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Spotlight

How diversity in magnet schools benefits all students

Posted March 17, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

By attracting students from a wider geographical area, magnet schools typically have a more culturally and socioeconomically diverse student body than traditional schools. (Photo Courtesy of Wake County Public School System)

This article was written for our sponsor, Wake County Public School System.

By design, diversity is hardwired into the DNA of magnet schools. In the Wake County Public School System alone, two of the core objectives for its magnet school program are:

  • To reduce high concentrations of poverty in school, and
  • To promote diverse school populations.

The term "magnet school" is meant to be analogous to an actual magnet, as these types of schools draw students from throughout an entire county or a defined geographical area – rather than by accepting only those students who live in proximity to a school.

By attracting students from a wider geographical area, magnet schools typically have a more culturally and socioeconomically diverse student body than traditional schools. This process levels up to WCPSS magnet school's commitment to diversity.

"Diversity among students in education directly impacts their performance. Studies show that students work better in a diverse environment, enabling them to concentrate and push themselves further when there are people of other backgrounds working alongside them," stated an article from Queens College on the benefits of diversity in schools. "This promotes creativity, as well as better education, as those with differing viewpoints are able to collaborate to create solutions."

Tamani Anderson Powell, the director of marketing and communications for the WCPSS Office of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement, said the student-selection process for magnet schools is specially crafted for the purpose of creating a diverse student body population.

"Magnet school priority is given to students who will help to diversify the school's student population from a socioeconomic perspective," she said. "The selection criteria focus solely on the socioeconomic data that is associated with the student applicant's address and base school. Only neighborhood-level data is analyzed; never data that focuses on an individual family's race, income, et cetera."

Anderson Powell added, "A key benefit of attending a magnet school is the student's exposure to and interaction with a diverse student population. Being exposed to cultural and socioeconomic diversity expands the way that our students think, and it challenges them to view opportunities and challenges from a variety of perspectives. The diversity of a magnet school really helps to enhance a child's world view."

A New York Times project on immigration found Hispanic and Asian student enrollment in American schools has risen by more than 5 million since the 1990s. Diversity in classrooms is a reflection of the expanding diversity in our country that students will encounter when they graduate and move on to college or careers.

Beth Cochran, WCPSS senior director of magnet and curriculum enhancement programs, said an enhanced worldview benefits all magnet school students — no matter their race, creed or religion.

"It's important for lower socioeconomic students to be immersed with higher socioeconomic students, and it's equally important for higher socioeconomic students to be immersed with lower socioeconomic students," Cochran said. "Experiencing student body diversity prepares our students to live in a global society that is extremely diverse. It helps our students to become tolerant of others who are different than they are—regardless of whether those differences manifest themselves in the form of race, ethnicity, native speaking language, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation or religious affiliation."

She continued, "Diverse schools foster an environment of acceptance. And we're doing our students a disservice if we're not preparing them for the diverse, global society of today and tomorrow."

Lisa Thompson, WCPSS director of magnet themes and curriculum, speaks of that atmosphere of acceptance and says she sees "a comfort and a connection among magnet school students" as they move through their grade span.

"I see them connecting with peers outside of their neighborhood boundaries, which helps them to experience how others think. Through the magnet school experience, our students are widening the pool of people that they know and are comfortable around," Thompson said. "In fact, my own children attended magnet schools and they still talk about the experience. My daughter met people from all over the world in her magnet school classes. That experience helped her to develop as a well-rounded individual who can see issues broadly ... from a variety of perspectives."

Prior to joining the WCPSS Office of Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement, Cochran was the principal at Enloe Magnet High School, which offers both the Gifted and Talented and the International Baccalaureate learning pathways.

"At Enloe, I observed a lot of tolerance and acceptance coming out of the students' mouths — totally unprompted," Cochran said. "I also noticed that the discussions in the classrooms changed when they included more diverse voices – the discussions had an added depth."

Cochran added that experiencing diversity in education also impacts students well beyond their K-12 years.

"I would suggest that it enhances their civic awareness, enriches their everyday conversations and behaviors, and influences their vocational choices," she said.

In fact, diversity in education is such an important part of the learning equation that Cochran said she and her team don't limit it to the student body. Instead, she encourages diversity when hiring teachers and staff too.

"Certainly, the diversity of faculty and staff is on the minds of our magnet school principals as they are hiring," Cochran said. "Our goal is for a magnet school's faculty and staff to be as diverse as the student body they are teaching. After all, for students and faculty alike, diversity is a true learning asset."

This article was written for our sponsor, Wake County Public School System.

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