Visitors to Wendell Creative Arts and Science Magnet Elementary School notice the school’s theme before they even enter the school.
Bronze garden decór lines the walkway leading up to the entrance and a butterfly garden is in its beginning stages. Walking through the hallways, visitors hear math students singing their facts or kindergarten students creating a dance to demonstrate geometric shapes.
Fifth-graders Mija Graves, Lillie Cantin, Jordan Sanders and Jake Barbour find science projects like raising caterpillars for the butterfly garden or creating a terrarium unique to their school, which won the Elementary Magnet School of Merit award from Magnet Schools of America last weekend.
The recognition is one of five awards the organization gives annually, making Wendell Elementary currently the top elementary school among the 319 magnet schools that applied. Twenty-two other Wake County schools were awarded distinctions, including Brentwood Elementary, which received the organization’s second-highest honor overall.
Magnet Schools of America awarded a plaque and cash award to the school during their national conference held this year at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Wendell Elementary has been designated as a magnet school since 1982, when Wake County began utilizing the program to diversify school enrollments and fill under-enrolled schools.
In 2009, the school became a “Creative Arts and Science” magnet, offering those themes through extra-curricular activities and integrating them into the core curriculum.
The students participate in clubs and six “specials” – daily classes for dance, drama, chorus, physical education, science or art.
Lillie and Mija particularly love dance to express lessons they are learning. Lillie excitedly pointed out that the “Harry Potter Club” meets once a week for bookworms.
Jordan Sanders added that there is also a movie-making club, an iPad club and a career club.
‘Continue on this roll’
The school stood out, in part, because the curriculum is based on Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, said John Laughner, Magnet Schools of America Legislative and Communications Manager.
The theory encourages instructors to provide multiple pathways to learn, from musical strategies to physical education.
“I’m body-smart. I like to move around and play sports, so if I can’t understand something (the teacher) would let (me) move around and get some ideas,” Jake Barbour said.
Wendell Elementary has shown steady improvement in reading, math and science achievement. For the past four years, it has also been a North Carolina School of High Growth.
Last year in particular, the school decreased the overall percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch from 57 percent to 47 percent, and 100 percent of their five-year ESL students met the required proficiency.
The school has been named a magnet school of distinction each year it has been eligible to apply – for the past three years.
Administrators at the school say that the strong community and high standards they have maintained have boosted them to this level. Diversity, making learning fun and incorporating the arts are also important factors, Principal Shane Barham said.
“We want to continue on this roll,” he said. “We would like to be the top overall in the nation.”
He added that the school aims to provide opportunities for students who might not be able to afford them otherwise.
Cindi Zittle, the school’s magnet coordinator, said she believes the school’s “excited energy of learning” makes them unique.
The four 5th-graders proved her point, buzzing nonstop with stories about their favorite subjects.
“Our school does cool things with science,” Mija said with a grin. The four agreed that their favorite project was transforming pizza boxes into solar panel ovens – and subsequently roasting s’mores in the sun.
“We were proud of our school that we won,” Lillie said. “The students worked really hard.”