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Officials hope magnet schools can boost declining enrollment rates in Miami-Dade

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Gabrielle Acosta / MDCPS
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Principal Chandrell Larkin of Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy in Miami says her school's enrollment has increased significantly since a magnet program was launched there during the 2021-2022 academic year.

School districts across South Florida have seen their enrollment numbers drop since the start of the pandemic — trends which could have lasting impacts on school funding and staffing. In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, officials and educators are hopeful that magnet programs will pull more students back into the district.

Magnet programs were initially created to help desegregate public schools by drawing in families from outside schools’ residential boundaries – namely whiter, wealthier families. And that’s still part of the mission of magnet programs.

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District staff hope the specialized curricula in science, the arts, and international education will pull in more students into schools that may be under-enrolled and under-resourced.

On a recent Thursday morning at Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy, Cecilia Lopez’s kindergarteners were getting a taste of the school’s new science, technology and arts program.

They huddled around tables in a specialized classroom in the school’s magnet wing, where vibrant murals cover the walls. Poring over colorful building blocks and touch screens, the kids were working on sorting objects by color.

“Remember we're going to classify,” Lopez told her students. “We're going to use your senses right? What are our senses?”

“Sight!” they responded, then listed off the five others.

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Gabrielle Acosta / MDCPS
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Students enrolled at the STArts Magnet Program at Hubert O. Sibley K-8 Academy get more exposure to earth and space science, technology and design, and visual and graphic arts, with an emphasis on the careers that are available in STEM fields.

The Science, Technology and Arts magnet program — or STArts — launched at Sibley in the 2021-2022 school year.

Now students from kindergarten through sixth grade are getting more exposure to environmental science, earth and space science, marine biology and visual and graphic arts, with a focus on the careers that are available in STEM fields.

The program is slated to expand to the school’s seventh and eighth grades in the coming years.

Principal Chandrell Larkin says she’s already seeing results – the school is growing.

“We gained approximately 100 students. The main grade levels we saw the jump in were kindergarten and also in sixth grade,” she said. “Sixth grade last year, we had about 60 students. This year, we have over 115 students.”

Larkin says the school has more room to grow — Sibley currently has about 650 students but was built to serve more than 900. She’s hopeful the increase in enrollment will continue slowly but steadily so she can manage the increased need for staff and services.

“I think that parents are looking for innovative options for their children. Here at Sibley, we pride ourselves on having an innovative option,” Larkin said. “This is something that not all kindergarteners will experience.”

More information on the magnet programs in Miami-Dade County Public Schools and the process for applying is available at yourchoicemiami.org. The deadline to submit an application is Jan. 15th.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter