Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why Magnet Schools Work?

Magnet schools generally attract a wide-range of students based on their interest in a school theme. As a result, magnet schools typically have a diverse body of students from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Specific benefits of magnet schools include: improved academic achievement, diverse student enrollments, reduced discipline problems, increased cultural competence of students, increased student attendance rates, higher graduation rates, greater teacher satisfaction and reduced teacher turn-over, innovative curricula, specialized teaching staff, and increased parent engagement and satisfaction. Magnet schools boast more parental and community involvement, more personalization through theme-based education, and specialized programs that create a shared sense of community that leads to a safer environment for learning. Teachers are licensed in the areas they teach, and are “highly specialized” through specific theme-based training and professional development (Magnet Schools of America). 

The Science Technology Engineering and Math School at North Springs Elementary School (STEMS) was designed to attract students from around the district who have an interest in learning through science, technology, engineering, and or math.  Our teachers design units of study related to engineering.  The themes are incorporated into science, ELA, math, and social studies lessons and are often tied to projects that are inspired by the students.  Our magnet parents are very supportive and benefit the entire school through their participation in PTO activities, SIC meetings, and supporting school wide events.  We also benefit from several business and community partners such as the University of South Carolina, the Midlands Education and Business Alliance, and Midlands Technical College.  Having a magnet program at our school helps improve the diversity of our school by including families from minority groups around the district.  We enjoy learning from these families and involving them in the learning process.  

North Springs also embraces the project based learning process developed by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE).  STEMS teachers as well as teachers in more traditional classrooms are trained to design projects that meet the BIE Gold Standard. We are finishing up our first year implementing and participating in the BIE process and look forward to our second year next year.  It has been exciting seeing many of our teachers and students try projects that they would not normally try.  BIE gives us a structure for these projects.  

While magnet schools are designed to draw students with certain interest and passions to a particular school or program, all students in a school such as North Springs benefit from the magnet concept.  Teachers who teach in the magnet program benefit from the the expertise of the traditional classroom teachers and visa verse.  Some of the best collaborations come from a traditional classroom teacher collaborating with a STEMS classroom teacher where students from both classes bring strengths to the table.  Students are able to interact with students who they would not normally get to study with in a non-magnet or choice district.

Another way that we incorporate our STEM theme through out the school is by providing all students the opportunity to design, create, and publish products in our Design Center.  Students are exposed to the Human Centered Design process established by IDEO.  Students practice coming up with problems to solve, or products to make, do the research, create prototypes, work through iterations or revisions, and present the final product.  
The Design Center at NSE is working with the Richland Two Innovation Incubator to better prepare our elementary students for middle, school, high school, and beyond.  

As you can see, magnet schools can have tremendous impact on your school, give your faculty, staff, students, parents, and community a common focus, and ultimately better prepare your students for the real world. 

NSE is honored to be considered a Magnet School of Excellence by Magnet Schools of America (MSA). A HUGE congratulations to Miami-Dade School District who did an amazing job of hosting the 2016 MSA National Conference. NSE's STEM program is seven years old and started at the kindergarten through second grade levels.  Since 2008, the program has expanded to our feeder middle school, Summit Parkway Middle (SIDI) program where our students can continue a STEM focused education.  Our Lead Teacher, Dr. Sally Catoe, and Mrs. Dea Jones, SIDI Lead Teacher worked closely to develop a continuum of STEM education through middle school.  In Richland School District Two, our students will have many magnet opportunities in high school as well.
We were excited to here about the MSA National Certification Program supported by the National Institute for Magnet School Leadership (NIMSL).  NSE definitely plans to be one of the first 100 magnet schools in America to be certified by such quality organizations.  While we feel like we meet the requirements for many of these standards, we look forward to continuing to improve our program to be MSA and AdvancED certified.

NSE has worked hard to make sure that we are preparing all of our students to not only pass state assessment requirements, but to also prepare our students for the middle school and high school programs offered in our district.  We also strive to prepare our students for college and careers with an emphasis on STEM careers.

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