CARY — Kingswood Elementary School has seen plenty of interest from families who want to enroll in the school’s new Montessori magnet program.
The school received 96 magnet applications for the fall and accepted 65 of them.
The number of applicants was practically unheard of for a first-year magnet school, said Kingswood principal Sherry Schliesser.
“I was thrilled,” Schliesser said. “I think when folks got into our building for tours, they liked the climate and the culture. We’re very positive and very kid-friendly. We are all about that personalization of education.”
The numbers exceeded expectations even as Wake County schools have seen a drop in magnet applications.
In the 2007-08 school year, 10,000 families applied to magnet schools, which feature specialized programs and are open to students who live outside the attendance zones.
For the 2014-15 school year, the school system received 5,558 applications.
Some school leaders have said long commutes to existing magnet schools might be unappealing to families. Nearly all of the elementary magnet programs are located in Raleigh.
Kingswood is the second elementary school in Cary to become a magnet. Farmington Woods Elementary offers an International Baccaulaureate magnet.
A new magnet option in Cary that incorporates a Montessori program and a focus on science, technology, engineering and math might be a draw for parents.
“We’ve been a STEM school for four years,” Schliesser said. “STEM is all about children following their own creative urges, their questioning, critical-thinking skills, collaboration, figuring out things through trial and error. That goes really well with Montessori. It really is a great marriage.”
Kingswood is the only school in the school system to offer the Montessori program. Poe Elementary in Southeast Raleigh once offered the program but dropped it due to lack of applicants.
A Montessori program was proposed at Lynn Road Elementary in Raleigh in 2012 but was met with cries of protest by parents who were worried the program would be too much of a change for the students.
Schliesser said she anticipates an easy transition to incorporate a Montessori program at Kingswood, because many of the teachers already focus on students’ personal growth and on new ways of teaching.
She said that she has not heard any objections from parents about the new program.
“People have been very positive about it,” Schliesser said. “I think it’s because we have been so successful with STEM, and they understand STEM and Montessori are right on the same page.”
Beth Drummond, 39, has taught third grade at Poe Elementary for three years. This fall, she is transferring to Kingswood Elementary to teach second grade. Her young children, Hannah and Benjamin, will make the move with her.
For Drummond, the biggest incentive to move to Kingswood was the new Montessori program.
“It’s very personalized,” Drummond said. “The learning revolves around goals, objectives and the child’s interests.”
Diversity and socioeconomics
Kingswood Elementary off of East Johnson Street near downtown Cary is surrounded by neighborhoods where many families rent homes and apartments.
Families move often, Schliesser said, and the school gains and loses about a third of its student body every year.
“We’re hoping to stabilize our population,” Schliesser said.
Kingswood students represent 27 different countries, according to Schliesser, and she hopes that the transition to a magnet school will help diversify the student population further.
Almost 70 percent of students at Kingswood received free or reduced-price lunch in 2012-13. The school is considered a Title I school, which means at least 40 percent of students come from low-income families.
New methods of learning
The Montessori magnet will begin this year for students in kindergarten through second grade. The program is also for pre-K students at the school.
When school starts in August, students can plan on growing flowers and vegetables in gardens. They’ll build birdhouses and nesting boxes. In winter, they’ll use greenhouses.
As part of the Montessori program, students will learn at a self-paced level that incorporates the outdoors.
“It’s a big Montessori theme,” Schliesser said. “We will have every grade level working outside. We’ll have projects like raised gardens for the lower grades where they can grow their own flowers and vegetables.”
Drummond said she is excited for her children to have the opportunity to learn through nature.
“I think hands-on material can help children learn,” Drummond said.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
Wanbaugh: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @TaylorWanbaugh