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Should integration of diverse populations be a priority in magnet programs?

Across the county, magnet programs, such as the Math, Science, and Computer Science program at Montgomery Blair or the IB program at Richard Montgomery, offer students an opportunity at an enriched education. However, the selective nature of these programs often creates divides academically and socially between magnet and non-magnet students. As a result, numerous suggestions have been proposed opening magnet courses to non-magnet students. Would this potential modification make enriched education more accessible and bridge divides, or would it instead lower the quality of these gifted and talented programs?

Regardless of which magnet program you decide to join, there are a multitude of benefits in becoming a part of an accelerated program. “I honestly am receiving a better education and I definitely think my work ethic improved,” said senior Sophia Pizzori, a student in the IB program at Richard Montgomery.

However, these benefits are not being distributed equally to all students; as of right now, the students in magnet programs are predominantly white and Asian. Increasing the amount accepted would increase opportunity for minorities and create a more socially aware student body. “I think there is a deep divide because the magnet programs are filled with white, more upper-class citizens,” said William Donaldson, a sophomore at Montgomery Blair. “And that isn’t right.”

While expanding these programs to include more students would increase opportunity for an enriched education, many fear that this step would decrease the quality and prestige of these magnet programs. “I don’t think it should automatically include everyone because that defeats the point,” added junior Rosie Silvers, a student in the IB program at Richard Montgomery.

The social divide between non-magnet students and magnet students is also another recognized issue; however, it is doubtful that the proposed opportunities would assist in reducing tension between these groups. “There is not really interaction between magnet and non-magnet unless you’re doing sports or drama club,” said Silvers. In schools such as Wheaton or Blair that contain multiple programs, the divided environment can cultivate prejudices towards other groups, whether that be a different magnet or the non-magnet student body. “Definitely a lot of people think CAP [Communication and Arts Program] is elitist, white, and incredibly liberal,” commented Donaldson.

According to the National Coalition on School Diversity, there are irrefutable benefits for diversity in education, both magnet and non magnet, in order for students to gain a more worldly perspective. However, making magnet programs more accessible to the entire student body would most likely fail to bridge the gap between groups. “Ideally, we might help with the diversity from the very beginning,” said Jennifer Hoover, the IB Magnet Coordinator at Richard Montgomery. “I appreciate having a place where students can be with like students and excel and thrive in a community of learners.”

In place of opening up magnet classes to non-magnet students, outreach to middle schoolers and more entry points into the program will aid with diversity and increase opportunity. “Access to what’s required for that application may not be equitable around the county,” Mrs. Hoover said. “There are places where you don’t find that information.” The additional entry point into the IB Diploma Program, which begins junior year, admits students from the non-magnet group.  “I think there’s a levelling and maturation that happens between 10th and 11th grade for everyone,” added Mrs. Hoover.

Opening magnet courses is a surface-level fix to the county’s challenge. Long term change lies in solving the root of diversity and opportunity issues, which begin in elementary and middle school and at entry points along the application process. Improving these early stages as opposed to high school will create a more enriched and beneficial learning environment for all groups of students.

Article by MoCo Student staff writer Isabella Levine of Richard Montgomery High School

About The MoCo Student

In 2012, Student Member of the Board of Education John Mannes created a countywide press network to help build a conduit to share fresh and relevant information written by youth to the wider Montgomery County student body.

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