Magnet success leads to lottery Too many students want to attend high-tech program

February 16, 1997|By HOWARD LIBIT | HOWARD LIBIT,SUN STAFF

Howard County's technology magnet program has stolen the hearts of parents and students and threatens to steal the school system's budget -- a remarkable rush of popularity for a program still in its infancy.

But its success is such that the county school board has had to limit enrollment for next year and will use a lottery to decide who will be admitted to the two magnet high schools in the fall -- causing hard feelings among scores of parents and students.

Some parents are threatening legal action, saying the board broke its promise to make the program available to anyone who wanted it.

"I really wanted to go, and all along they said everyone who wanted to go could," said Mount View Middle School eighth-grader Ryan Foley, 13. "Now, all I can do is just hope I win the lottery. It's unfair."

Howard's magnet program, designed for students of all abilities, is meant to be a rigorous, high-tech replacement for the vocational-technical program.

Two years ago, Howard school board members were so concerned about whether students would want to enroll in the magnet program that they worried about how well it would be marketed to students.

But 511 freshmen entered the program, and more than 600 of this school year's eighth-graders -- or about 20 percent -- have said they want to enroll next fall.

Parents say the program's biggest attraction is that it seems to offer a more focused education than the regular curriculum.

"It's hard for a child who is 13 years old to say what he wants to do when he grows up, and this gives him some leeway while also giving him a chance to get some directed experience in possible careers," said Trona Vollmerhausen, PTA president of Patuxent Valley Middle School in Jessup. One of her sons is a ninth-grader in the magnet program at Long Reach, and the other is a seventh-grader who is interested in the program.

Elaine Smart, whose daughter is a freshman in the River Hill program and whose eighth-grade son at Glenwood Middle School wants to attend, described it as "something new and exciting."

"It fits in with where the world is going and is something all of these kids need for high school," Smart said. "It's something every child in the county should have an opportunity to attend -- and it's not fair that some kids are going to

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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