Grantee Corner  |  LEARN

Female students wearing life jackets handle a ray
West Side STEM Magnet Middle School eighth-grade students work on Long Island Sound with Project Oceanography

A class of students wear headphones and sit in front of computers
Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School students produce a 1-minute instrumental piece using Logic Pro X

Two students work with tools
Connecticut River Academy students work on an introductory project in the new advanced manufacturing workspace

Four students act on stage with stools
Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School drama students create a tableau of a rollercoaster

Students gather around a table while the teacher pours water over a tray of sand
Regional Multicultural Magnet School fourth- and fifth-grade students participate in an activity that focuses on erosion

Two female students sit on the floor and fold origami
Regional Multicultural Magnet School student partners work together to fold paper cranes during a celebration of peace

Two women and a boy hold paper flowers
A Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School family celebrates at Multicultural Night

A student speaks at a podium in a grassy area
Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School students share their thoughts and writing on the topic of peace at a Peace Pole ceremony with the Norwich Rotary Club

Students climb the rigging on a ship
Cutler Arts & Humanities Magnet Middle School students climb the masts on the Charles Morgan, an authentic American whaling ship, at the Mystic Seaport

Kate Ericson, LEARN Project Director

LEARN is a regional education service center in southeastern Connecticut. Connecticut is recognized as a state of many contradictions: extreme wealth and deep poverty, wide racial diversity and significant isolation, and large divides between student achievement and failure. LEARN’s 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant helps educators address these inequities. 

The MSAP project partnership between higher education, school districts, and the education service center is implementing six new or significantly revised magnet schools. The magnet schools offer parents and children a quality educational experience in schools that foster inclusion, high expectations, and a commitment to lifelong learning. The magnet programs present a range of regional opportunities for K-12 students, including a focus on inquiry and transdisciplinary learning experiences through developing deep relationships with community partners. Taking advantage of tools from the U.S. Department of Education and the MSAP Center, LEARN and its partners are now working with a clear logic model, a strong implementation plan, and much community support. 

The MSAP project ‘s partner organizations and agencies include the Mystic Museum of Art, the Mystic Aquarium, the Mystic Seaport Museum, the Garde Arts Center, the Connecticut Science Center, Connecticut College, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Mystic Paper Beasts, Flock Theatre, Electric Boat/General Dynamics, the U.S. Navy Submarine Base, University of Connecticut at Avery Point, Project Oceanology, New England Science & Sailing, Goodwin College, Arts for Learning in Connecticut, and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technologies. Together, these partners are building sustainability for the magnet programs.

Across all six MSAP schools, the project serves nearly 3,000 students in grades K-12. MSAP funds have enabled LEARN to hire magnet theme coaches at each school and to purchase theme-specific equipment (including significant expansion of technology, working toward a one-to-one student environment). In addition, the magnet programs facilitate learning through hands-on and engaging activities with the addition of makerspaces at several schools. These significant upgrades in equipment and resources are supported by wide-ranging and rigorous professional development activities, including International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) and Middle Years Programme (MYP) training at three of the six schools.

The Regional Multicultural Magnet School is an interdistrict magnet school undergoing a significant revision of its theme through the process of becoming an IB PYP school. 

The Connecticut River Academy is another interdistrict magnet that is also significantly revising its theme by adding advanced manufacturing to its existing middle college coursework. The school now hosts an advanced manufacturing project center.

With MSAP funds, two Groton middle schools became new intradistrict magnet schools: Cutler Arts & Humanities Magnet Middle School and West Side STEM Magnet Middle School. These schools are implementing their specific themes and beginning the journey to becoming IB MYP schools. West Side has used MSAP funds to build a weather station lab and Cutler now has a video production lab.

And, finally, two middle schools in Norwich became intradistrict magnet schools: Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School and Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School. Teachers Memorial has an updated planetarium and a language lab, and Kelly has a new music technology lab and a coding/robotics lab.

A key element of LEARN’s MSAP project is a research component focused on one-to-one coaching for teachers using the TeachStone MyTeachingPartner CLASS tool, an observational tool that measures the quality of teacher-student interactions. This tool is based on developmental theory and research that demonstrates that interactions between teachers and students are the primary mechanism through which children learn. Coaches have been trained and certified, and coaching has begun at all six schools.  

Katherine Ericson, Associate Executive Director of Magnet Schools for LEARN, is the Project Director. Ms. Ericson received her bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Boston College and her master’s in special education at Southern Connecticut University. She earned an Intermediate (Principal) Leadership certification from Sacred Heart University and completed Executive Leadership Program (Superintendent) certification from the University of Connecticut in 2017. Prior to joining LEARN in 2015, Ms. Ericson served as the Chief Academic Officer for New London Public Schools, where she orchestrated New London’s transition into an all-magnet district and oversaw the opening of the district’s K-5 STEM magnet and K-5 arts magnet schools, including the successful design of their specific theme-based curricula and implementation of the district’s desegregation strategies.