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Magnet Schools Attract Students Across Borders

Bridgeport resident Shaqille Simpson travels an hour a day on two buses and a train to make his way to CGS — the Center for Global Studies — a high school in Norwalk. At the same time, students from Norwalk make their way nearly an hour to attend AITE — the Academy for Information, Technology & Engineering — a high school in Stamford.

The case of Tanya McDowell, the Bridgeport mother who was arrested on charges of sending her 5-year old son to Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, put a spotlight on illegal out-of-district students. But hundreds of children travel in and out of Norwalk to attend inter-district magnet schools such as CGS and AITE.

Both CGS and AITE are inter-district magnet schools, which are funded by the state Department of Education and are required to take a certain percentage of students from outside their home district.

According to Norwalk school’s transportation director Johanna Garcia, 176 Norwalk students go to AITE, which specializes in pre-engineering classes. Three buses paid for by a state transportation grant take the kids to and from Stamford each day.

Roz McCarthy, director of CGS, says 105 students come to the Norwalk school from all over the area. “They come from as close as Darien and as far as Monroe, Milford and Stratford,” says McCarthy, including about 40 students from Bridgeport. Small buses transport students home or to the train station. “People should understand that the inter-district magnet budget is separate from the Board of Education budget,” says McCarthy. Simpson, a junior who studies Mandarin at CGS, which is located in Brien McMahon High School, said, "I didn't want to go to an average high school. China is becoming a world power in the 21st century. This program is good for my future." In addition to Mandarin, CGS also offers a Japanese and Arabic language program.

AITE students and parents like the school’s small size and technology-related class offerings. “My son wanted to go to a smaller high school,” says AITE parent Marilyn Marino, who lives in East Norwalk. AITE has a capacity of 650 students, less than half the population of Norwalk High School. “The facility is amazing.” The school’s new futuristic facility opened in 2007. AITE does not have a strong music or athletics program, which is a drawback for many who consider applying.

McCarthy says inter-district magnets offer students more choices, and this choice changes the dynamic of the program. “Kids who come here have invested time and effort to be here. They are committed to the philosophy and content of the school.” CGS has an elaborate application process. AITE uses a lottery system.

Rogers International School , another Stamford inter-district K-8 magnet school, has been attracting more and more Norwalk students. This year, about 60 Norwalk students attend the school, which has an International Baccalaureate curriculum.

“I wanted a more rigorous school where my kids are challenged,” says Kate Roller, a parent of two Rogers students. Roller drives her kids from West Norwalk to Stamford every day because there is no transportation agreement with the school. “I wish that Norwalk had a magnet middle school. Everyone keeps saying — the schools in Norwalk are pretty good, but pretty good is not good enough.”

Do you attend an inter-district magnet? Do you think they are a good idea?

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