Colombia School For The Gifted in the Jeff Vanderlou Neighborhood

If you pay attention, great things are happening in the St. Louis public schools. One such item of good news is the growing popularity and options around gifted-learning magnet schools.

Notice the plural on schools? Yes, there are now three separate gifted schools.

Kennard Classical Junior Academy, the oldest program located in the North Hampton Neighborhood, had an extensive waiting list, which led to the expanded program at Mallinckrodt Academy of Gifted Instruction in the Lindenwood Park Neighborhood...both in South City.

We sent our kids through Kennard for a total of 21 school year's worth of education (grades PK-5 x 3 kids). It was a good fit for us and our kids.  The families, atmosphere and teachers were great. We couldn't have been happier. The kids are now at McKinley and Metro...maybe Collegiate in the future.

I've heard good things about Mallinckrodt as well. My current neighbors who are fully connected, engaged citizens have a child there and have spoken positively of their experience. Other neighborhood kids catch the Mallinckrodt bus across the street from the Kennard bus stop, those families too are happy. I'm confident that school is headed in the right direction.

Point is, there are more and more choices these days, and it's only getting better.  Look no further than the third gifted magnet program, Colombia Gifted Elementary, which opened up in North City.

One of the purposes of magnet schools was to de-segregate educational opportunities back when neighborhood schools were the only option. Further, they were set up to "pull" students with similar strengths into one school based on a specified curriculum, in this case gifted or accelerated learners.

The concept is a success and these magnet schools are a great option for many, but not all families.

They provide choice, options. Magnets have become a strength of St. Louis to combat student family flight from our fine city. More families are finding that they don't have to move to root down and be happy and have quality if not superior educational opportunities in St. Louis vs. the suburbs.

Colombia is just another item of good news, as the two gifted schools on the south side meant a long bus ride for gifted students on the north side. Starting in the 2016-17 school year, that was no longer the case.

Columbia now serves as one of the three full curriculum certified gifted public elementary schools in the St. Louis region offered by the St. Louis Public Schools. Utilizing the same accelerated curriculum used at Kennard and Mallinckrodt, teachers create a warm and challenging environment for students who have been tested and identified as gifted. The gifted program Columbia started with Pre-K and Kindergarten in the 2016-2017 school year, and is expanding one grade level per year (source).

Colombia is housed in a beautiful 88 year old building at 3120 St. Louis Avenue at Garrison in the Jeff Vanderlou Neighborhood

I applaud this expansion and hope for it's success, just as Kennard and Mallinckrodt continue to succeed and retain more and more families in St. Louis.

One thing that is worth contemplation when looking at the newest addition to the gifted learning schools is racial diversity. This is one of the things we've benefited from at Kennard and I honestly think my kids are much better off as a result. It's not a canned "token black/white/Asian kid" kind of diversity you'll see at some private schools; it seems pretty legit. My wife and I did not have this kind of diversity growing up in the burbs, so it was new to us as parents. And it's not just the student body that reflects the diversity of the city, the teachers, staff and principles have been from varied races/economic backgrounds. The students' role models and leaders looked different from them, which is equally as important as your peers.

Let's look at the racial breakdowns of each gifted-magnet in SLPS vs the neighborhood they are in and the entire city (source):

The data for Colombia may be a bit misleading as the school just became a magnet in 2016/17 so it hasn't had as much time to fully "pull" kids from different parts of the city/county.

Here's a question to ponder:

If, magnets are intended to de-segregate and provide opportunities for like-minded students from different neighborhoods/races/cultures to join as one, can that be done when the school is located in uni-racial neighborhoods in parts of town where residency and investment has dropped at staggering rates in the last 20 or so years?

Will that happen in Jeff Vanderlou, which has lost ~35% of its population from 1990-2010? Or, will white, Asian and Hispanic/Latino families not consider that school based on the location or racial demographics of the surrounding area? 

Or, will Colombia become the first all-black gifted program?

Should a magnet reflect the makeup of the city as a whole or the neighborhood in which it is located?

There is obvious value in racial diversity and economic diversity. Will an all black neighborhood be able to attach non-black families?

Time will tell.

Banner photo from the Missouri Historical Society (ca. 1929)