A band played, banners flew, teachers grinned, and everyone went home with a souvenir as the Baltimore County schools introduced their special-interest "magnet" high school programs in a fair last night at Parkville High.
"This is so wonderful," said an excited and hoarse Mary Carey, who had been talking to a crush of interested parents and students about the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. "We gave out 500 applications," said Ms. Carey, who will be principal of the performing arts school that opens in the fall.
Betty Caret, a former teacher from the north county community of Phoenix, said that she thinks the magnet schools "are a great idea."
"Just seeing people get excited about education again is great. And I think it's a great opportunity for the kids in the county," said Ms. Caret, who was school-shopping for her son, Colin, a Cockeysville Middle School eighth-grader interested in the Carver Center.
The school board has approved seven magnet programs for September. Two of them -- Carver and the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville -- will draw students from throughout the county. Five others will be regional, with programs at Woodlawn and Kenwood high schools, Milford Mill Academy and Southeastern and Eastern technical schools.
Magnet schools -- a special interest of the county school Superintendent Stuart D. Berger -- are designed to attract students of similar interests and abilities and to give them more educational opportunities. Dr. Berger has also said that these programs will help the county bring racial balance to its schools.
Almost everyone seemed enthusiastic about the magnet concept and the specific programs, though some parents expressed slight reservations.
"Logistically, for a county our size there may be some problems," said Julie Gaynor of the Middle River area. "There are a lot of loose ends."
Suzanne McClinton of Perry Hall said she thought that the technical programs were stronger than the academic offerings that interest her daughter, Alisha, as their family visited all the booths.
An accelerated academic program, the international baccalaureate, will begin at Kenwood for students in the eastern part of the county and at Milford Mill for those in the west. Woodlawn will house a mathematics, science and pre-engineering curriculum for students in the west. The other four schools will combine their technical programs with academic courses.
Ms. Caret said that it was hard to decide about her son's future school because enrolling him in Carver would mean taking him out of a gifted and talented program. "Enrolling your child in a program that's never been done is frightening. It looks good, but parents are hesitant," she said.
Larry Cox of Dundalk was slightly disappointed that the fair didn't include a more formal presentation so he could get a better idea of what exactly will be offered. He had come, he said, to gather information for a "family decision" about his son's future.
He went home with some unanswered questions, a fistful of brochures and that souvenir, a bright yellow refrigerator magnet.