Magnetic pull? New school excites students

Published 12:01 am Saturday, August 11, 2012

LAUREN WOOD/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Katie Graham, a fifth-grade teacher, holds up an iPad for her student Devon Johnson, 10, center, to read the next clue after scanning a Quick Response Code — or QR code — during a scavenger hunt Friday morning on the first day of school at the Concordia Parish Academy of Math, Science and Technology.

RIDGECREST — This summer was like any other for second grader William Wyatt King — until a few weeks ago when he found out he was one of the 120 students selected for the Concordia Parish Academy of Math, Science and Technology.

Then King’s summer became an agonizing waiting game that finally ended Friday on the school’s first day of class.

“I wasn’t really that excited about coming back to school, until I found out I was going to the magnet school,” King said. “Then I heard about the iPads and got really excited.”

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During a meet and greet event Tuesday to showcase some of the school’s technological teaching methods to parents and students, King said the magnet school teaching staff mentioned the students would be interacting and learning with iPads throughout the school year.

First-grade students Cami Evans, 5, right, and Faith Cook, 6, scan a QR code with an iPad during the scavenger hunt.

King said, however, some of his hopes and dreams were dashed away quickly after he learned that only fifth graders would keep the Apple tablet device all year.

“When they told me only fifth graders got to keep them, it made me want to stay here until fifth grade,” King said. “It’s going to be a long couple of school years, but we’ve marked off one of the days already.”

The magnet school, located at the former Ridgecrest School site, opened its doors to students for the first time Friday, ending a project five years in the making.

The day was a memorable one for all teachers and administrators involved, but also for the new school’s students — especially for first grader Jeremiah Whittaker who shared his first day of school with another memorable life event.

“It’s my birthday today!” Whittaker shouted from his chair in Angela Cotten’s classroom. “I’m excited to learn and make new friends at school and for my SpongeBob cake.”

But Whittaker didn’t have to wait until he got home to get a special treat.

“We played a game with the iPads and got cookies,” Whittaker said. “It’s been a fun day.”

Utilizing the iPads assigned to each class, Cotten created a scavenger hunt involving Quick Response Codes that took her students on a tour of the school looking for freshly baked cookies.

Ronald Ellis, 6, reaches up and grabs a flip-flop with a QR code attached.

“They scan the QR codes which were on flip flops, it pops up a hint and they would go to the next spot,” Cotten said. “But when we got back, they found out the cookies were in the classroom the whole time.”

But the back-to-school excitement wasn’t limited to the lower grades, as fourth grader Olivia Lancaster was all smiles the entire day.

“My mom said the magnet school was going to be fun and that it had a lot of fun stuff for learning,” Lancaster said. “I’ve learned a lot today, but we haven’t used the iPads yet.

“I have an iPad at home, but I want to learn how to use it for school.”

And with the magnet school able to draw students from the entire parish, Director Nancy Anders said it was great to see so many new faces from across the district.

“It’s very exciting to see all the children from all the different schools and see new faces and parents,” Anders said. “Everything went very smoothly.”

The smooth sailing of the magnet school’s first day resonated throughout the district, Superintendent Paul Nelson said.

“I was at every school today, except Monterey, and everything went great,” Nelson said. “You always have a couple of wrinkles with transportation, but those will get ironed out over time.”

Nelson said as of Thursday the district’s enrollment showed approximately 3,800 students, a similar number to last year’s enrollment figures.

“That number will continue to shake up or down for the next few weeks, but it’s pretty close to what we had last year,” Nelson said. “We’ll be monitoring enrollment during these first few weeks, and we may actually have to shuffle staff around the different schools.

“But that’s something we’ll keep a close eye on.”