Magnet programs attract droves

Glendale Unified officials say they expect a record number of applicants for the district's flagship foreign language programs for the 2011-12 school year, driven in part by a strong interest in the magnet designations that took effect in October at Edison, Franklin and Keppel elementary schools.

More than 400 parents have completed applications for the magnet schools ahead of the Jan. 21 deadline. In addition, the district has also received 100 applications for new students for the Foreign Language Academies of Glendale programs, known as FLAG. Those applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

"The interest is extremely high," said Joanna Junge, interim coordinator of the magnet grant. "We have parents from all over the district applying … It is unbelievable."

The magnet designations came after Glendale Unified was awarded a $7-million, three-year grant last year to enhance existing FLAG programs, as well as to develop an additional education theme at each of the three sites.

Edison Elementary will continue its Spanish FLAG program, but now is also an advanced technology magnet. Franklin, which has dual-language German, Italian and Spanish programs, has been designated an international foreign language magnet. And Keppel is now a visual and performing arts magnet, in addition to a Korean FLAG school.

"[The magnet grant] provides more resources to the school to continue … their FLAG program as well as grow their schoolwide theme that they have each adopted," said Glendale Unified Assistant Supt. John Garcia.

There are now about 1,050 students enrolled in eight Glendale Unified FLAG programs, said Cristina Allen, dual immersion coordinator with the district. Next year, the program will expand to John Muir Elementary School, with total enrollment expected to increase to about 1,110 students.

The numbers reflect strong growth for an experiment that began nine years ago with fewer than 20 students. The district launched FLAG in part because of strong community interest, and because research indicated that bilingual students performed better in school.

"It is very important that we offer this opportunity for our students while they are very young," said Glendale Unified school board member Mary Boger. "Literally, their brains are better developed if they are getting two languages."

By the mid-2000s, FLAG had caught fire. There are waiting lists every year for each of the sites, Allen said.

It has also become a marketing tool for a district trying to combat declining enrollment. The number of out-of-district students enrolled in Glendale Unified's FLAG programs grew to 254 students this year from 133 students in the 2009-10 school year.

"We are getting people from outside the district, people from private schools," Junge said. "The thing we hear over and over is people are paying for private school programs that aren't as good as our programs."

Transitioning Edison, Franklin and Keppel elementary schools from FLAG sites to federally recognized magnet schools has come with some complications. With the $7 million comes new standards and regulations, including a modified application process.

But officials said they have taken pains to explain the changes to district families, and have received few complaints.

"What is building momentum, in my opinion, is that the community has become, and continues to become, more sophisticated about the type of education they want for their children," Garcia said.

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