When Cedar Creek High School opened in September 2010, its magnet programs in engineering and environmental science attracted some students from the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District’s other two schools.
That helped relieve overcrowding at Oakcrest and Absegami.
Now, as the first group of academy students plan for graduation in June from the school in Egg Harbor City, the district is faced with actually having to turn away some new applicants, as they did this year. There are 158 students in the engineering academy and 91 in environmental sciences, making up almost 30 percent of the school’s enrollment of about 845 students.
“Initially, people didn’t understand what a magnet program is,” said Cedar Creek supervisor David Furgione said. “But now they realize the value.”
Magnet programs have been around for decades. Vocational high schools are a type of magnet school, and in the 1970s magnet schools helped integrate public school systems.They are increasing in popularity again as schools look for ways to individualize education and make it more relevant to a student’s future career.
Magnet programs typically have a real-world component, and may include internships and partnerships with area colleges and businesses.
One very important aspect is that they are programs of choice — students make the decision to attend, which studies have shown makes the students more likely to be interested and succeed in what they are learning.
Locally, Cumberland Regional, Hammonton and Ocean City high schools have offered specialized programs as part of their participation in the state School Choice program, accepting students from other towns interested in areas such as agriculture at Cumberland Regional and technology fields in Ocean City and Hammonton.
Egg Harbor Township High School’s expansion made room for two academies, in medical science and in law and business.
Not all attempts are successful. Vineland converted its two high schools into a group of magnet programs in an effort to create small learning communities, but the concept never caught on districtwide and is being discontinued.
Furgione said being able to start Cedar Creek’s programs from scratch was beneficial because everyone involved bought into the concept from the beginning and wanted to make it succeed.
“I think the key really is finding the right teachers,” Furgione said. “And each program has a goal, so students can see the benefits.”
The engineering program is a certified national Project Lead the Way, or PLTW, program, which allows qualified students who pass an exam to earn credits at participating colleges. The school is also developing an agreement with Rowan University’s School of Engineering, a PLTW school, that would guarantee admission to students who meet set academic criteria.
A dual-credit partnership with Richard Stockton College awards as many as 23 college credits to students taking Cedar Creek environmental science and some math courses. Students also take trips to Stockton’s Nacote Creek environmental field station and spend time on water-quality and alternative-energy projects.
“The labs can be a month long,” environmental science teacher Ed Martino said. “Students typically take two science courses a year, and it’s very intensive. But if you love science, this is the place to be.”
Seniors at Cedar Creek said the programs have met their expectations and more. Josh Conover, 17, of Galloway Township, wants to major in biotechnical engineering and is considering Rowan and Rutgers University. He attended Absegami as a freshman, but opted to switch to Cedar Creek as a sophomore.
“I just saw it as beneficial in the long run,” he said.
Aaron Bronsky, 17, of Mays Landing, plans to apply to Rowan’s engineering program and said he has liked all the hands-on projects they have done in his class.
Both students are in Jim Boyd’s biotechnical engineering class. They are studying DNA and forensic science, and will take a trip to the Cold Spring Harbor Research Center in New York to do a mitochondrial DNA analysis.
“We try to show them how engineering is used in biotechnical fields,” Boyd said.
One of the most popular classes is Bill Kearsley’s sophomore digital electronics class, in which students learn to solder and build circuits, developing miniature cars with motion sensors and miniature toll booths, with operational arms.
Juniors Gabriel Cruz, 16, of Mays Landing, and Harry Desai, 16, of Egg Harbor City, operated the toll booth and played with the car during a demonstration of the projects.
“I’m thinking about robotics,” Cruz said. “We just did a solar-powered car.”
The school will hold an open house for the two magnet programs at 6 p.m. Dec. 12. It is open to all eighth-graders who live within the Greater Egg Harbor Regional School District, including Hamilton Township, Galloway Township, Egg Harbor City, Mullica Township and Port Republic.
Greater Egg Harbor Superintendent Steven Ciccariello said the school board has discussed adding one new academy each at Oakcrest and Absegami high schools in 2014-15. He said they are looking at a variety of topics with local interest, ranging from hospitality to criminal justice and law, but have made no decisions yet.
“Whatever it is, there has to be a hook that links to a college or a career,” he said. “You have to make these programs special to make them work.”
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