My Lifelong Attraction to Magnet Schools
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)
I grew up in Dallas, where the question, “where did you go to school?” meant something very different than it did in Pueblo. There was a sort of constant jockeying for positions on the status ladder, part of which was identified both by the grade school you attended (hopefully private, of course), and then by the caliber of school you went on to from there.
I was fortunate to have gone to one of the more prestigious schools in town. In addition to academic excellence, the school prepared you for life amid the taste-makers of culture and power in the global community. But despite the fact that there were kids from all nationalities and faith backgrounds there, the socioeconomic sameness of the place was strangely stifling to me.
Halfway through my sophomore year in high school, I auditioned to get in to the arts and music magnet school in downtown Dallas. For those of you who have seen the movie or TV show Fame, yes. It was pretty much like you’d imagine it. Bohemians, gay teens and eccentrics of every stripe roamed the halls, generating an energy I had never known existed in private school.
What had once been an all-black school in the slums of Dallas had been reinvented into a community that developed an appeal and a bond that transcended all other differences: the love of creativity.
From then on I was sold on the idea that a magnet school, done properly, could not only transform students’ lives, but that they also had the potential for reinvigorating an entire community.
So when Fountain Elementary of Pueblo’s east side became a magnet school as part of East High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) system, we jumped at the chance to enroll our son, Mattias. He had gone to two different private schools in town before that, neither of which provided the integrated learning and social experience we desired for him. But our experience at Fountain has been quite the opposite.
Yes, we drive by some dilapidated properties to get to his school, and there have been more than a few shootings nearby. I even once found an unspent bullet on the playground of the school. But once inside, Mattias enters into community with children whom he might never come into contact with, absent of the opportunity the IB magnet affords.
The concept of a magnet school is fairly simple. It’s an entirely public school, run completely by the district, which is usually located in a racially and/or economically segregated part of the community. Aside from academic excellence and a unique curriculum of some kind, a magnet is established to do just what the name suggests; draw in people from other parts of town who would not otherwise be there. The concept first arose as efforts emerged to racially desegregate schools a couple of generations ago, and the model obviously still works today.
Our plan is to have Mattias stay in the magnet system throughout his primary and secondary school years, and for his sister, Zoe, who is almost two, to follow in his path. Every child should have such access to outstanding cultural, academic and social experiences. The good news is that kids in Pueblo do have such a choice.