The Good and the Bad: Magnet Programs Edition
November 7, 2017
Magnet programs are programs that offer a specialized curriculum that includes a focus on a particular subject or subjects, usually requiring a special application and acceptance by a lottery system. Magnet schools are available all over the United States, including our very own Coral Gables High School, which has two magnet programs: Academy of Finance (AOF) and International Baccalaurate (IB). Magnet schools appeal to many because they make promises of offering a higher level of education and higher college acceptance rates as compared to traditional high schools. However, many students enrolled in these programs feel that the amount of work they require places too much stress upon them and takes away from other aspects of their lives. So the question remains- are magnet schools really a better alternative to traditional high schools?
Of course, the answer to that question is more complex than a simple yes or no. What may be a challenging but manageable road to success for one student may entirely overwhelm another. It also depends on what career path a student is interested in- an IB program will help a student interested in STEM subjects to excel, but it will not necessarily help a student whose main interests are dance and art succeed.
Some magnet programs, such as the International Baccalaurate program, cover a wide range of topics. The International Baccalaurate (IB) program has a curriculum based on six major groups: Language and Literature, Language acquisition, Individuals & Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and Arts/Electives. It is necessary to get as many points as you can in each group in order to graduate with an IB diploma; the minimum amount of points you need overall to receive the diploma is 24. However, other magnet programs, such as the Academy of Finance, have a more specific area of focus. Though the Academy of Finance (AOF) does mandate that courses be taken in some core academic subjects, it also includes courses in financial literacy, field trips to big companies for first-hand experience and many projects to reinforce the business and finance concepts they are taught in school.
“[Being a part of AOF] We get to meet a lot of people from different companies like CEOs, managers and chairmen. This program provides us with a lot of opportunities to get our names out there for future jobs,” junior Nicole De Barros said.
Students who are enrolled in magnet programs are proven, in general, to reach higher levels of academic education and success than those who are not in a magnet program. For example, 95% of high schoolers who graduate with an IB diploma attended a public or private 4-year college, as compared to 60% of the general high school population. When they enroll in a four-year college plan, IB students are over two times as likely to finish the program as the general college population – 79% graduate with a college diploma vs 39% of others. Additionally, students in the Academy of Finance make connections with business leaders, which will help them attain jobs or at least understand how they work in the future. The academy also provides many internship opportunities for upperclassmen, which exposes them to adult workplace environments and prepares them for their future careers.
“We’re going to be meeting a lot of people who we can talk to later on in the future in case of anything. They can help you get jobs at banks and companies, it really helps us out in the long term,” junior Cesar Bernal said.
But of course, all these advantages cannot come without years of hard work in high school and even before in order to be accepted- most magnet schools have GPA requirements for applicants. The challenging curriculum and larger amounts of homework cause many of the students enrolled to feel stressed and overwhelmed at times, especially combined with their outside activities and responsibilities. Students also protest that there is no point to being in an IB program because they can just take Advanced Placement or Honors courses instead, which they believe will be less stressful. However, AP or Honors classes generally consist of the same workload as IB classes, so taking the route often creates the same amount of stress, but with no IB diploma. Moreover, the challenging programs may have a negative impact on the mental health of students due to the stress they may experience.
“Since we’re in extracurricular activities, it can get stressful. For example with baseball, we’re trying to win the State Championship, but our teachers give us too much work and we are trying to get good grades to go to college. I hope they can work on giving us less homework, even if it means more classwork,” junior Pablo Contreras said.
Time management proves to be crucial in these rigorous academic programs. In order to succeed, students must sometimes prioritize schoolwork over some more fun activities. Magnet schools are notorious for the large amount of homework they give, which can conflict with student’s ability to have time to work, play sports, or hang out with family and friends. Challenging programs such as these require students to plan ahead and avoid procrastination, or the workload may catch up to them and their grades. If not, then most of the stress students they will experience is because they leave everything till the last minute. However, if you are able to manage school and extracurricular activities successfully, a magnet school will open many doors for you in life.
“The IB program is known to be very demanding with all of it’s requirements and deadlines. However, everyone that I know who has graduated from IB says that it helps them stay organized throughout life, prepare them for the real world and all of the demands the’ve had to face in the future,” sophomore Janelle Lora said.
Although magnet schools are not for everyone and undoubtedly give more academic work than most regular public schools, enrolling in magnet programs, such as IB and AOF here at Gables, can create long term benefits. Students in such programs are able to meet driven peers with similar interests. Moreover, they will also have some advantages when colleges review their applications – enrollment in a magnet program lets the schools know they are attempting some of the most challenging curriculum available to them. The choice between the two options is an individual decision based on your career goals, personality and responsibilities outside of school. It’s all about finding what is the best fit for you, and doing the best that you can do there.