SAN ANTONIO - After the South San Independent School District predicted to lose roughly 500 students over the summer, school leaders decided to get creative in keeping kids intrigued to stay in the district especially at the middle school level.

When school began Aug. 20, three new academies opened for the first time.

"I think having the academies then having early college [programs] in the high schools is going to keep [students] going," said Sharon Elizondo, a Zamora Middle School teacher.

Similar to a magnet school, Zamora Middle School dedicated a wing on campus to a Health Science Academy. Two other SSAISD middle schools, Shepard and Dwight, did the same for Fine Arts and STEM Choice Academies.

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Students learn and gain various skills including project-based learning, pre AP courses, high school credits, open enrollment and college prep curriculum or AVID.

"The students are selected to come here so that's kind of like they want to learn," Elizondo said.

The year before, fifth-graders throughout the district were invited to apply for the programs. Nearly 370 students were selected to be apart.

"I chose here because I feel like it's going to give me the most support," said Joselyn Vidales, a sixth-grader and aspiring doctor.

Following a summer of gloomy budget woes, the district created the programs to encourage students to stay in South San versus transferring to a charter school. A problem district officials identified after more charters started popping up on the city's Southside.

"We are trying to get them to say, 'How can you better your community?', and stay in this area and make it grow," Elizondo said.

On the first day of school, about half of the students predicted to leave ended up returning to a South San school. Through the Health Science Choice Academy, an additional 70 students are on campus at Zamora.

"I would encourage all my friends to come," said Vidales.

Upon completing the eighth-grade, students serious about a college education can go on to apply for the district's Early College Academy.