Grantee Corner  |  Wake County Public School System

Three young students use magnifying glasses to investigate large conch shells
Lincoln Heights Magnet Elementary students study shells

A sign for Dash-ketball with a blue robot in front of it
Bugg Center for Design and Computer Sciences students attend Bugg Expo where they explore the many classroom activities they’ll enjoy, including Dash n Dots, when they’re learning at Bugg

A female student sits with a laptop
Bugg Center for Design and Computer Sciences student smiles in pride after programming an app with the help of a business partner

Three students tie a camera trap to a pole outside
Millbrook Magnet Elementary students collaborate to set up the camera trap on Millbrook’s campus, where they recorded a fox making his nightly rounds

A male and a female student use a red water pump
Lincoln Heights Magnet Elementary students giggle as they pump rainwater from a collecting barrel so they can water one of the gardens on campus

A group of students gather around a table looking at printed designs
Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School students work with a local engineering firm on ideas for one of their collaborative spaces

A group of students in protective gear work on a sidewalk
Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School students interested in civil engineering pour concrete cylinders for a construction planning project

A girl grins by a mat with two stuffed bees on it
Bugg Center for Design and Computer Sciences student grins after winning one of the games at Bugg Expo, a celebration of the unique learning that happens at the school

Beth Cochran, WCPSS Project Director

Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) in North Carolina is the state’s largest school district and the 15th largest district in the nation. The district enrolls more than 160,000 students in 114 elementary schools, 36 middle schools, 28 high schools, 6 alternative schools, and 3 combination schools. The student population is 46.9 percent White, 23.5 percent African American, 17.4 percent Hispanic, 8.2 percent Asian, 3.7 percent Two or more races, 0.3 percent American Indian/Alaska Native, 0.1 percent Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.

According to Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 to 2006, the cornerstones of society rest on the foundation of education, “a human right with immense power to transform.” WCPSS works to enact this belief, and Project Cornerstone, the district’s 2017 Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) grant, illustrates the district’s commitment to the transformative power of education. 

The four MSAP-supported schools are Bugg Center for Design and Computer Sciences Magnet Elementary; Lincoln Heights and Millbrook Magnet Elementary schools, Centers for Environmental Connections; and Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School: University Connections School of Design, Arts and Engineering (SRMHS). Each school is a cornerstone, and part of the foundation for lifting Wake County students to success. 

At Bugg Center for Design and Computer Sciences, students participate in a morning Innovation Hour to learn about current challenges and apply the principles of design thinking (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test) to address those challenges. For example, kindergarten and first-grade students write letters to students in Wilmington, North Carolina, who suffered devastating effects from Hurricane Florence. The students also are brainstorming ways to support those students. Bugg’s students enjoy new elective courses such as Code Makers and Breakers, or Get Your Game On, where they create games using imagination and tools like a 3D printer. Students also design their own mobile apps to share knowledge about landforms and the physics of sports.  

Lincoln Heights Magnet Elementary and Millbrook Magnet Elementary offer the environmental connections theme in two regions of Wake County. Research affirms that providing students with authentic connections to the natural world can enhance attention, increase engagement and enthusiasm for school, and lead to increased academic performance.  

In southern Wake County, Lincoln Heights connects students by providing a daily outside learning experience beyond the traditional recess period. Opportunities range from applying mathematical properties to tree growth, to designing and maintaining a rooftop patio garden, to participating in field trips to museums and community centers that promote environmental education. Students are further immersed in environmental education through quarterly environmental electives that include Tre-mendous Trees, Treasures from the Earth, and Creepy Critters.  

Millbrook Magnet Elementary serves northern Wake County, where students are bringing their families on board with the new environmental theme. Parents are invited to an afterschool safari during which students teach family members to make bird feeders, plant herbs, or design a rock or pollinator garden. During the school day, students enjoy “Mini-Treks” with the school’s Environmental Connections Inquiry Specialist, who may help students create and maintain a nature journal to track weekly events or set up camera traps to mark animal behavior when students leave campus. They have noted the behaviors of mice, some deer, and a fox so far! 

SRMHS is brimming with opportunities for its students. After completing a freshman exploratory course about the school’s four college and career pathways, students select a course schedule that supports their interests and talents. Students focusing on engineering, for example, visit North Carolina State University on its engineering day, and partner with college students and professors to learn about and experience the work in various engineering fields. Students interested in dance work with local dance professionals who mentor them throughout a semester, while students interested in design have partnered with an architectural firm to create collaborative spaces in the school that embody the school’s theme. SRMHS is preparing students for the next step in their future through a unique blend of focused coursework and real-world experiences with local colleges, universities, and businesses. 

Dr. Beth Cochran, the MSAP Project Director, has been leading magnet schools in WCPSS for many years. She has 6 years of experience in her current position as Senior Director of Magnet/Curriculum Enhancement Programs, where she directs the implementation of Project Cornerstone, supports magnet principals in program implementation, and advocates for magnet schools. Previously, Dr. Cochran served 7 years as a magnet high school principal at a gifted and talented/International Baccalaureate school and 5 years as a magnet middle school principal at a gifted and talented/academically and intellectually gifted school where she was a Principal of the Year Finalist in 2003. Dr. Cochran has worked for Magnet Schools of America (MSA) as a consultant to review magnet programs and curriculum in districts across the country, and is currently an MSA board member.