Hundreds of parents and children crammed aisles and corridors Saturday in Cortana Mall where students from 33 magnet and gifted and talented programs at East Baton Rouge Parish public schools recruited and wooed shoppers with song, dance, drama and robotics demonstrations Saturday.
“We’ve been inundated all day,” with would-be magnet school students and their parents, said Cayla Spillers, lead magnet school teacher who manned the booth for the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet.
Students from the foreign language immersion school performed songs in French and delivered a native African dance for spectators at JC Penney’s Plaza, prompting droves of visitors at Spiller’s booth, where about a hundred parents signed up for next week’s open house, she said.
EBR Mania marked the opening of the magnet school application period for the 2013-14 school year for elementary, middle and high schools with magnet programs. It also promotes the system’s gifted and talented school programs, said Carlos Sam, associate superintendent.
Many of these schools offer specialized, accelerated programs including Montessori, engineering, medical and academic models.
“Interest in the public school system is on the rise,” Sam said. “Parents are looking for alternatives to private and parochial schools. We’ve got schools winning national awards and it peaks parents’ interest in our programs.”
The initial application period for magnet schools starts Monday and ends Dec. 14, Sam said.
Schools with more applications than slots will conduct a lottery and schools with slots yet to fill will reopen applications at a later date, he said.
Several parents said the convenience of visiting schools at a shopping mall made the event entertaining and educational.
Hilda Baldwin, of Baton Rouge, plans to fill out applications for her 10-year-old twins Taj and Taja to attend either Sherwood Middle or McKinley Middle academic magnet schools.
“They both have good academic programs, foreign language and dance,” she said. “The magnet programs offer everything we need.”
Several parents said they prefer magnet school programs, citing both the financial benefits and the academic, arts and specialized programs that magnet schools offer.
“I think magnet programs are overlooked and often people will go to parochial or private schools when public schools offer more rigorous academics,” said Angelica Johnson-Smith, parent of two children.
Johnson-Smith said her daughter, 10, who formerly attended a parochial school, was not challenged.
“Everything came easy. When she got to the magnet program (Forest Heights) in second-grade, she was challenged,” said Johnson-Smith,who wants her daughter to attend McKinley Middle next year.
Parents can apply online on the school system’s homepage at www.ebrschools.org or visit the Magnet Program Office, 1050 S. Foster Drive.
In August, the Louisiana Department of Education released figures showing that more than 800 students — 15 percent of the total statewide — were awarded vouchers to attend 18 private and parochial schools in the East Baton Rouge Parish after the state expanded what it calls a scholarship program for eligible families.
That is second only to voucher totals in New Orleans, which has offered the state aid since 2008 and is authorized for nearly 2,700 new and returning slots.
East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes account for 62 percent of the 5,637 seats statewide.
The aid is supposed to offset the costs of tuition and mandatory fees at private schools, which the state said averages $5,300 per school.
Voucher backers contend the aid offers a way out of failing public schools.
Opponents say the assistance threatens traditional public schools, which lose an average of $8,537 in aid through the Minimum Foundation Program for each student that goes elsewhere.