Lansing District Attracting More to Some Schools

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The kids in Andrea Mashni's class are learning about air today by experimenting with a balloon and a ping pong ball.

"Do you think we should try it?" Mashni asks the class. The class responds with a hearty "yes!"

They're learning in the unique, individualized style of a Montessori school. It's happening at Wexford Elementary, one of the Lansing district's magnet programs.

And the program is growing.

"This year we open every classroom with new furniture, brand new materials, we got a lot of brand new students," Principal Nabila Boctor said.

There are more than 300 students in total this year by Boctor's estimate. It's a stark contrast to when she first arrived at the school three years ago.

"We were struggling to keep 225 to 250 and now, little by little, we're growing," Boctor said.

Numbers from the Lansing School District show that Wexford's experience in drawing new students into magnet programs isn't unique.

"All of our programs are up. We have received about 900 additional applications to the magnet program," Magnet Program Director Worsie Gregory said.

That could bring the total in magnet programs close to 3,000 this year.

"There are major waiting lists," Gregory added.

The growth is happening as overall enrollment in the district continues to decline, something the magnet program was designed to counteract.

Gregory says there's a simple reason for the popularity of programs like Montessori, International Baccalaureate/college prep and performing arts, as well as a program focused on math, science and engineering.

"It focuses on what the children are interested in. So we're expecting their achievement to really increase because of that," she said.

That's the other upside for the district: Magnets could boost comparatively low test scores, so more magnets are planned.

One would bring the International Baccalaureate curriculum to elementary and middle schools. Another would expand the Montessori program upward in grades to middle school.