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The Oceanside Unified School District board agreed to establish three new magnet schools for elementary students starting next year. Courtesy photo/OUSD
The Oceanside Unified School District board agreed to establish three new magnet schools for elementary students starting next year. Courtesy photo/OUSD
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Oceanside Unified establishes three new magnet schools

OCEANSIDE — Three more elementary schools in the city’s public school district will officially become magnet schools beginning next year. Each school will have its own specialized programming and be located alongside the already-established Pablo Tac School of the Arts magnet school.

The Oceanside Unified School District board unanimously voted on May 14 to establish Del Rio, Foussat and Nichols elementary schools as magnet schools. 

Following the board’s approval, Del Rio will become Del Rio STEM Academy, with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics; Nichols will become Nichols Leadership Academy, with programming that will instill leadership values and skills in students; and Foussat will become Foussat Language Academy, the new home of the district’s dual language immersion program.

According to Vicki Gravlin, executive director of curriculum and instruction at OUSD, magnet schools are free, public elementary schools operating within existing school districts that focus on specific interests such as the performing arts, world languages, STEM or STEAM (similar to STEM but includes the arts as well), and leadership skills.

The concept of magnet schools emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as an option for desegregating public schools to improve diversity, Gravlin said.

The Oceanside Unified School District board agreed to establish four magnet schools for elementary students starting next year. Courtesy photo/OUSD
The Oceanside Unified School District will convert Del Rio, Foussat and Nichols elementary schools into magnet schools starting next year. Courtesy photo/OUSD

“Magnet schools offer opportunities for students to dig into an area of interest and learn from something that sparks their interest through engagement,” Gravlin said. “The concept helps students to want to attend school and reinvigorates their understanding of what school is all about.”

Today, more magnet schools have begun popping up in local school districts, such as Vista Unified, Oceanside Unified and Escondido Union. 

Oceanside’s first magnet school was Pablo Tac. Originally San Luis Rey Elementary, the school changed its name to honor the Luiseño or Payómkawichum (People of the West) indigenous scholar whose writings were a primary source of the Luiseño language and culture up to the 20th century.

Tac was born at Mission San Luis Rey in modern-day Oceanside, near the school.

After Garrison Elementary closed due to sinkholes on campus, the district moved students to the former San Luis Rey campus during the 2019-2020 school year and renamed the school a year later in an effort to unify students and families.

By the end of next year, the school will have undergone significant modernization.

Students at Pablo Tac will be engaged in the performing and visual arts, learning the standards behind the music, dance, theater and media arts, with the goal of growing creatively and academically. 

“One of the real key things here is putting students at the center of learning and allowing them to find their voice, which is such a critical part that can get overlooked in traditional classrooms,” said Principal Carla Aranda. “I think it’s a way to bring learning alive for students and connect them with a really wonderful gift.”

Aranda, who has an arts background, has seen the “lifelong benefits of developing as an artist and performer.” 

“Our hope is that students really develop a lifelong love and incorporate the arts into higher education and their careers,” Aranda said.

Del Rio has worked on its STEM labs over the last few years. In these labs, students build critical thinking skills, learn design and engineering processes, are introduced to robotics and even learn news broadcasting skills — all with the goal of getting them excited about science and mathematics while working toward their college career goals. 

Del Rio Elementary students take part in Gold Rush activities. Courtesy photo/OUSD
Del Rio Elementary students take part in hands-on activities. Courtesy photo/OUSD

“Students engaging in this kind of work lends itself well to collaborative experiences where working together and learning how to build can help students grow and prepare for when they enter the workforce,” said Del Rio Principal Lorrah Hogue. 

At Nichols, students are learning to become the next leaders of tomorrow through the Leader in Me program, a preschool through 12th-grade curriculum that teaches students how to lead through experience while boosting their cultural awareness and academic success.

Principal Robert Flaherty said the program also includes social and emotional lessons while teaching habits that help shape students into global citizens.

For example, most activities at Nichols are completely student-led, from flag salutes and school tours to campus performances. 

Students also learn how to set goals for themselves while identifying their own personal needs in the classroom. 

“The new support from the district level provides a greater emphasis and focus on our identity as a school, so when students come here, parents know what they’re going to get through our program – which provides greater opportunities for students,” Flaherty said.

After Reynolds Elementary School closed last year due to seismic hazard concerns underneath the school, the district’s dual immersion program was moved to Foussat. 

The program enables students to become fluent in English and Spanish, which, according to the district, will help improve their cognitive abilities and cultural understanding. 

Although they are different from traditional schools, students who live in the neighborhoods serving the four school sites may still attend their respective campuses as long as they register as students there. Parents can also enroll students in one of these four schools, even if they are located somewhere else in the district. 

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