Sioux City Specialty Schools Show Magnetic Pull
Twenty kindergartners stood on an alphabet-themed rug on a Tuesday afternoon trying to form a triangle with a stretchy, multi-colored band of fabric.
“You have to go diagonal,” Teddy Rice, dressed in a Spiderman t-shirt, instructed a boy wearing navy blue near one of the triangle’s vertices.
After helping to reposition several more of his classmates, teacher Kristina Mozak asked Teddy, “Is it looking more like a triangle?
“Yeah,” the six-year-old conceded.
Just moments before the activity, Teddy and his classmates were contorting their bodies into lines and shapes during the arts integrated math lesson at Hunt Elementary School, which follows the North Carolina Arts Council’s A+ (Arts Plus) Schools Program.
Teddy, who first demonstrated interest in playing the violin after attending a concert shortly before his second birthday, transferred from the elementary school in his Leeds neighborhood to the Hunt specialty school, which weaves dance, drama, music and visual art into the curriculum, before the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
“He’s doing great. He’s coming back and asking questions,” Lucas Rice said of his son, who began playing the violin at age 3, enjoys building sculptures from items found in his family’s recycling bin and is the lone boy in his dance class. “He certainly seems like he’s grasping the material well.”
Specialty schools, more commonly known as magnet schools, are fairly new to the Sioux City Community School District. Five of the district’s 11 elementary schools are now specialty schools. In addition to Hunt, they are: Morningside, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school; Irving, a dual language school; Spalding Park, an environmental sciences school; and Loess Hills, a computer programming school.
Except for Loess Hills, the district’s specialty schools closely follow the national magnet schools model.
Enrollment figures suggest the Sioux City schools are accomplishing their intended purpose.
Roughly 43 percent of students who transferred from one elementary to another within the district in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, moved to a specialty school, according to a Journal analysis of district data.
Between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic year, total transfers to the five schools jumped about 52 percent, from 251 to 383. The specialty schools accounted for about 42 percent of the district’s overall 900 in-district transfers to elementary schools last year.
Loess Hills led the way among the five specialty schools, receiving 170 transfer students during the two-year period, while Hunt received the fewest number of transfers, 58. Of the specialty schools, Morningside saw the largest increase in transfer students, 55, between 2015-16 and 2016-17.
by Dolly Butz