Reception to be held in the spring
The math/science/computer science Magnet at Blair is celebrating its 20th anniversary this school year. A reception for all Magnet graduates will be held in the spring.
Since the fall of 1985, the program has offered advanced courses in math, science and computer science to approximately 100 academically talented students per year. Its original purpose was to attract more majority students to Blair in response to a federal desegregation order, according to Principal Phillip Gainous. "The charge was to get as many white students as possible instead of forcing bussing. While we weren't discouraging minority participation, our focus was the majority," he explained.
This racial desegregation goal has been successful, according to Gainous and the program's original coordinator, Dr. Michael Haney, now Program Director for the Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education at the National Science Foundation. "There has even been a backlash. Now, the county wants the Magnet to be more representative of the whole county," said Gainous. "It's done everything you can do with 400 kids," added Haney.
The magnet curriculum was developed by a group of scientists from the University of Maryland and educators in the MCPS region, according to current Magnet coordinator Eileen Steinkraus. The program was designed to be interdisciplinary in nature and emphasize critical thinking and was the first Magnet to be implemented in an MCPS high school. "It wasn't a canned curriculum,” she said.
Currently, the Magnet is still built on the framework developed prior to the first freshman class but is always being updated. "The nature of the program is still the same, but the structure of particular projects has changed. We're always looking for something new,” said Steinkraus.
When the Magnet was first launched, the program had trouble attracting students, a situation far from the current competition for admission. "Students and parents had to take a chance on a new program. The Magnet was an unknown quantity, and Blair didn't have a very good reputation," explained Steinkraus.
Teachers and Dr. Haney then began a successful outreach program where they visited county schools to discuss the Magnet. In recent years, 600 to 800 students have applied for the 100 spots, according to Steinkraus.
Magnet students have remained relatively similar over the years, said Steinkraus. "Students have always liked challenges. We look for students who like problems without any solutions," she said. Students have, however, become "more sophisticated and more technology literate."
According to Magnet math teacher Nannette Dyas, who has been teaching in the program since its birth, students are now more aware of Magnet academic expectations. "At the beginning, they didn't know what they were getting into," she said.
Over the years, Magnet students have enjoyed significant representation in academic competitions and teams. The Magnet has had finalists and numerous semifinalists in the annual Intel Science Talent Search, National Merit finalists and semifinalists and first-place winners in the International Science and Engineering Fair.
The Magnet has grown into a nationally recognized academic program, according to Steinkraus. "At the beginning, I had to talk to colleges about the program. Now, I still send a letter explaining classes to each school, but the recognition has definitely increased," she said. Additionally, the Magnet has received recognition from the international education community. In the past, there have been visitors from Turkey, Indonesia, Korea and China.
The institution of the Magnet has impacted the rest of the school, said Steinkraus. "It's definitely brought recognition to the school. Before, it was difficult to get college recruiters to even come to Blair. Now, when they come, they talk to all the students," she explained.
Steinkraus also noted that the high level of Magnet classes has affected overall standards in classes in the rest of the school. "It's been a natural outgrowth. We've helped to raise expectations for all students," she said.
Seema Kacker. Seema is a senior in the magnet this year, and is thrilled to be a part of the Online senior staff. She also plays tennis. More »