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Baltimore Co. magnet programs flourish

Note to President Obama: Call the producers at WRHS-TV at Randallstown High School’s mass communications magnet program for an interview. I don’t know what they’ll ask you, and at this point, neither do they. But it’s looking pretty good so far.


A self-portrait (oil pastel on cardboard), by Nora Reinhardt, Patapsco H.S. & Ctr. for the Arts

Based on WRHS-TV’s documentary about the Lil Ravens cheerleader camp over the summer, which premiered last Thursday at the school, the president could be expected to encounter flexible and “think on your feet” interviewing from the students in Randallstown’s program.

Several students in the program spoke with Voxitatis at the district’s annual magnet program expo, a Saturday afternoon event at the Radisson in Timonium, run every year to distribute information and give parents an overview of the magnet programs available to about 110,000 students in Baltimore County.

Thanks to the previous experience of Randallstown’s mass communications program adviser, Susan Ellerbee, as a producer for Maryland Public Television and WBAL-TV, students run the station like a regular TV station. And they solve some of the same problems TV reporters encounter and solve them using much the same equipment and software they would use at an actual TV station.

This real-world experience takes place in the care and guidance of a high school setting but is often eye-opening and real, explained Jim Dyson, the school’s magnet program coordinator. One student, as part of an internship, worked a Saturday night shift at Shock Trauma, he recalled.

“By 11 o’clock, she had seen a gunshot wound and a fractured femur with the patient’s bone coming out of the leg,” he said of the student, who was enrolled in Randallstown’s health professions magnet program. The information was recorded in a journal she was keeping about her internship and followed quite a few less hair-on-fire days at Maryland’s world-renowned trauma center. “After that, she was sure she wanted to go into nursing.”

For the Lil Ravens camp last summer, senior producer Delise White, 17, explained that having connections from within the magnet program helps students get their foot in the door, but once they’re on the scene, it’s all up to them to call on skills they’ve been honing in the magnet program, including public speaking, writing, and video and sound editing. “We had two bags, a tripod, and no script,” she said. “You learn what you’re going to talk about on site, because you don’t know what you’re walking into.”

Over all, 15 high schools, eight middle schools, and two elementary schools offer more than 100 magnet programs to Baltimore County students. Information can be collected at the magnet program expo, but students and their parents generally learn more by attending open houses offered by each of the programs, usually on an October evening.

High School Magnet Showcase Events (Open Houses)

Carver Center for Arts & Technology, 5 PM Wednesday, Oct. 28
Chesapeake High School STEM Academy, 6 PM Thursday, Oct. 22
Eastern Technical High School, 6 PM Thursday, Oct. 8
Kenwood High School (IB & Sports Science Academy), 5:30 PM Thursday, Nov. 5
Lansdowne High School Academy, 5 PM Thursday, Oct. 15
Milford Mill Academy, Noon Saturday, Oct. 24
Overlea High School (Academy of Finance), 6 PM Thursday, Oct. 29
Parkville High School (math, science, computer science), 6 PM Tuesday, Oct. 20
Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts, 6:30 PM Thursday, Oct. 29
Randallstown High School (mass comm., health professions), 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 21
Sollers Point Technical High School, 5 PM Wednesday, Oct. 21
Sparrows Point Educational Center (environment), 6 PM Thursday, Nov. 5
Towson High School (law & public policy), 6 PM Tuesday, Oct. 6
Western School of Technology & Environmental Science, 6 PM Thursday, Oct. 22
Woodlawn High School (math, science, pre-engineering), 6 PM Tuesday, Oct. 27


Middle School Magnet Showcase Events

Deep Creek Middle School, 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 21
Deer Park Middle Magnet School, 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 21
Lansdowne Middle School, 6:30 PM Wednesday, Oct. 7
Loch Raven Technical Academy, 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 14
Old Court Middle School, 6 PM Wednesday, Nov. 4
Parkville Middle School & Center of Technology, 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 7
Southwest Academy Magnet School for Science & Engineering, 6 PM Wednesday, Oct. 14
Sudbrook Magnet Middle School, 5 PM Wednesday, Oct. 28


Elementary School Magnet Showcase Events

Chatsworth School, 10 AM Friday, Oct. 23
Wellwood International School (French immersion), 10 AM & 5:30 PM Tuesday, Oct. 20

Students apply to each program they want to join, and the school reviews the applications to fill available slots. That review includes looking at students’ grades and may involve an audition for certain programs, depending on the program. A mandatory assessment session is held at the school, ensuring the selected students will be best served by the individual attention the magnet programs offer. Applications are due this year before the last day of November.

