During the first week of February, thousands of students anxiously opened their mailboxes. They hadn’t been waiting for college admissions results. Rather, these middle school students were finding out whether they had been accepted to a number of high school magnet programs around the county.
Many magnet schools offer specialized courses of study, allowing students to have a deeper understanding of the subjects they are interested in before they go to college. Their high teaching standards and rigorous assessments give students greater challenges and academic preparation, as well as a like-minded peer group.
Poolesville High School has three “houses,” for Global Ecology, Humanities, and Science, Math and Computer Science (SMACS). Each includes different classes, projects, and learning opportunities outside of a standard school curriculum. Montgomery Blair High School’s math and science magnet features accelerated courses that focus especially on their real world applications through research. Blair also has a Communication Arts Program (CAP), for humanities-oriented students.
Only students who live in northern Montgomery County can apply to the Poolesville programs, while spaces in the Blair programs are reserved for downcounty students. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program at Richard Montgomery, which admits students from across the entire school system, is less specialized and more focused on the liberal arts. The International Baccalaureate Organization itself aims to help students to develop needed materials to understand and transform the world.
“I was happy and relieved,” said Bhavesh Kemburu, after discovering that he had been accepted into the IB program. Many of the students whose work has paid off are looking forward to the forthcoming school year.
“I’m nervous but excited about this new opportunity,” noted Maria Soboleva, who is deciding between attending the Richard Montgomery IB program and the Poolesville SMACS program.
Students who enroll in the programs expect to experience more rigorous courses. “I am looking forward to the challenge and to learning with other motivated students,” said Adam Schrier, an incoming IB freshman at Richard Montgomery.
Students could apply to any combination of magnet schools. To be considered, they were required to take an entrance exam and fill out an application similar to one for a college, featuring spots for extracurricular commitments and distinctions, as well as a number of essays. Students also needed letters of recommendation from middle school teachers. According to MCPS spokesperson Betsy Brown, the selection process is a multiple criteria process where a diverse team of school and central service members are brought together to review the student applications. Their decisions are reviewed and approved by the Chief Academic Officer.
The more qualitative aspects of the application sought to show the characters of the students, and if they would be a good fit for the programs. “We do look for students with a wide range of abilities, as we do want students who do more than just what is assigned in class,” explained Peter Ostrander, the Magnet Coordinator of Montgomery Blair High School. Outside of academic success, talent, responsibility and determination are highly valued.
If accepted, students receive an invitation to which they need to respond with a final decision by February 20.
“All of the magnet coordinators want to ensure that every student has the opportunity to be fairly considered for our program,” Ostrander noted.
Some of the coordinators tried to reach out to communities and groups of students that rarely applied to magnet programs in the past, and even worked with the Division of Consortia Choice and Application Program Services, which helped translate application and program information to families.
A little over 100 students were accepted into each program. The MCPS Public Information Office declined to comment on the number of students who applied.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Syllia Newstead
Image taken by Richard Montgomery principal Damon Monteleone.