By April Tisher
Alachua County has a somewhat unique middle school situation that unless you are “in the know” can seem intimidating. In about the fourth grade you will start to hear the rumblings of “what are you going to do for middle school?” Luckily, I had friends with older children who had been through the process before to guide me along. To help you, here is a brief rundown of what I learned.
Beginning in the fall of your student’s fifth grade year, you need to start considering whether or not a non-traditional approach to middle school is right for your child and your family. Since these options may not be at your zoned school, there will be considerations such as transportation and schoolmates to think about. All students attending a magnet program are eligible for bus transportation to and from the school. Sometimes students receive letters from these special programs inviting them to apply. These letters are typically sent out in the late fall to students that are identified as gifted within the school system and are in enrichment programs in elementary school. Not all programs require a gifted designation however, so if your child does not receive a letter, contact the director for the program you are interested in for more information. Each program has its own minimum standards for standardized test scores as well as GPAs that they use for admission.
Timelines for these magnets usually begin with open houses in January. Students are able to schedule shadowing days where they actually spend a day following around a sixth grade student enrolled in the program to get a sense of what it would be like to go to school there. These shadowing dates fill up fast so it is important to check the school’s website and register for them as soon as possible. It helps to schedule them prior to the application deadline, if possible. If your child decides after spending a day there they are not interested, this will save you the effort of completing an application for that school. These shadowing days are excused by your child’s elementary school, but it does help to check with your child’s current teachers first to ensure that you are not scheduling days away that are critical. Applications are due around the beginning of February and first round acceptance letters begin to go out at the end of the month. By the beginning of March students must commit or decline to programs and then a second round of acceptance letters go out. If it sounds like your 10-year-old is applying to college, it is a similar process.
Magnet Program Options
- Howard Bishop Middle School Academy of Technology and Gifted Studies, or the @cademy, is a program that focuses on gifted or advanced coursework in all core subjects along with accelerated technology courses where students can earn industry recognized certifications in programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel.
- Lincoln Middle School’s The Lyceum Program describes itself as a premier program for academically talented, highly motivated and well-behaved students. It is a rigorous program designed to ready students for success in advanced high school programs.
- Oak View Middle School’s Center for Advanced Academics and Technology (CAAT) is located in Newberry, but is still part of Alachua County Schools. It is a technology focused advanced academic program, but accepts less students than Lincoln and Bishop, so it is a bit more competitive.
- Westwood Middle School is a Cambridge International Center, which is not a true magnet program, but rather a separate curriculum offered to high achieving students zoned for Westwood. Like a magnet, there is an application, shadowing and acceptance process, and you can apply for a zoning exemption if this is the program best suited for your student. Acceptance into the program does not guarantee a zoning exemption will be granted, since the school board must also take into account the number of students attending that are zoned.
- Fort Clarke Middle School offers the R.E.A.C.H (Research, Evaluate, Analyze, Communicate, Historical Perspective) program, which is also not considered a magnet program, but is a special option for zoned students that they apply for. It is an academically rigorous, research-focused curriculum intended for highly motivated students.