District's magnet schools give students, parents more choice
Akien Standard. Larry Wood. February 25, 2018.

At East Aiken School of the Arts, paintings, drawings and sculpture turn the halls into an art gallery.

At Jackson STEM Magnet Middle School, using technology, students create apps and learn to think critically, giving them an edge on the workforce of the future.

At New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School, students from all grades working together solve mysteries and create solutions to problems using project-based learning.

Although the schools have slightly different focuses, they share a common purpose. As partial magnet schools, any student in Aiken County can apply to attend, giving them and their parents more education choices.

February is Magnet School Month, and here is a look at Aiken County Public Schools' three magnet schools.

East Aiken School of the Arts

Aiken County's partial magnet schools give parents more choice, said Lisa Fallaw, principal of East Aiken School of the Arts.

“It's an option, and it's free because magnet schools are public schools focused around a theme; and our theme is arts integration,” she said. “Almost half of our 620 students are on magnet status.”

At East Aiken, the visual and performing arts – drawing, video, dance, drama, music, creating writing – are integrated into all subject areas.

For example, fifth graders present a living wax museum, dressing as historical figures and telling their stories. The project incorporates social studies, drama, oral presentation and English language skills.

“The beauty of our magnet school program is we are focused on extending the arts,” Fallaw said.

And through that extension, the arts benefit academics, she added.

“The research is very, very clear,” Fallaw said. “Reading a piece of music is the same as reading words. Statistics show that children who study music and take music lessons score higher on the SAT.”

The arts also allow students to develop their individual learning styles by tapping into their personalities and creativity.

“We have a lot of children who aren't just your 'I'm going to read it, and I'm going to learn it' kind of kids. They're not,” Fallaw said. “We're really tapping into what is referred to as multiple intelligence for your kids, and it makes the information stick. And, I always say it's a whole lot of fun, too. Who wouldn't like to dance and to sing and to draw?”

And although East Aiken students are still in elementary school, the arts are teaching them soft skills – public speaking, performing, presenting ideas, following directions, working in a group – that they can use in the future in the workplace.

“These are skills employers are looking for,” Fallaw said. “They're looking for creative problem solvers, and that's what creativity is: you're thinking outside the box to build something or to find a solution to a problem.”

Arts integrated education is “really, truly educating the whole child,” Fallaw said.

“The arts are very engaging. Students are moving. They're dancing. They're singing,” she said. “Sometimes, I think that we forget that our children are more than a test score. There's so much more to our children than a single test score on a single day.”

Jackson STEM Magnet Middle School

Jackson STEM Magnet Middle School, which emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math across the curriculum, is looking toward the future, Principal Perry Smith said.

“We're developing the 21st-century student,” said Smith, an alumnus of the school. “Our students are doing some very innovative things. They're being challenged to be thinkers. They're being challenged to be effective, to collaborate and to do things outside of the box.”

Eighth-graders Shakaren Douglas and Treasure King created one of those innovations. They designed an app that could help schools and communities monitor the amount of paper and plastic being recycled.

Their project won first place in the first Innovative Challenge sponsored by the S.C. Department of Education, and the students recently attended a banquet to recognize their achievement.

The school's STEM program is certified by AdvancED, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts rigorous, on-site reviews of a variety of educational institutions and systems to ensure that all learners realize their full potential,” according to its website.

“There are only 54 schools in the world that have the certification that we have,” Smith said.

Each grade at Jackson Middle has a focus: sixth grade, communication; seventh grade, collaboration; and eighth grade, critical thinking skills.

All Jackson Middle's 350 students – about 40 from outside the attendance zone - learn and use the engineering design process, Smith said.

“Students are challenged to research in every classroom and then design, build, test and improve,” he said. “That's what really sets us apart from the other middle school in the district.”

Jackson Middle's proximity to the Savannah River Plant and partnerships with Savannah River Nuclear Solutions gives the school access to engineers who often help teach classes.

“They get first-hand experience from professionals in the fields that we're targeting,” Perry said. “They show our students how to work through different problems and how an engineer's mind works.

“We're creating an environment that is happy, caring, stimulating and where students can recognize and achieve their fullest potential through individualized strategies for student success. Jackson Middle is a place where everybody is welcome and encouraged to serve each other, where everybody is encouraged to grow through hands-on science and technology.”

New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School

As a STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math – school, New Ellenton Middle focuses on technology and includes arts components. Both are interwoven into all classes, Principal Shunte Dugar said.

“STEAM is not necessarily a curriculum as it is a way of teaching and learning that is interdisciplinary,” she said. “Students may see terminology from their science class in English and use their English skills in social studies.

“To remember a definition of a word or to remember how to apply a skill, an artistic student might sketch it out. Art components are woven in to enhance learning.”

Students also apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-world applications through project-based learning. Some projects are for individual classrooms. Some are for the whole school.

This year, students traced a mystery disease to the first patient to present symptoms using science skills for research and arts skills to create public service videos.

“We look for subjects that are applicable in the real world and marry them to real STEAM projects to reinforce what students are learning in the classroom,” Dugar said. “It's easier for us because we're such a small school. The whole school can learn together and as one.”

New Ellenton also offers STEAM clubs as extracurricular activities to apply real-world learning. Students in the Wolverine – the school's mascot – Design and Prints club earned almost $400 with personalized drinking cups they made for Valentines, learning to be entrepreneurs.

“The kids are running a business,” said Angelita Jordan, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade English language arts. “They set their own goals and deadlines and learned how to maximize profit. We've had requests from outside the school for more business.”

Kanelia Cannon, who teaches seventh and eighth grade English teacher, said New Ellenton, as a smaller school, allows teachers to work across grade levels and disciplines to create experiences their students might not have at other schools.

“We focus in our kids. We know them,” she said. “They don't get lost in the shuffle. We're able to provide that personalized learning, that tailored learning, that they need to be successful.”

With about 186 students – 26 or 27 on magnet status – New Ellenton Middle is the “best place to be,” Dugar said.

“I know all the kids by name, and we embrace our students,” she said. “It's a warm environment. We challenge our children to do better, and we want them to leave here better than they came.”

Visit the News Archive for more magnet school news.