Magnet Schools: A State of Mind?


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InterDistrict Discovery Magnet School in Bridgeport
By Ariane Rasmussen

A recently released report by the State Department of Education indicated that Hartford city students attending magnet and suburban schools with a desegregated population perform and test at a higher level than those attending regular neighborhood public schools. From additional resources to a “do your personal best” mentality, magnet schools raise the bar for students and families regardless of their neighborhood.
The Interdistrict Discovery Magnet School in Bridgeport, Conn., is an example of such a school. Its student body is made up of 70 percent urban students from the Bridgeport city area and 30 percent suburban students from the surrounding towns.
A brightly-colored painting of a garden adorns the wall of its main office. At the center of each flower is the face of a child representing a different racial and ethnic background. The painting mirrors the school’s diverse student body, which consists of approximately 30 percent Caucasians, 32 percent Latinos, 30 percent African Americans and 7-8 percent others.
“This is the best of both worlds. I feel that if you marry the suburban and urban families together, you have formed a very strong community bond. We’re not against each other, we are for each other,” said Deana Landeen, of Trumbull, a 5th and 6th grade Social Studies teacher at Discovery Magnet who is also the parent of a 5th grader attending the school. “(This school) offers opportunities for everybody, especially it being interdistrict, so it doesn’t matter that you happen to live in a neighborhood where they don’t have all these opportunities.”
Magnet school students are chosen based on a lottery to achieve a balanced student body that reflects the global world. For the most part, these schools are state- and grant-funded with many of them choosing to focus on a particular area of study. Discovery Magnet focuses on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Thanks to extra resources to promote Science and Technology, the school is able to offer laptops in its classrooms and enrichment programs throughout the year. Students who don’t have a computer at home are able to use them at school to do their homework and research. Additional homework help is also given to students who need it through student mentors from Sacred Heart University.
“Yes, we do have the resources and provide them within the school, but I think Magnet schools perform because it is a mindset,” said Sangeeta Bella, the principal of Interdistrict Discovery Magnet School. “It’s the expectation. We have 70 percent urban students here and it’s a lottery, so it’s not that we are hand-selecting students. So what is changing? It’s not that we said we are going to screen the kids and we’re going to pick the best and that’s how. No, these are the same children. The district does a lottery, but what changes when they come here? These are the rules, these are the policies, these are the expectations, this is what we expect you to do. And guess what, if you raise the bar, they are going to say, ‘Ok, I want to jump high’ and that is what makes the difference here.”
From early on, the school’s mission about respect, collaboration, independent thinking and doing your personal best is instilled in the students and taught in the classrooms. Parents are also expected to do their part and buy-into the vision of the school.
“It’s the buy-into what this school is about, it’s the collaboration and cohesiveness of everyone. There is a sense of ownership from the bottom to the top,” said Bella.
As to closing the achievement gap within the state, magnet or not, Bella said that “Bridgeport as a whole has done a tremendous job in trying to narrow the achievement gap with all the new materials and streamlining,” but it takes 3-5 years to see it all come to fruition.