Funding for magnet schools drying up 

With year-round school schedules and magnet programs that include Lego building blocks and Mandarin language lessons, schools in the San Mateo-Foster City School District are looking less like the elementary programs of old as they work to prepare students for an interconnected world.

After receiving a $6.2 million federal grant in 2004 for magnet school programs, the district restructured its campuses so that each is a magnet focusing on a different discipline or set of topics. The funding provided training, technology and startup costs for each school.

Following a successful three-year run, those grants are running out, and the district is looking to apply for money to last until 2010.

As was the case in 2004, Magnet Schools Director Irving Phillips said the district is hoping to get approximately $2 million a year for the next three school years. The grant application will likely be submitted sometime this spring.

The existing programs include a Lego-based robotics program at College Park Elementary that uses the plastic blocks to teach about math, science and technology; and Horrall Elementary’s communication technology focus that produced a literary magazine and news broadcast.

"The California standards are the base, but the manner in which children learn that base may be different depending on which school those students go to," Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Joan Rosas said.

If they receive the grants, the money will be used to expand the magnet program into Borel Middle and George Hall Elementary schools. Other programs will be added or expanded at the existing magnet schools.

One of the most successful programs was the Mandarin language elective at College Park Elementary. With new grant money, it would be expanded to allow any interested student at the school to enroll.

Phillips said that like Spanish and English, Mandarin — the official language of China — will likely one day be a necessity for global communication.

Because parents can choose which school to send their children to, student pools are drawn from throughout the entire area. Children are given a chance to meet and interact with classmates from outside their immediate neighborhood.

"[The grant money] allows the schools to help kids interact with different cultures and groups and provides them the resources to do it with," College Park Elementary Principal Diana Hallock said.

Without the grant money, she said her school would not have been able to provide students with a quality science lab for their environmental studies. They were also able to transform an old woodshop classroom into a working art and dance studio for their dance and drama programs.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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