the ASMS School Board. “By placing these young men and women in a position to achieve more than they could have otherwise, we are creating a greater pool of talent from which to build our state’s base of professionals and academics.” Wheat also believes that it is the nurturing environment that makes ASMS succeed. “ASMS essentially removes all of the educational, and, perhaps more importantly, social barriers that a kid who wants to achieve would face at an ordinary school,” he says. “Armed with the type of education ASMS provided, confidence it inspired, and friendships it helped me to create, I have been able to build the type of life I would not have otherwise enjoyed.”
This sentiment is echoed by countless ASMS graduates who contact former teachers, staff members, and the ASMS Development Office. “We treasure the times when alumni tell us how ASMS changed their lives and opened opportunities,” says ASMS Director of Development Linda Mayson, whose son graduated from the school in 2004. “I can’t wait to hear what future generations of ASMS grads accomplish.”
The school and its community members have accomplished a great deal since it was founded:
• ASMS has enrolled students from every Alabama county.
• Since 1993, ASMS has graduated 1,789 students, 450 of whom have earned or are working toward post-graduate degrees.
The average ACT score for a grad is 27.2 (during the last three years it is 27.7)
• ASMS graduates have earned nearly $200 million in scholarships.
• More than 130 students have been recognized as National Merit Finalists.
• One hundred percent of ASMS graduates are accepted to college, and nearly 60 percent of these students pursue fields relating to math or science.
• The ASMS Foundation has raised nearly $18 million, much of which has been spent on capital-improvement projects.
• Faculty and staff members have authored books and received countless grants. Most notably the Physics Department has earned MIT-Lemelson and Toyota Tapestry grants, the Biology Department has earned a Toyota Tapestry grant, the Art Department earned Community Foundation grants, a Department of Education G5 Technology grant, and grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, EPSCoRs, the Sloan Foundation, and the GTE Growth Initiatives for Teachers Fellowship Program.
• ASMS is a diverse campus. Historically, nearly 30 percent of the student body identifies with a minority group.
• Over the past four years, ASMS has been ranked by Newsweek magazine as a top 10 public high school in Alabama and listed as a top high school in the nation.
• Seven students have earned Bill Gates Millennium Scholarships, which pay for all undergraduate and post-graduate studies.
• ASMS manages an art gallery, which hosts academically oriented exhibits related to science, math, or the humanities.