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APS wins $7.8 million magnet school grant

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From left, Jarrod Jaramillo, Angelica Benavidez and Jade Chavez, 6th graders in the Garfield Middle School competitive robot club, work on a robot together, trying to tighten a hard-to-reach bolt. Students in the club were work as Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent Raquel Reedy announced that APS is a recipient of a $7.8 million grant from the federal government to develop a kindergarten-12th grade magnet school pathway for Mission Avenue Elementary, Garfield Middle and Valley High schools on Wednesday. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Local kids with a passion for math and science have new options, thanks to a $7.8 million federal grant awarded to Albuquerque Public Schools.

APS recently received a five-year award from the U.S. Department of Education’s Magnet Schools Assistance Program — one of 32 districts selected in 16 states.

The money will be used to convert Mission Avenue Elementary School, Garfield Middle School and Valley High School into “Engineering for the Future” schools with hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum.

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APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy said the STEM emphasis will “start up a new generation of people who are hooked on science.”

“As I look at New Mexico, New Mexico is truly a scientific state, a scientific community,” Reedy said during a media conference at Garfield Middle School on Wednesday. “This is so heartening and so exciting.”

The three schools will be “magnets” serving students who live in the neighborhood and those who want to transfer in.

Garfield Middle — a school of roughly 400 students at 3501 Sixth NW — has been a STEM magnet for three years. By adding Mission Avenue Elementary School and Valley High, APS will offer a math and science emphasis from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Valley High Principal Anthony Griego said the grant will help his school build on its strong STEM classes and internship opportunities.

Valley’s STEM Academy will launch in fall 2018 with a cohort of ninth-graders.

Griego said he couldn’t guess how many students will sign up, but there is no cap on enrollment.

Over the next year, the three schools will work together to create an integrated curriculum.

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Rebecca Carter-Keesling, a Garfield Middle School science and engineering teacher, said the STEM coursework helps students think about their career options.

During the three years Garfield has offered the STEM focus, she has seen many students shift their goals from cosmetology and tattooing to engineering.

“They may have heard someone talk about it (engineering), but now they understand what it looks like,” she said. “They actually have the opportunity and the skills to do it.”

Twelve-year-old Krysta Martinez is already charting her future — the seventh-grader wants to become a mechanical engineer. She transferred to Garfield Middle School to take advantage of the strong STEM program.

This year, she is part of the Garfield robotics team, which gives students a chance to compete against other schools.

Martinez said she particularly enjoys hands-on science lessons, such as dissections and balloon launches.

The new STEM programs are part of APS’ larger focus on magnet schools and school choice.

In September, APS created procedures that outline the process for launching magnets and the schools’ roles and responsibilities.

Debbie Elder, executive director of the APS Office of Innovation, is leading the effort.

Currently, APS has more than a dozen magnet schools with a variety of focuses, including bilingual education, college credit and online learning.

Unlike charter schools, magnets are managed directly by the district.

The APS Board of Education first authorized magnet schools in 1983.

For more information, go to www.aps.edu/schools/schools-of-choice.

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