116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The future of magnet school programming in the Cedar Rapids Community School District may include a school just for high school freshmen and sophomores.
Magnet schools provide students with more hands-on experiences than the traditional school model.
The district currently has magnet schools for kindergarten through eighth grade, and high school juniors and seniors can get the magnet school experience through Iowa BIG. Each school has a different focus such as leadership, sustainability or STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math.
In the Iowa BIG program — a concept championed by The Gazette’s parent company as the community rebuilt after the historic 2008 flood — high school students team up with businesses to work on projects.
This gives its students — mostly juniors and seniors — the ability to learn and use real-world skills such as leadership, accountability and teamwork on projects about which they are passionate, while earning high school credit at the same time.
Projects Iowa BIG students organized last year include:
- Assembling more than 100 beds for children in need in Cedar Rapids with the local chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, and raising money to purchase mattresses, comforters, sheets and pillows.
- Producing a documentary called “The Courage Not To” that explores how gun violence affects youths in Cedar Rapids.
- Producing a podcast called “Power in Peace” that explores social justice issues in the community.
- Constructing benches shaped like kolaches — a Czech pastry — for use in Czech Village.
The proposed freshman and sophomore magnet school would give students the opportunity to explore careers and even “try some of them on,” said Trace Pickering, co-founder and executive director of Iowa BIG, in a presentation to the Cedar Rapids school board Monday.
Students would learn how to be strong communicators, creative thinkers, problem solvers, good citizens and financially literate.
It would be a “customized” learning experience, Pickering said.
A student interested in becoming an electrician, for example, could take science and math classes that focus on electrical concepts as well as get their core education, Pickering said.
Students also would get validation for learning outside of school — such as experiences on vacation, camp or Boy Scouts — if they demonstrate learning standards, Pickering said.
The initial school might be even smaller than Metro High School, which has around 400 students, Superintendent Noreen Bush said. Other Cedar Rapids high schools have between 1,300 and 1,700 students each.
To help jump start the project, the district is applying for a Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant for up to $15 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Education.
The district’s application for the grant will show how the magnet school program will:
- Address the affect of COVID-19 on students and staff
- Promote equity in student access to educational resources
- Support a diverse educator workforce and professional growth
- Meet student social, emotional and academic needs.
Grant recipients will be announced by September 2022.
The district initially applied for this grant five years ago and did not receive, partially because they didn’t have magnet programs available for K-12 grade, said Adam Zimmermann, director of culture and climate secondary education for Cedar Rapids schools.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, provided to schools for recovery of learning lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, also gives the district the “opportunity to act now” and open a magnet school for high school students, Pickering said.
The district has put aside $1 million per year over the next three years of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to go toward the high school magnet program, Bush said.
The Cedar Rapids magnet school program started in 2015 with Johnson STEAM Academy, in an effort to attract more students and provide family choice.
The other Cedar Rapids magnet schools are Cedar River Academy, Johnson STEAM Academy and Kenwood Leadership Academy elementary schools and McKinley STEAM Academy and Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy middle schools.
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