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K-5 school in Blaine will focus on aviation
January 12, 2011
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  • By Norman Draper

    January 12, 2011

    A Blaine specialty school devoted to flight will make its maiden voyage in September.

    The Anoka-Hennepin district is converting the current University Avenue Elementary School, a regular neighborhood school, to the University Avenue Specialty School for Aviation, Children’s Engineering and Science. It will be a magnet designed to attract students from throughout the Anoka-Hennepin district and other districts as well.

    There are a couple of goals in mind. For one, University Avenue was on the brink of being designated a “racially isolated” school, meaning it has a far larger minority population than its neighboring schools. That meant school officials had to create a plan to bring it into sync with the rest of the district. In this case, the plan is to attract more white students. Anoka-Hennepin officials also want to keep students from transferring to other districts, particularly Spring Lake Park.

    “When you lose kids to another district, the [state] funding goes with them,” said Mary Fonken-Holden, Anoka-Hennepin’s director of student services.

    Just as important, district officials wanted to find a theme that was unique and likely to get students revved up enough to excel in their studies.

    “The idea is to get the kids interested in science and math and engineering early on,” Fonken-Holden said.

    Forming partnerships

    Without a big budget to work with, the school won’t have a lot of high-tech bells and whistles. Instead, Fonken-Holden said, it will lean heavily on partnerships with various institutions, from which it will tap speakers and mentors, as well as Internet conferencing and demonstrations.

    Among those are NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the Anoka County-Blaine Airport, the Civil Air Patrol and St. Catherine University, which offers a program training teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

    Fonken-Holden said she hopes students at the new specialty school for grades K through 5 will be able to “get inside a Black Hawk helicopter that would come right to the school playground” and visit Anoka County-Blaine for lessons on how airports work.

    She also wants the school to participate in a NASA program that sends astronauts to visit schools.

    And she anticipates that the school will schedule regular trips to the observatory and telescope housed at Jackson Middle School in Champlin.

    Looked at school in St. Paul

    Fonken-Holden said district officials know of only one other aviation-based speciality school in the nation — the Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet School in St. Paul. They visited it and were impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of the students. Fonken-Holden said they also took note of the school’s rising test scores since its switch to the aerospace magnet option. And the school was able to focus on its aerospace specialty without having to spend a lot of extra money.

    Interest is growing in the new Blaine school, which will bring to 10 the number of Anoka-Hennepin specialty schools and programs. The first open house for the program, held in the second week of December, drew a crowd of about 125. There already have been 48 applications for admission for next year. The school has set a target of 120 newly registered students. Current students do not have to register for the program.

    Offered in addition to the new specialty program will be all-day, every-day kindergarten. The school also will serve as a magnet school for the Northwest Suburban Integration District, a consortium of eight Twin Cities suburban school districts aimed at promoting the voluntary desegregation of schools.

    Educators anticipate that, with the new specialty, University Avenue will grow from its current 538 students.

    But could there be an exodus of current students who aren’t interested in the aviation, engineering and math emphasis?

    “That hasn’t been what’s happened to us when we opened our other specialty schools,” Fonken-Holden said. “We don’t end up losing kids. There’s always a waiting list to get in our specialty schools.”