In August 2013, East Aurora School District 131 opened an expanded Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy in a newly renovated building at 157 N. Root Street in Aurora. Beginning in 2008, the original Magnet Academy program was offered by the school district to academically talented students interested in math, science and technology. The elementary age students in third through eighth grade were selected by lottery from all of the schools in the district. The move to the larger school allowed the program to expand from 25 to 75 students at each grade level.
In February 2013, a $660,000 One to One Computing grant from the Dunham Fund allowed every Academy student to have a new laptop to use at school and at home. This led to a dual curriculum offering the expanded learning opportunities available on the world wide web. The Magnet Academy is textbook-free, with lessons taught via computers, Smartboards, and other technological devices.
The Dunham Fund Advisors were motivated to award the grant because the Magnet Academy was an innovative educational model for community collaboration involving the District Board of Education, City of Aurora, and Aurora East Educational Foundation. Aurora University and North Central College provided valuable assistance with curriculum development and teacher preparation. OnLight Aurora provided linkage to the city’s fiber-optic network and Comcast facilitated low-cost Internet service to the district families at home and at the Magnet Academy.
In the words of Magnet Academy Principal Angela Rowley “It took a community to open the school and the community can be proud of what the Academy has achieved.” In the 2014 Illinois School Report Card, based on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) administered statewide at the elementary-level, 87.5% of the students at the Magnet Academy met or exceeded state standards. There are only twenty-five other elementary schools in the State of Illinois that scored between 87% and 87.9% on reading and math skills combined. Of the 431 Academy students, 61.3% were from low-income households and 76.6% were Hispanic. The Magnet Academy is the highest performing public elementary school in the greater Aurora area. Visit www.illinoisreportcard.com for more information on the state, district and elementary school 2014 ISAT results.
With its innovative STEM program, the Magnet Academy is the kind of innovative and educational initiative that the Dunham Fund is excited about supporting. The program has proven that community organizations can work collaboratively to create schools where students of grade school age or younger can successfully develop their proficiency and passion for becoming our future scientists, engineers, computer technologists and mathematicians.