11-year-old Christian Rebolledo travels across the valley to attend Gordon McCaw STEAM Academy in Henderson, one of dozens of magnet schools in the Clark County School District.
He had attended a different elementary school in southwest Las Vegas through third grade but it wasn't challenging enough for him. He enjoys how all the subjects at the Henderson school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, are interconnected.
"Here it's like every day intertwined with different subjects," Rebolledo said. "For example, we'll do writing, like a writing project, and it will turn into science, math and everything is together in one subject."
McCaw STEAM Academy was one of 14 schools recently honored with a Magnet School of Excellence Award. It was the first time the elementary school, which became a magnet school three years ago, received the award.
"It's really about how we take it up a level and crank it up a notch so it's something that's really engaging for kids, it's attractive to families," said CCSD Assistant Superintendent Jesse Welsh.
One thing that makes magnet schools stand out to kids is that the schools give them options to explore the subjects they're passionate about.
"I think that one of the other keys for success for magnet schools is it just taps into the things that kids are already excited about," Welsh said. "It’s just like anything with school. We all had those subject areas that that was the one class you came to school for every day. That’s part of what that magnet class is for these kids."
For example, Rebolledo gets to take part in robotics at McCaw STEAM Academy. He wants to be a robotics engineer for NASA.
"We have eight different labs to support our STEAM curriculum," said Andrea Compton, magnet coordinator at McCaw STEAM Academy. "So we have a robotics lab and a Mac lab to support our technology. We have three science labs and a fine arts lab for dance and drama. We also have a makers space to support the engineering model."
Rebolledo enjoys the project-based learning at McCaw, where he also gets the opportunity to work on passion projects that his teacher grades.
"The kids are capable of so much more than we even know so just setting these high expectations for them and letting them rise and grow," Compton said. "We don't even realize what they can do. And the things they come up with are amazing just by giving them that opportunity and that freedom to kind of drive them own learning, they're able to go even higher than we could possibly imagine."
Students, like Rebolledo, can apply for up to 3 magnet schools in the district.
"They'll say it's because of the curriculum, the hands-on projects, being able to guide their own learning and being challenged with the goal setting," Compton said as to why students may change schools.
Rebolledo has already been accepted into a magnet middle school and plans to stay in CCSD's magnet program through high school.
"We have purposely tried to build feeder patterns, feeder alignments within different strands, in different parts of the valley so that you know if a student starts at let's say here McCaw at the elementary in STEM, there are options at the middle school and high school level," Welsh said.
Northwest Career and Technical Academy was among the other schools that received a Magnet School of Excellence Award. Parents recently got a taste of what their students study at the high school during a bring your parents to school event.
Lori Nowag recently observed her daughter Payton in her medical program classes. She likes that it gives her teen exposure to a career before she goes to college or other post-secondary education.
“What the great thing is that they didn’t spend four years worth of college tuition figuring that out," Welsh said.
Other career technical programs at magnet schools also give students the opportunity to go straight into the workforce after graduation.
The other schools that received the Magnet School of Excellence Award include:
- Advanced Technologies Academy
- Jim Bridger Middle School
- James Cashman Middle School
- Ed W. Clark High School
- Desert Pines High School Academy of Communications and Information Technology
- East Career and Technical Academy
- K.O. Knudson Middle School
- Jo Mackey Academy of Leadership and Global Communication
- Southeast Career and Technical Academy
- Southwest Career and Technical Academy
- Valley High School International Baccalaureate Program
Another dozen schools received the Magnet School of Distinction Award. Welsh said the awards show that CCSD stands out among the crowd for its magnet program.
"Annually, you'll see that our Clark County schools are just as competitive, if not one of the top districts in the country. That's something to really celebrate," he said. "As much as we get beat up here at home sometimes about some of the challenges that we face, our magnet schools are one of the shining stars for Clark County that puts us on the map nationally."