Rahn Elementary's Transition to Magnet Status Boosts Enrollment
The school specializes in arts and technology education through project-based learning.
Three years ago, Rahn Elementary School was in the midst of an enrollment decline. Only 374 students attended the school, a significant drop from the 519 students enrolled in 2004.
Rahn Elementary has since transitioned from a traditional elementary school to a pilot arts and technology magnet school. Increased attendance was among the primary goals of the transition. Since the change, enrollment has risen substantially; school officials project that 443 students will attend the school in the 2012-2013 school year.
“I think it’s met its initial goals,” said Dr. Randy Clegg, superintendent of Independent School District 191, in reference to Rahn Elementary’s new status as a magnet school. “It’s been well received by parents.”
The possibility of transitioning the school to magnet status was first discussed in 2009. It provided a potential method of increasing low enrollment without changing the district’s attendance borders. There was also a strong grassroots effort on the part of Rahn Elementary’s teaching staff in favor of the magnet structure.
The school received an $80,000 financial incentive from the district to identify a magnet theme. Under the leadership of Principal Elaine Mehdizadeh, the school spent the 2010-2011 school year researching and conducting parent, teacher and staff surveys, before officially opening as an arts and technology magnet school in the fall of 2011.
Rahn Elementary chose the arts and technology theme for several reasons. The arts improve visual memory and increase students’ attention span, according to Mehdizadeh. Surveyed parents were in favor of learning that stimulated imagination.
“There’s so much more creativity,” said Katie Iommazzo, a Rahn Elementary parent who served on the committee that helped to determined the magnet theme. “It’s nice to have something different.”
District 191 is already home to two magnet elementary schools. William Byrne Elementary School is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) school and Harriet Bishop Elementary School is a gifted and talented school. STEM and gifted and talented are among the more common magnet school themes. School District 196 is home to three magnet schools, Glacier Hills Elementary, Diamond Path Elementary and Cedar Park Elementary. All three magnet programs were developed within the last five years.
Mehdizadeh noted that what sets magnet schools apart from traditional schools are the topics they choose to integrate into the curriculum. Arts and technology themed magnet schools are less common than their more science-oriented counterparts.
The arts and technology focus is implemented through project-based thematic units. Students study subjects such as engineering, rainforests and ancient civilizations, all of which are presented with a central project in mind.
This thematic structure is meant to realize Rahn Elementary’s goal of teaching the whole child through personalized learning, while simultaneously aligning with state curricular standards.
Since transitioning to the magnet structure, school officials have seen several indicators of success, in addition to the growing enrollment.
Mehdizadeh cites increased student engagement, heightened event attendance and positive feedback from families among the outcomes of becoming a magnet school.
In the future, Mehdizadeh hopes to see children continue to pursue their interests through technology. The school has strategically purchased laptops, digital cameras, smartboards and GPS units to encourage personalized education.
Rahn Elementary is currently exploring the installation of smartboards in kindergarten through second grade classrooms. The school is also looking at incorporating smart tablets and student response clicker systems in third grade through sixth grade classrooms.
This year, Rahn Elementary piloted the use of cell phones in sixth grade math classes.
Over the summer, the school will work to strengthen staff arts and technology skills, through a designated week of professional development, curriculum writing and arts and technology integration training.
“It’s just the beginning,” said Mehdizadeh. “I see us really expanding."
This is not the first article about Rahn on Burnsville Patch. See footage of the school's annual show, performed earlier this February.