Re-imagining Magnet Schooling

Magnet schools in America offer the opportunity for students to access more specialized public schooling outside of their ‘zoned’ school, but many still lack truly diverse and accessible engagement with the benefits of the program. 

Mary Panitz, a student in the Cambridge AICE magnet at Rockledge High School in Rockledge, Florida, reflects on the ways in which the program has benefitted her. The magnet is an international diploma program which allows students the chance to take college credit courses at the high school level. Panitz shares some of the benefits of the program. She reflects that AICE generally has smaller class sizes, centers on writing and projects rather than tests, and also has field trip opportunities. As a student who loves reading and writing, there is one huge benefit for Panitz. 

“I really like it, I think AICE, has really improved my writing because the emglish classes are phenomenal… and I find it really interesting,” said Panitz. “I think I’m better at articulating nad communicating what I’m thinking.”

Laura Alyssa Plate is a teacher in Gwinnett County, Georgia who formerly worked as a magnet teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince Georgia County in Maryland. During her time in Prince Georgia, the surrounding population was around 80% minority while the magnet system of the district was vastly dominated by white students. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg promoted the usage of busing to promote integration in public schooling, but Plate notes that the changes haven’t been truly effective. 

“The magnet program in Prince Georgia County was created as a solution to theCharlotte-Mecklenburg ruling about busing, and it has not really gotten any more equitable since then,” said Plate.  

With much lower diversity within the magnet, the school starts to feel extremely separated -almost into two different schools. The environment of the whole district facilitates the idea that students within the magnet program are better than those outside of it. Plate taught students both in and out of the magnet and finds that those within the program often look down on those outside of it. 

“They (students outside of the magnet) definitely feel like they are worthless in the eyes of the school compared to the students that are in the program,” she said. “And the students within the program often would say things like ‘Well Ms. Plate you don’t have to deal with the other kids in this school, you don’t get it’ without realizing I also taught kids outside of the program.”

Even beyond issues of racial diversity and access within magnet programs, the issue of mental health contributes to decreased involvement. Ren Lloyd, a magnet student at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia, notes that for many of the students in the magnet program, there seems to be increased mental health issues, particularly towards the end of the school year with AP testing, final exams and courses coming to an end. 

“I know a lot of my friends who, their mental health was just really bad, really low, especially towards the end of the year when you’re trying to wrap things up,” Lloyd said. 

 Even though the mental health issue seems prevalent, the program -nor the school as a whole- does not seem not to provide resources to support students with these issues. Lloyd describes every school year as a cycle of just coping with the issues. 

“ I really don’t think the program does enough to take care of that. You have school counselors, but they’re not therapists,” she said. “It’s just a lot of  ‘I’m just going to cope with it until it gets better and the school year ends’ and then it just kind of restarts the next school year.”

This strain on mental well-being is not unique to North Cobb.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an American foundation focused primarily on health, created a report on adolescent wellness and cites key factors of a child’s life which could affect their overall wellness. Among factors like poverty, racial discrimination and trauma, an ‘Excessive pressure to excel’ is noted. Students in high-achieving environments face a unique pressure to excel in studies which lends to them being deemed as “at risk” for behavioral and mental health issues, according to The Washington Post. For students of diverse racial, social and economic standing, the presence of a magnet program only doubles (or in some cases triples) down on pre-established systems adding to mental issues. 

Though the dynamics of magnet schooling can create harmful environments for students both within a magnet program and the other students in schools, there is still the possibility to improve these environments and truly provide equitable and accessible magnet programming in public schools. Plate notes that one major change, which the Prince Georgia area is currently making, is shifting away from applications to magnet programs and instead to lottery applications. She mentions the success of the magnet system in Gwinnett County which has always used a lottery system.

“They (Gwinnett County) have had great success with a lottery system without picking kids based on what their academic strengths and weaknesses are,” Plate said. 

Plate also notes that aside from magnet schooling, there are themed schools, school choice programs and other specialized programs which can allow for greater access to the subjects, classes and topics that students are truly interested in. Though she finds there is much room for reform in these programs, she is largely a supporter of magnet, themed, and otherwise specialized programs in schools.

“We need to rethink how we send kids to magnet schools,” she said. “The more opportunities we can give them to find something that they love and enjoy in an equitable way… is going to be where the most learning happens.”


