Fair for magnet schools attracts 1,700 people

November 21, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County has more magnets than a busy refrigerator door.

Seven magnet schools and nearly 3,000 students this year.

Seven more magnet schools and at least 3,000 more students next year.

The programs certainly lived up to their title last week, when the department's Magnet School Fair attracted more than 1,700 people to an overheated Towson State University Student Union on a rainy Wednesday night.

While students and parents milled six-deep around tables, administrators and teachers hawked high school, middle and elementary school programs in specialties ranging from computer studies to sports science to dance to Japanese.

Magnet schools are intended to draw students with similar interests, to give families' choices beyond their neighborhood school and to ease racial imbalances by attracting students from other areas without divisive boundary changes.

The magnets came to Baltimore County last year with their main proponent, Superintendent Stuart Berger. Although he has faced many hostile crowds on other issues, he cruised the magnet fair happily in a sweater and corduroys, obviously enjoying the interest in his high-profile innovation.

Also working the crowd was Kenwood High School's mascot, the Blue Bird, with two cheerleaders drumming up interest in Kenwood's programs, an International Baccalaureate for advanced students and a sports science program, which will concentrate on health, fitness and sports-related careers, rather than athletics.

The cheerleaders, Lacy Grumbine and Julia Wisniewski, know the baccalaureate program well.

"It's a really good program," said Lacy. "It teaches us responsibility."

"It's more work," Julia said, "but I still have time for cheerleading."

The multiplying magnets give students "much more choice," said Rudy DiCocco, a parent and guidance counselor. "It's also going to make some of the kids who go through these programs very attractive to colleges," he said.

The new magnets being readied for September 1994 include two high schools' programs, the Parkville Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Science and Lansdowne's Business and Finance magnet.

When it reopens in September, Sudbrook Middle School, in the Pikesville area, will become the county's first middle school magnet with four curricula: performing arts, visual arts, foreign language, and math, science and computers.

Four elementary schools also will introduce magnet programs: Cromwell and Church Lane will concentrate on technology, Lutherville will combine science, math and communications, and Wellwood will stress a multicultural curriculum with a half-day foreign language program.

With this year's programs a reality, administrators are finding it much easier to sell their wares.

"It's so much easier the second year," said Tom DeGraziano, coordinator of the math, science and pre-engineering magnet at Woodlawn High School. "The word's out, and now we've got students. Last year we didn't have students.

Magnet school coordinator Anita Stockton was buoyed by the crowd. "I was hoping to get about 1,500 [people], but not all at the same time," she said.

"Wasn't it so energizing to see that many parents in one place thinking about making education choices," said Mary Cary, principal of Carver School of Arts and Technology in Towson, which opened this fall with about 435 ninth- and tenth-graders.

Buoyed by this year's enrollment, only a few hitches, a successful magnet fair and more than $2 million in federal money, Dr. Stockton is optimistic. "We are offering opportunities to students that we have never had in the county before. Not only are we offering programs, but we're offering support."

For example, the federal money permitted Woodlawn to hire a part-time guidance counselor for the 62 magnet students. She helps them manage the stress of their demanding workload, organize their work and learn to cooperate with other students, Mr. DeGraziano said.

About 20 students have left the magnet programs, mainly because they missed friends from their former schools, Dr. Stockton said. Students struggling with academics get extra help and are encouraged to stay through the first semester.

Milford Mill Academy, at Milford Mill High School, lost a few students from its International Baccalaureate (IB) Program when some parents realized the program was what not they expected.

"The parents were under some false pretense that . . . the pre-IB program was better than our gifted-and-talented program," said Patsy Holmes, high school director for the Northwest area. "For ninth and tenth grade, it is not."

Milford Mill High, with a 92 percent black population, has the only magnet that has not met the school system's desegregation objectives, said Dr. Stockton. The schools must correct racial imbalances if they want another $2.26 million from the U.S. Department of Education next year.

There is only one white student out of 60 in the baccalaureate program, and Milford's magnet technology program has about the same racial makeup as the rest of the school.

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