Pulled toward science

Ramsey Elementary explores possibility of becoming magnet school

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COEUR d'ALENE - Ramsey Elementary School is poised to become the Coeur d'Alene district's third magnet school.

Trustees are expected to decide at their March 1 school board meeting whether the Kathleen Avenue K-5 can become a science magnet school next fall.

Magnets are free public schools that offer an enhanced curriculum with a particular focus, generally designed to attract students from outside the normal attendance zones.

Principal Anna Wilson said their quest to put the spotlight on science isn't about increasing enrollment, but rather about engaging students in the learning process.

"We are plenty full. We wanted to have a school of choice for parents," Wilson said.

The main goal, she said, is to help students learn by providing topics they are naturally curious about: Exploration, nature, plants, animals, rocks, minerals, anatomy, space and physics.

Wilson has a long list of other good reasons for Ramsey to make the move to a science-based curriculum.

Schools with a magnet focus tend to have higher attendance rates with more motivated, interested students, she said.

"The kids are really excited, and they want to be here every day," Wilson said.

Magnet schools generally see more parental involvement, she said, because parents choose to send their children to those schools.

With more hands-on science learning, there are innovative curriculum opportunities, attracting staff who are interested in the focus.

The school also becomes eligible for additional federal and state grants.

"It looks like more national STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) funding is going to become available soon," Wilson said.

Ramsey will be close to the head of the line for that money, she said.

Staff, parents and administrators began planning for Ramsey to become a science magnet last June, after a successful school-wide science fair was held in April.

Wilson said that one first-grade student claimed "Science Day was the best day of my life!"

Many of the science magnet school features are already in place this year.

Ramsey's Parent Teacher Organization provided funding for a science lab, and the EXCEL Foundation gave the school nearly $12,000 in grants designed to promote science.

There are STC (Science and Technology for Children) hands-on, inquiry-based science kits in every classroom, a science word of the week and focused field trips for all grade levels.

Club Think! is a before and after school science club for grades 3-5 and Mars Rover Challenge, a fifth-grade engineering program.

Science-based assemblies have included a NASA astronaut, a Hecla mines geologist and a presentation focused on the brain and activities to promote learning.

They have been holding more science days with another planned for Feb. 19.

Right now, staff members are looking at ways to make more "cross-curricular connections," Wilson said.

For example, students in the Advanced Learning classrooms are studying language arts while reading books about natural disasters.

"They're becoming experts," she said.

The students are creating podcasts, pretending they are reporters during pretend hurricane, tornado or earthquake scenarios they have written the scripts for.

The district's other magnet schools are Sorensen Magnet School for the Arts and Humanities and Lakes Magnet Middle School.

Sorensen opened as a magnet in the fall of 2007 after declining enrollment nearly led trustees to shutter the school. At the start of this school year, there were waiting lists for nearly every grade.

Lakes Middle School opened last fall with a magnet focus on science, health and art, as a way to retain students who transfer to schools outside the public system when they reach middle school age.

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