Specialized Study

In an effort to retain students, boost academic performance and reduce minority groups, Tulsa Public Schools has applied a $12 million grant it received in October 2007 to the expansion and creation of four magnet schools.
Tulsa Public Schools received a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education for $3,875,688 for each of three consecutive school years. The money will be funneled into four of the district’s at-risk schools, either converting them into magnet schools or improving the programs already in place there.
Central High School Academy of Fine Arts, Nathan Hale High School for Restaurant, Lodging and Health Management, McClain High School for Science and Technology and Webster High School for Broadcast, Digital Media and Marketing each received major construction projects and new staff members whose jobs are to integrate the magnet subject matter into the core curriculum.
Though Central and McClain have been magnet schools for a number of years, Shelonda Hawkins, magnet school recruiter, said TPS lacked the funds necessary to equip them with state-of-the-art technology. The goal, she said, was not just to have a magnet school, but to have a magnet school that is considered “top of the line” for fine arts or science and technology.
TPS chose to convert Hale and Webster into magnet schools in order to garner more student interest, raise the graduation rate, lower the dropout rate and reduce minority isolation.
Hawkins said Hale has the second lowest graduation rate in the district, graduating only a little more than 50 percent of its students.
Giving the students areas of expertise upon which to focus in school, Hawkins said, increases their enthusiasm for learning.
“In the 1970s and ‘80s, you had wood shop, you had cosmetology, you had auto shop (classes in high school), and so kids were enthused to go to school,” Hawkins said. “Now, a lot of kids are getting out and trying to work, and they’re not thinking about school. School is a low priority for them.”
Hawkins said TPS chose the magnet programs based on high-demand jobs in the area. The schools now offer not only basic learning, but the beginnings of a trade that may serve them in the future. They are learning something they may put to practical use to make money when they leave school. When they graduate, they can go to college already knowing something about a certain field, or they have the possibility of going directly into the workforce from high school and earning a living, Janice Bayouth, magnet school director, explained.
Hawkins said the opportunity to study within a specific field also gives students the opportunity to flesh out a desired career path. Rather than spend $10,000 or more per year in college deciding what they want to pursue, they can experiment with some possible career choices while in high school.
Hawkins said reducing minority isolation can also improve academic performance.
“The magnet schools are supposed to reduce minority isolation to promote academic growth,” she said, “so they (students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds) can learn to work with one another. You teach me something, and I’ll teach you something. It’s more of a team effort.”
As it stands, out of a total of 744 students at Central, 87 percent are minority — African American or “other.” Of McClain’s 504 students, 95 percent are minority; of Webster’s 585 students, 56 percent are minority; and of Hale’s 870 students, 67 percent are minority.
Hawkins said TPS expects to wait about three years before seeing major results from the new magnet programs.
Bayouth said she expects to see results next year.
“The biggest part of the grant was spent on new construction,” Bayouth said.
Hale High School will see the opening of a 3,700-SF operational kitchen/restaurant, which will be open to the public one day a week by January, Bayouth said.
January also marks the expected completion of a broadcasting studio for Webster, a new dance floor and recording studio for Central and science labs for McLain.
Bayouth said the first year of the schools’ opening has been spent on recruitment, with about 300 students transferred into the four schools. Next year, she said, she hopes that number will double.
Each of the magnet schools is intended to provide a learning environment that will engage students with hands-on, real-world projects that integrate traditional subjects with specialized skills.
For example, according to Hawkins, students attending Central High School may learn about anatomy through practicing vocal techniques or advanced mathematics through set design and planning.
Transfer to the schools is based on interest, meaning students need not meet any academic criteria to attend the schools.

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