What can students gain from magnet programs?

I talked with Erik Grooms, director of the Academy of Finance magnet program, which is offered at three high schools in the district, including Lansdowne and Overlea high schools. In addition to gathering classrooms full of students with similar interests, who can drive each other to higher levels of achievement every day, the Academy of Finance is actually a nationally recognized program.

“Several of America’s top companies have committed to NAFTrack Certified Hiring,” the organization says on its website. NAFTrack, Mr Grooms explained, offers students not only additional scholarship opportunities to help them pay for college, but an added certification from the successful completion of the recognized high school curriculum. This certification is “a promise” from several Fortune 500 companies “to give special consideration to college students and eventual job applicants who, as high school graduates, earned the NAFTrack Certification.”

Although any specific connections between magnet programs and performance in classes outside those programs can’t be documented with certainty, due to small sample sizes, being in a magnet program, which requires students to maintain a certain GPA, encourages them in all their classes. “Mostly because they’re interested in that magnet program, they do maintain that GPA,” said Aubrey Brown, principal at Randallstown.

At the high school level, several programs include internships, such as the one at Shock Trauma described above, and involve real-world work, such as taking and testing soil samples as part of Woodlawn High School’s civil pre-engineering magnet program, explained Tom Lawler, head of the science department and magnet program coordinator at the high school. “You’re not going to see [non-magnet] students doing that level of work and getting those experiences,” he said.

Two visual arts magnet program seniors from the George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology said they were planning to apply to Dartmouth and Columbia and that participation in the magnet program had led them to seek out colleges with strong fine arts programs after finding out where their interests lie.

“We had to present a portfolio of our work when we were in eighth grade,” one student said, referring to the audition process for some programs. “And then they asked us questions about our work, so when you’re in eighth grade, you’re not really thinking about your work in those ways. But now that I’m applying to college, I know what kinds of things they’re looking for.”

Nora Reinhardt, 18, a senior at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, plans to apply to the Maryland Institute College of Art to pursue a career as a graphic novel writer and designer. She has used the insulation of the visual arts magnet program in high school to experiment with different media, to explore the possibilities offered, and to take advantage of the fact that she won’t lose her job if one of them doesn’t work. It’s all part of a focused learning process.

“It’s hard to find cardboard this big,” she said, describing the oil pastel on cardboard self-portrait pictured above. Most of her work is on a big canvas of some sort, although she has dabbled in 2D sculpture and other media. “And you can see, if you look closely, where it’s kind of torn because the tool I used wasn’t perfect all the way around,” she said, referring to her removing the top layer of the cardboard for part of the work to expose the corrugated material in the middle.

Magnet programs mature and come into their own

Ms Reinhardt said she thinks the enrollment in the visual arts magnet program has increased since she was in eighth grade. For its senior night this year, she said, the school might not have enough space to display all the artwork. “When I was in eighth grade and came to see it, it was full, but not like this,” she said.

Those numbers are unofficial, of course, but magnet programs are surging around the country, as they offer parents a choice to send their kids to a program that is focused on their child’s area of interest, be that visual arts at one of several high schools, law and public policy at Towson High School, computer science at Parkville, culinary arts at Eastern Tech, diesel truck and power systems at Sollers Point, dance at Carver or Patapsco, Academy of Finance or biomedical careers at several high schools, or whatever.

From the Baltimore County Public Schools

Magnet programs are theme-oriented programs with a specialized curriculum or an emphasis on instruction that is different from that generally offered in other schools in the school system. They provide in-depth experiences and distinct choices for students with different interests, talents, and aptitudes, while fulfilling Baltimore County Public Schools’ requirements for promotion and graduation. Access to these specialized programs is provided through the magnet application process.

District Administration Magazine reported in May that magnet programs around the country are making a comeback. The article placed special emphasis on programs in Nashville, Tennessee; Miami-Dade County, Florida; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; and Clark County, Nevada.

Students in Nashville actually run a record label, just as kids at Randallstown run a television station. In Nashville, kids hold auditions for new acts, sign contracts with bands, produce music videos, and do other things you might expect of a real-world record label. Because it is.

So, Mr President, give these kids a call. I don’t know what the content of their interview would be, but judging from their previous work and the caliber of instruction they’re getting, I can vouch for their professionalism.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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