Hillsborough's 21 magnet schools pull in those who want to explore specialized courses. Two more will open in August.
By ELISABETH DYER
Published June 11, 2004
Martha LaFon wanted to try something new. The 8-year-old from Apollo Beach had played piano for years but through Lockhart Elementary's arts magnet program took up the harp.
"She was just a natural," teacher Michele de Lucca-Lowrey said. "It really made her shine."
Students in Hillsborough's themed magnet schools explore extraordinary experiences. Two years ago, Blake High School's jazz band performed in Japan. This year, eighth-graders at Stewart Middle School built a receiver that picked up radio waves from storms on Jupiter and changed them into audible sound waves.
Although the deadline for applying to a magnet school for the 2004-05 school year was in November, students may still be able to finagle a spot. Any spare spaces will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
"There is availability at some schools in certain grades," said Joan Courtney, supervisor of Hillsborough's magnet program. "It changes daily."
Space can open up if students move or decide to attend other schools. Orange Grove Middle and Lee Elementary, for example, are full but could accept new students if space becomes available during the summer.
The two new magnet schools opening in August in the South Tampa area still have room, district officials said.
Students at Franklin Middle School on 21st Avenue will study law and public service. In forensics classes, they will analyze evidence - strands of hair and fibers of fabric - from fake crime scenes. Teachers are designing a courtroom for mock trials and reaching out to neighborhood nursing homes for public service classes.
MacFarlane Elementary on N MacDill Avenue will have an international studies theme. Kindergarteners through fifth-graders will learn Spanish, French and possibly Italian. Fourth- and fifth-graders will also learn Latin. Teachers are trained through the Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate program, which teaches students to take action in world issues.
Magnets began in the county in 1990 with Hillsborough High School's International Baccalaureate program under the direction of Mary Ellen Elia, past president of Magnet Schools of America.
Magnet schools began nationally along the East Coast and filtered west, Elia said. More than 60 percent of states have them, she said. The purpose is to create diversity and improve performance at schools in low-income, high-minority areas by using themes to draw students from across the district.
Hillsborough has 23 magnet schools. Five other programs are pending federal grant approval for the 2005-06 school year.
If approved, Lee Elementary and Ferrell Middle schools, both now technology magnets, will add second magnet themes. Grants pay for equipment, such as harps, greenhouses and science labs.
Parents are drawn to magnets because of the smaller class sizes and advanced coursework in specific themes, such as the arts and the environment. Seventh-graders at Stewart, a magnet for math, can take honors algebra for high school credit.
The county provides transportation to magnet schools, but the bus ride can be long.
Getting into a high school magnet is competitive and requires good grades, a writing sample and teacher recommendations. Admission to an elementary or middle school is based solely on a student's interest in the program and space availability.
"You want the child to have a real buy into the theme," Courtney said.
Parents who still want to enroll their child in a magnet school can call the district's magnet office at 272-4818 or 272-4872 and fill out an application listing their top three choices. Applications can also be downloaded from the Internet at http://apps.sdhc.k12.fl.us/schools/magnet