‘Sky’s the limit’ for Cedar Rapids magnet schools with nearly $15M grant

[The Gazette] ‘Sky’s the limit’ for Cedar Rapids magnet schools with nearly $15M grant

Eight graders Maliah Richards (left) and Maya Patterson scrape the backing off of their model of the human heart Thursday at the McKinley STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids. The magnet school is adding a pathway for students to explore careers in the medical field. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Eight graders Kobe Sindt (left) and Artrell Beard feed tubing Thursday through their model of the human heart at McKinley STEAM Academy in Cedar Rapids. The magnet school, near the city’s two hospitals, plans to add programs that help its students explore careers in health care. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Johnson STEAM Academy student Lena DeSouza practices Thursday with her teacher, Catie Moritz, during her second-ever violin lesson at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School in Cedar Rapids. The school, focusing in on arts integration, brought back private music lessons this year for third- through fifth-graders who want to learn keyboard, guitar or violin. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Johnson STEAM Academy student Gionni Greer practices the violin during his private music lesson Thursday with his teacher, Catie Moritz, at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School in Cedar Rapids. Using part of a federal grant, teachers there will get professional development in how to integrate the arts — like dance, music and visual arts — in to their classrooms. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Johnson STEAM Academy student Gionni Greer practices the violin Thursday during his private music lesson at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Johnson STEAM Academy student Lena DeSouza smiles Thursday after a successful practice session during her private violin lesson at Johnson STEAM Academy Magnet School in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids middle school — McKinley STEAM Academy — is adding a pathway for students to explore careers in the medical field as part of $14.8 million federal grant being distributed to the district’s magnet schools.

At another middle school — Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy — leaders have a dream of opening a coffee shop operated by students as a part of its entrepreneurial theme. Produce grown in the school’s indoor greenhouse could be used in food served at the coffee shop.

“All those times when we said ‘if the sky’s the limit’ or ‘if money was no issue’ — now we’re looking at those projects like they can really happen,“ said Kate Riley, magnet coordinator at Roosevelt.

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The grant is making the dreams of school leaders possible instead of ideas “going to waste” because of lack of funding — and improve student achievement, said Ted Olander, McKinley magnet school coordinator.

At McKinley, middle school students could leave with a certification in CPR — an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating — and tangible experiences in health care. The school’s location downtown — across the street from Mercy Medical Center and near UnityPoint Health-St. Luke's Hospital — makes it a good candidate to add a medical pathway, Olander said.

Already, students are studying the human body by creating a model of the heart using a laser cutter and a 3D printer.

$14.8M federal grant

The district is the first in Iowa to be awarded a federal magnet schools grant — $14.8 million to be distributed over the next five years. It will support the enhancement of four of the district’s existing magnet schools — Johnson STEAM Academy, Cedar River Academy, Roosevelt and McKinley and a new magnet high school called City View Community.

Kenwood Leadership Academy — a magnet elementary school — wasn’t included in the grant because the school already is making progress academically and is seeing integration, said Adam Zimmermann, executive director of middle level education.

Magnet schools are a program in a public schools that create a special area of study. The Cedar Rapids Community School District has five magnet schools with themes that include sustainability, science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) and leadership. Magnets also help desegregate schools and improve learning outcomes through theme-based experiences, Zimmermann said.

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The district’s other magnet schools are using the grant to expand on their themes.

Johnson STEAM Academy is focusing in on arts integration. Already, the school brought back private music lessons this year for third- through fifth-graders who want to learn keyboard, guitar or violin. While there is a “tiny fee” for these lessons, scholarships are available for students who need them, said Sarah Jones, magnet school coordinator at Johnson STEAM Academy. Instruments also are provided while the students learn.

The school also plans to start an artist-in-residence program, bringing in musical or visual artists for a short period of time each to provide hands-on learning.

Through the grant, teachers will get professional development in how to integrate the arts — like dance, music and visual arts — in to their classrooms.

Teachers at Cedar River Academy — which has a sustainability theme — will receive professional learning to become “sustainability experts” with the help of the grant, said Liz Callahan, magnet school coordinator at Cedar River Academy.

The students continue to learn about sustainability with many field trips. Last month, students visited Matthew 25’s Urban Farm in Cedar Rapids, where they learned about urban farming and tasted kale, chard and grapes. The grant funding will help pay for transportation for these trips.

A few years ago, the students became the first in the district to compost schoolwide. The majority of material discarded by students and staff there is recycled or composted.

City View high school

The district plans to open its first magnet high school next year called City View Community School, which will expand its offerings beyond elementary and middle schools. A location for the school has not been announced, but the district has said it will be in the downtown area.

The federal grant will be used to help get the school off the ground. The district is putting money aside to launch the school and has received other grants, but it will eventually be funded by the usual per-pupil student aid.

At City View, high school students will engage in project-based learning. Up to 200 primarily rising ninth- and 10th- graders will be able to enroll at City View for the 2023-24 school year. The school eventually will serve up to 400 ninth to 12th-graders. Other Cedar Rapids high schools have between 1,300 and 1,700 students each.

Magnet school lottery open

A lottery for City View is currently open and the lottery for the elementary and middle magnet schools will open at 8 a.m. Monday.

Students who live in the magnet resident zone do not need to enter the lottery to enroll.

The lottery is a computer generated, random process to select and accept students who live outside of magnet attendance boundaries. To enroll in the lottery, visit crschools.us/schools/magnet-schools/magnet-school-lottery.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

Source: The Gazette