June 6, 2012

Instrumental music classes add to Northeast Magnet High’s repertoire

Wichita’s Northeast Magnet High School will offer instrumental music classes — band and orchestra — for the first time next school year.

Wichita’s Northeast Magnet High School will offer instrumental music classes — band and orchestra — for the first time next school year.

But Northeast’s unusual daily schedule means students will enroll for only one semester instead of a full year, officials said. The school will offer orchestra in the fall and band in the spring.

“We’re really excited to be able to offer instrumental music because we haven’t been able to in the past,” said Gil Alvarez, principal at Northeast. “But it does come with some challenges.”

The Eagle reported in April that the school was planning to add music classes.

The magnet school, which is moving to a new building at 53rd Street North and Rock Road, serves about 600 students. It employs a nontraditional “five-block” schedule, which allows more time for core academic courses but less flexibility for electives. Students have five 75-minute classes each day and start new classes each semester — except math and English courses, which are yearlong.

Alvarez said Northeast included an orchestra option on its pre-enrollment forms this spring, and about 20 students signed up. He’s not sure how many students will take band in the spring, but he estimates 30 to 40.

He hasn’t yet hired a director for either part-time post, he said.

“We’re looking at this as kind of a pilot program, to see how it goes and work out some kinks,” the principal said. “We want to start small and add programs” or students as needed.

In the past, many students with a strong interest in instrumental music have not applied to Northeast Magnet, opting instead for high schools with established band or orchestra programs.

Northeast Magnet has art, vocal music and drama programs. And although it doesn’t offer athletics, Northeast students can participate in sports at their neighborhood high school.

Since the school opened in 1990 — the city’s first and only magnet high school — instrumental music has been the missing piece, Alvarez said.

“The new facility helps. We’ll have plenty of space,” he said.

The new building in Bel Aire, designed to be a comprehensive high school, features a full music suite and athletic facilities. The school’s gymnasium, swimming pool and weight room will be used for physical education classes, Alvarez said.

Outdoor athletic facilities, including a football stadium, were put on hold along with dozens of other school projects as the district dealt with cuts in state per-pupil funding.

The application deadline for Northeast Magnet has passed, but the district accepts late applications for all magnet programs. Late applications are put into a waiting pool; on-time applications are processed first.

This year 464 students applied for spots at Northeast Magnet, about the same number as the previous three years. About 350 were freshmen applicants, of which 200 were placed.

Of the 200 incoming freshmen, 54 are from the Heights High School attendance boundary — 25 reserved seats and 29 selected randomly by lottery.

The Wichita school board voted in March to reserve 25 percent of ninth-grade spots at the new Northeast Magnet for students from the Heights attendance area. Board members said the move answered concerns from some residents of Bel Aire and surrounding areas, who wanted a comprehensive high school to help ease crowding at Heights.

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