Imagine attending the school that U.S. News and World Report ranked in 2019 as the best public high school in America. The classes are challenging. The school requires significantly more credits for graduation than most other schools. Students must take four consecutive years of foreign languages.
There is no doubt that Academic Magnet High School in North Charleston, South Carolina, is a special place. One hundred percent of students graduate from school, and one hundred percent of students are either accepted to college or a military appointment.
But two of this school’s core values might surprise you. Academic Magnet is not just a place where students spend all of their time studying so that they can post high scores and earn full-ride college scholarships. The school also values community service and fun.
“We have an extraordinary service ethos,” explains Catherine Spencer, the head of school for Academic Magnet High School. “Every day, there are fundraisers, students going off site to do tutoring, supporting animal shelters or orphanages.”
Many of these projects go beyond simply putting in a few hours at a local charity.
“We have a tenth grade student who developed an arsenic filtration system that removes arsenic from drinking water and took it to his parents’ home village in Bangladesh and installed it. It’s working miracles,” says Spencer. “One of our seniors last year was very involved in mission work with a church in Guatemala. She designed, developed, published – in Spanish – a dental brochure for children. She took it to the village, distributed it, and presented it at dental health clinics for the kids.”
In addition to Academic Magnet’s focus on community service and volunteerism, the school also values fun.
“We are very cognizant of the need for balance, and the need to just breathe, have a good time, and enjoy the comradery of our fellow students and staff members,” Spencer says. “That’s a real component of what makes us a community of learners that goes beyond the learning.”
The school offers a wide variety of athletics, along with picnics and unique celebratory weeks.
“One’s called Homecoming, and the other’s called Coming Home, where every day has a theme, everybody dresses up, everybody does activities around that theme,” says Spencer. “On the last day of the week, every grade – ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth – ‘owns’ a part of the building and they get to decorate it according to a specific, vetted theme. And our students will tell you this is the most exciting part of being here.”
Academic Magnet High School also participates in National School Choice Week every year.
“The idea of choosing, of making the choice that works for you, is really at the forefront of everyone’s mind when the School Choice Week banners are up,” says Spencer. “It all suggests, ‘You have options. You have opportunities.’”
For students attending Academic Magnet High School, they have truly chosen a special place, an environment that makes headlines because of its academic excellence but tugs at the heartstrings with its commitment to service and fun. To me, that’s happiness, pure and simple.
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