Pupils reject tech school About 70 8th-graders admitted to magnet program turn it down

Others offered open slots

Officials say they're not sure why so many students withdrew

March 31, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

More than a quarter of Howard County eighth-graders who were selected for the school system's new technology magnet program next fall have turned down admission, opening up spots for others who lost out in the system's first lottery.

But more than 280 of 607 eighth-grade applicants still won't be allowed to enroll in the program next fall at the two magnet high schools.

School officials don't know why so many students -- about 70 -- have turned down the program, but they say it wasn't totally unexpected because the deadline for students to sign up was in December -- before many eighth-graders had visited or learned about their neighborhood high schools.

"We kind of thought there would be a number of students who might take a closer look at the regular high school program and decide that was the better option for them," said Donald Lewis, who oversees the county's magnet program. "On the positive side, that means we've been able to offer admission to more students."

During the past two weeks, more than 70 parents who thought their children had been denied admission to the program have been receiving phone calls telling them places are available -- much to their surprise and satisfaction.

"We had been getting ready for Glenelg [High School], and then [March 21] we suddenly got the phone call that he had been accepted," said Livia Hanson, whose son Daniel had appeared to fall short in the lottery for River Hill High School. "But we got this wonderful phone call, sat down and talked about it, and ultimately Daniel decided to go."

The magnet program, which began in the fall, is meant to be a rigorous, high-tech replacement for the county's old vocational-technical program. Courses are offered in five academic clusters: biotechnology; communications; construction and manufacturing; human services; and energy, power and transportation.

The program is designed for students of all abilities, with the only academic requirement being that students are enrolled in algebra by ninth grade. Students who enroll attend River Hill or Long Reach high school -- depending on whether they live west or east of U.S. 29 -- instead of their neighborhood high schools.

The 607 eighth-graders who applied to enter the program next fall far exceeded the space available in Long Reach and River Hill, and the board rejected the option of accommodating all interested students by adding the program at two more high schools.

Instead, the board held Howard's first-ever systemwide lottery this month to fill the 125 spaces at both Long Reach and River Hill -- 100 from outside each district and 25 within each district.

The lottery meant that more than 350 eighth-grade applicants were told they wouldn't be allowed into the program at the two magnet high schools in the fall.

A 'wonderful' phone call

But as of Thursday -- the last day the school system was open before spring break -- 30 out-of-district Long Reach lottery winners and 34 out-of-district River Hill winners had turned down the chance to enroll, meaning that the eighth-graders next in line in the lottery were called and offered admission.

Six in-district River Hill winners and one in-district Long Reach winner also chose not to enroll in the program, opening more spaces.

"As soon as someone says no, we're calling the student who is next on the list and offering them the spot," Lewis said.

Said Ginger Graham-Lewis, whose son Ahren Graham was assigned No. 30 -- five students after the lottery cutoff for in-district River Hill students: "It was wonderful to get that phone call. Ahren was really disappointed and was a little upset that he wasn't going to be included, but now he knows there's a spot for him."

Nearly all 250 places at the two schools have commitments from students who plan to enroll, Lewis said -- though others could still be offered admission if some eighth-graders change their minds by August.

Students such as Mount View Middle School eighth-grader Rachel Jacober are holding out hope that spaces will open. Rachel -- who was assigned No. 143 for out-of-district River Hill students in the lottery -- needs nine other students to decline admission to allow her to join her twin sister, Rebecca, in the magnet program.

"I knew the odds of both of us being picked weren't very good, but I was hoping," Rachel said. "All of our friends who signed up got in, and now I just have to hope that a few more people decide not to go."

Even if Rachel doesn't get into River Hill for her freshman year, she says she'll probably take the introductory magnet courses at Glenelg High School and hope that more spaces open up for her sophomore year.

Still some uncertainty

When the school board rejected expanding the magnet program, it also voted to guarantee that the introductory courses would be taught at the eight other county high schools, ensuring that students would be prepared to enter the magnet program if spaces became available.

But that's still too much uncertainty for some parents and students.

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