Two elementary schools in eastern Wake County have received national attention for their magnet programs, including Wendell Creative Arts and Science Magnet Elementary, which earned a place in the top tier of schools.
Magnet Schools of America recognized 23 schools in the Wake County Public School System with the Magnet Schools of Merit Awards. Wendell Elementary placed in the top category – “Magnet Schools of Excellence” – one of five schools in the county to earn the recognition.
Zebulon Gifted and Talented Magnet Elementary was recognized as one of 18 “Magnet Schools of Distinction.”
Wake County has 41 magnets and they have seen significant recognition by the national organization over the past four or five years. Magnet schools are public schools that often emphasize a themed curriculum like science or world languages and also focus on diversity and reducing pockets of poverty.
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Zebulon Elementary received the “School of Excellence” award last year, and Wendell Elementary had been listed as a “School of Distinction” for the past two years. The latter award recognizes those schools which meet the basic rubric judged by a national panel of educators, while the highest award is given to schools with particularly admirable ways of meeting the rubric.
Wendell Elementary Principal Shane Barham said their program integrates the arts into every subject through hands-on activities in visual arts, dance, music and drama.
He emphasized the school’s focus on “multiple intelligences” – studying how the students best learn, and a focus on promoting the magnet theme in the broader community.
“Our main focus has been on improving academic achievement and improving staff morale,” he said. “Our students have exhibited high growth and our teachers have a passion for teaching.”
Lisa Thompson, Director of Magnet Themes and Curriculum for WCPSS, said that schools apply for the recognition through a very rigorous, thorough documentation of what goes on the school.
“Even for the schools that don’t end up winning anything, for these schools to have that document of what they have in place is very valuable,” she said.
The documentation examines the overall feel of the school, how diverse the school is, parent and community involvement, and how the given theme of the magnet – such as science or arts – is implemented in the classroom and of course, student achievement.
Thompson said that just visiting the two elementary schools reveals their positive environment.
“It very much reflects the culture in the schools and standards set by leaderships in schools, the way the program is implemented and the feel walking into the schools,” she said.
She pointed out that Wendell and Zebulon can face a challenge with diverse pools of families because of location.
“That’s quite a challenge, and that’s taken into consideration how the program and theme is implemented so that every magnet student is able to access the program,” she said.
Barham said that he was “absolutely thrilled” to have received the award.
“The students, staff and parents worked very hard in order to move our school in a positive direction,” he said.
Administrators at Zebulon Elementary School could not be reached for comment. WCPSS will be hosting the Magnet Schools of America’s national conference this year April 22-25.