East Aurora Magnet Academy opens for start of school year
By Kalyn Belsha email@example.com August 15, 2013 4:52PM
Starting next week, the newly renovated Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy at East Aurora School District will house 450 students in third- to eighth-grade. | Kalyn Belsha~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 17, 2013 8:24AM
AURORA — Two balloons popped loudly one after another as Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner spoke Thursday at the official opening of the new Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy, part of East Aurora School District.
There was a time, Weisner said, when everyone in the audience would have flinched, fearing gunshots. But over time the surrounding neighborhood has become safer, he said, and the building has been transformed.
The College Avenue and North Root Street property began as Madonna High School in 1926, became Aurora Central Catholic High in 1968 and then the city’s Fred Rodgers Community Center in 1997.
Last June, the city sold the property for $3 million to East Aurora, which transformed the building again into a full-fledged magnet academy. Starting next week, the school will house 450 students in third- to eighth-grade.
That’s up from 100 students in sixth- to eighth-grade in the building last school year. Grade levels also are expanding from 25 to 75 students for third- to eighth-grade.
The school kept its previous namesake, former city director of youth services Fred Rodgers, who visited the school Thursday.
The magnet academy accepts students through a lottery system and has curriculum that focuses on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The school will operate on a no-textbook model and every student will have a new laptop computer to work on at school and at home. The one-to-one computing program is being funded by a $660,000 Dunham Fund grant.
Teachers are gearing up to go through training Monday and Tuesday to help integrate the laptops into their lessons. Many teachers met over the summer to collaborate on homework policies and curriculum development, since STEM schools are meant to be interdisciplinary.
Chris Heath, a seventh- and eighth-grade social students teacher at the magnet academy, taught in the building while much of the construction occurred and was amazed by the transformation of the old lunchroom into new science labs and the renovation of the gym.
“It’s been crazy,” he said of the changes. “I drove past it and I had to slow down.”
He had stopped to look at the new Root Street entrance, which was blocked off during the time the city used the building and recently underwent renovations.
“Today has been many years in the making,” said School Board President Annette Johnson, referring to the academy’s start as a smaller magnet program. “We’ve gone through many changes recently and this school is a testament to that.”