The Door to Journalism

A co-facilitator at the University of Georgia summer academy’s journalism camp, Heaven Jobe started her college career with an interest in poetry and creative writing.

“I just really like being free of rules, but also write about whatever I wanted to,” she said.

At the camp, Jobe works alongside Joe Dennis to lead students who are interested in the field of journalism. As a graduate student, journalism -particularly in the health field- has been at the peak of Jobe’s interests, however, that wasn’t always her plan. Jobe’s higher education started with plans of becoming an educator herself majoring in literature, language and writing. She dreamed of teaching an English or creative writing class but it was her minor in theatre arts and communication that lead her into journalism for grad school.

“I wanted to go (back) to school for mass communication because, you know, I did my minor in communication,” Jobe said. “But once I turned in my application to UGA, the admissions reached out to me with this opportunity.”

In her work with Dennis, Jobe has provided a new lens to the camp as someone who is actively teaching and learning the skills of journalism at once. Often, it seems that Dr. Dennis takes on the bulk of the work but observers may notice that Jobe steps up -somewhat essentially- to lead the camp. From being a more relatable voice to many of the students, reminding Dennis to provide definitions for uncommon terms and even providing insight on how to find sources, Jobe has a major role from both a facilitative and educational perspective. Dennis shares some personal insight to his collaboration with Jobe.

“Heaven has been a great asset to teaching this class,” Dennis said. “She’s provided some insight that helped fill in the gaps that I may leave.”

Even as a facilitator, Jobe is transparent about her newness to the field. Often during the camp, she asks questions, takes notes and participates in games for her own benefit. It is this level of engagement that truly lends to Jobe’s relatability and ability to connect with the camp’s students. She speaks on the duality of teaching and learning at the same time.

“I’m still working on my own journalistic (skills),” she says. “You see that I’m asking questions when we’re playing Kahoot, so I’m still wanting to get better and learn but at the same time teach you about my own experiences.”

Regardless of how she got into it, Jobe’s new passion for journalism has proved to benefit her in many ways. She has made connections with people like Dr. Dennis, she has been able to explore the differences in various writing styles and through the camp, she has even delved back into education.

“A door opened and why not walk through it,” Jobe said.

Maricellyn ‘Rissy’ McDonald Biography

“Art is about building a new foundation, not just laying something on top of what’s already there.” – Prince

Maricellyn McDonald (she/her) is a 17 year old senior at Richland Northeast High School in Columbia, South Carolina. She is currently working on completing her International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma and has always prioritized education and learning through her life. She is a member of her school mock trials team, creative writing club, and book club among many other endeavors. She is also the number two player on her school’s varsity tennis team.

Rissy is a music enthusiast and prides herself on her vinyl collection. She self-identifies as a creative and often finds herself reaching for a paint brush or chalk pastel to channel and express her beliefs, experiences, and joys in life.

Rissy is intent on using her knowledge and understanding of the world to expand equity, justice and love to people of all walks of life. She has been involved with organizations, like EveryBlackGirl, inc. and Justice For Black Girls, which center Black girls and their experiences. In any way that she can, Rissy uses her voice to support, advocate for and empower marginalized people across the world.

Above all, Rissy is a writer in all the many facets of her life. She currently serves as the co-editor-in-chief of “The Saber”, her school’s online news publication. Though most of Rissy’s writing tends to tackle socio-political issues ; abortion bans, gender justice and the lives of working high school students, she has also dabbled in book reviews, feature stories and local stories. In Rissy’s personal time, she spends hours writing journal entries and poetry relating to her intersectional experience as a Black girl navigating life in the South. In 2020, her poetry was shown in an online exhibition “#blackgirlpoetry” through the organization, Black Womxn Healing.

Rissy aspires to write professionally in any way, shape, or form. She has a deep passion for journalism but also hopes to explore novel writing with inspiration from young adult writers like Phil Stamper, Kalynn Bayron and Adib Khorram. Her greatest hope is that her writing can be used to center, support and empower people of intersectional identities. She believes that writing is the key to any social change or progress.

Find Rissy @rissy_mc on instagram and twitter.

Poet. Writer. Creator. Advocate. Lover. Dreamer.