Wake Ed

New STEM themes approved for four Wake County magnet schools

Lincoln Heights Elementary School 4th-grade teacher Sophie Dudding walks her students through the math problem of the day using a STEM process in this 2014 file photo. The Wake County school board voted Feb. 7, 2017 to offer an environmental connections magnet school theme at Lincoln Heights.
Lincoln Heights Elementary School 4th-grade teacher Sophie Dudding walks her students through the math problem of the day using a STEM process in this 2014 file photo. The Wake County school board voted Feb. 7, 2017 to offer an environmental connections magnet school theme at Lincoln Heights. News & Observer file photo

The Wake County school board approved new science and engineering related themes for four magnet schools on Tuesday after debating the names of the new programs that will be started to help attract more interest from families.

The new themes will be used at Southeast Raleigh High, Bugg and Millbrook elementary schools in Raleigh, and Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina. The themes deal with topics such as computer science, the environment and engineering.

School board member Jim Martin said the district needs to ensure the new themes have community support, especially in cases where parents had liked the old themes that will be phased out now.

“If the school community helps create the theme, we’re going to see a lively school, we’re going to see a school that going to attract people,” he said. “If people feel like it’s imposed and we’ve lost these things that are positive, that’s going to be give us yet one more challenge.”

Since 1982, Wake has offered unique academic programs at magnet schools to try to fill and diversify under-enrolled schools.

In November, the school board voted to revamp the magnet themes at Bugg, Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh and to add a magnet program at Lincoln Heights. All four schools have much higher percentages of students receiving subsidized lunches than the district average, and their test scores are also below Wake’s average.

In addition, Bugg, Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh all have seen large drops in the number of magnet applications.

The themes were developed after surveys were done at the four schools.

Southeast Raleigh High will offer the new University Connections: School of Design, Art and Engineering theme. The theme includes topics such as graphic, fashion and architectural design and visual and performing arts such as theater, culinary and broadcasting.

The engineering program includes areas dealing with aerospace, civil, electrical, mechanical, biomedical and network engineering.

Martin suggested dropping University Connections from the name because he said he didn’t want to oversell the university ties that haven’t been finalized yet. Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said district staff has been talking with N.C. State and other universities about partnering with Southeast Raleigh.

“Using University Connections in the title is something that grabs parents’ attention to find out more information about the school,” Moore said.

Board members said keeping university connections in the name will put the onus on staff to get the connections established.

Martin was more successful in getting his colleagues to change the name of Bugg Elementary’s new theme from Center for Computer Science and Math Discovery to Center for Design and Computer Sciences. He said having design in the name would promote a broader magnet theme at Bugg.

Both Lincoln Heights and Millbrook elementary schools will offer a new theme called environmental connections. Students will study topics such as pollution, weather patterns and changes and environmentally sustainable energy sources.

Wake is attempting to get millions of dollars from a federal grant to fund the themes at the four schools. School officials say the grant gives priority to themes dealing with science, technology, engineering and math, popularly called STEM.

If Wake doesn’t win the grant, the district will have to fund the new themes with local dollars.

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