NOTE: Another version of this article appears in the Times-Union Shorelines edition on January 19, 2011.
The “Magnet Mania & More School Choice Expo” will take place at the Prime Osborn III Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, January 22, 2011. It showcases all magnet programs and other school choice options.
A district-wide Magnet Open House will take place at all magnet schools on Thursday, January 27, 2011 in three one-hour periods: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 11 a.m. to noon; 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Check with specific magnet schools for information about other open house and tour times and dates.
Water defines Jacksonville. The St. Johns River, Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean mark our borders, characterize our history and influence our everyday lives. Now, they will also officially serve as classrooms for two beaches area schools thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Magnet School Assistance Program.
Mayport Elementary and Mayport Middle Schools will each receive over $1 million to develop coastal science programs. They are part of a $12 million grant that will fund seven new official magnet schools in Duval County and revise one existing program, raising the total to 62 to serve nearly 20,300 students. The district has now been funded for three consecutive funding cycles, totaling nearly $30 million since 2004.
“The natural resources available to these two schools – as well as their proximity to the Marine Science Center – make them ideal for coastal science magnets,” said Dr. Sally Hague, Executive Director of School Choice/Pupil Assignment Operations for Duval County Public Schools. “It also allows for a continuous theme from elementary through middle school, which is great for students, parents and educators.”
While Mayport Middle has focused on marine science for the past two years, this grant elevates it to “official” magnet status – bringing with it $1.4 million. The elementary school’s $1.3 million means the two can develop complimentary programs over the three-year duration of the grant. Implementation will begin immediately.
The money will allow the schools to invest in state of the art science equipment, offer ongoing professional development and provide an integrated curriculum that prepares students for further studies at the high school level – where marine science is offered as part of the DCPS curriculum and where programs such as Terry Parker’s Academy of Coastal and Environmental Science serve as stepping stones to those wishing to pursue a coastal science major in college.
“Kids love science,” said Kathy Malz, Mayport Elementary’s science resource teacher. “The more hands on it is, the messier it is, the more they love it. We’re already doing labs and inquiry based instruction, but this grant will help ensure that every child has a more interactive experience.”
As an example, Malz pointed to the ability to buy equipment – such as microscopes, aquatic touch tanks and animal samples – that will enhance classroom lessons. “Whenever you can take the written word and turn it into a visual and sensory opportunity, the more learning takes place,” said Malz.
She’s also excited by the field trip possibilities that the grant provides. In addition to exploring the area’s abundant natural resources like the Atlantic Coast and the St. Johns River, these may also include visits to the shrimp boats of Mayport Village as well as collaborations with programs such as Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, the St. Johns River Management District and the St. Johns Riverkeeper.
“We’re all very excited not just by the opportunities that this grant will afford but also by the academic rigor it will instill,” added Mayport Elementary’s principal, Yvonne Ferguson. “Becoming a science magnet is a great way to significantly increase student performance through more focused and integrated instruction.”
In addition to enhancing instruction and student experience, district and school based personnel also hope that the magnet status increases student enrollment. Both Mayport schools – as well as nearby Finegan Elementary – have suffered from decreasing enrollment over the past few years due to the decline of the Mayport Village shrimping industry as well as the reduction of ships at Naval Station Mayport.
“Hopefully the coastal science magnet will attract new students to the Mayport schools,” said Dr. Hague, also pointing out that all students – whether they are neighborhood or magnet – attending the elementary and middle schools will benefit from the program.
“I’m hoping it will attract back the 200 or so military families that have opted to go to other schools,” said Ferguson, referring to the privilege bestowed upon military personnel to enroll their children in any district school of their choosing. “I’m hoping that once our magnet program is established the reputation will bring them back or give them reason to stay, especially families with younger children.”
So far, parents have been enthusiastic about the new magnet status.
“This is a big boost for everyone and we’re all excited,” said Linda Brume, Mayport Elementary’s PTA president. “It’s not only a wonderful opportunity for the kids to get more hands on, but it’s also a great chance for parents to get involved. A lot of parents are with the Navy or they work on shrimp boats or in some other field that connects to the theme so they can share their experience with the kids.”
Ferguson sees this type of involvement as crucial to the sustainability of the grant. “The money will run out in three years,” she said, “so it’s important that all stakeholders, like PTA and SAC, get involved so that they can maintain the continuity once that happens and even after those of us who brought the grant to the school leave.”
Of course, the most important of those stakeholders are the students. While Ferguson has not officially shared the news with them, word is getting out and causing great anticipation.
“I think it’s awesome!’” said fourth grader Elizabeth Simmons, PTA president Brume’s daughter, who was one of the first students to hear the news after “eavesdropping” on a conversation her mom was having in the front office. “I want to be a veterinarian, so this really helps my goals. I can’t wait until it gets going. It will be so cool to use the beach as a classroom.”
The seven new magnet schools and one revised program are:
Carter G. Woodson Elementary – School of the Medical Arts
Woodland Acres Elementary – School of the Medical Arts
Spring Park Elementary – International Baccalaureate, Primary Years
Ortega Elementary – Museum Studies (Revised Program)
Mayport Elementary – Coastal Sciences
Mayport Middle – Coastal Science (Official Status)
Ribault Middle – Early High School
Southside Middle – International Baccalaureate, Middle Years