Music technology teacher Tara Hofmann’s lab buzzes with the sounds of young composers.
Third-graders in the class perch in front of computer screens, plugging in music notes onto digital staves and playing back their work on recorders, a woodwind instrument all students at Bailey’s Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences learn to play.
“This is college-level stuff,” Hofmann said of the composition, adding although students are working on music, the applications of composition reach into their other classes such as reading and writing.
“Right now, what they are doing is the same process they would learn in [writing] classes. It’s about coming up with an idea, writing it, revising it, editing and then publishing it. It’s the same process.”
Hofmann’s lab is a good example of the collaboration the school’s arts and science enhanced curriculum offers students as a means to teach the Standards of Learning required by the state, said Rachel Charlton, Bailey’s assistant principal.
“It’s amazing to see how the kids respond when they’re able to use these integrated skills,” she said.
Bailey’s, which serves students in grades kindergarten through five, is one of two magnet elementary schools in the county currently accepting applications from students who live outside of the school’s attendance area in Falls Church. Hunters Woods Elementary School for Arts and Sciences in Reston is the other magnet. Applications must be postmarked by March 1, at which point students names are entered into a lottery for spots at the school.
About 250 to 300 students each year apply to Bailey’s, said Debbie Jones, the school system’s Magnet School Lottery coordinator. Jones said about 50 students each year are accepted.
“About 80 percent of our applications are for kindergarten,” Jones said. “Each year, I ask the principals to tell me how many spaces are available at each grade level.”
Student applicants are separated by grade level and compete in a computer-generated lottery for seats available for their grade. Parents who apply for their children can expect to learn the results in early April. A waiting list is maintained until August in case winning students decide against attending.
The school system provides transportation to students living outside of Bailey’s and Hunters Woods schools’ attendance areas with centrally located pick-up spots, Jones said.
While Bailey’s draws parents interested in its focus on arts and sciences, the school also supports a Spanish language immersion program, where students are taught lessons in math and science in Spanish, while the remaining classes are taught in English.
“Bailey's is a very unique school. Obviously the fact that we are a Spanish immersion school sets us apart. However Bailey's focuses on the whole child and the curriculum is taught in a way that incorporates many forms of learning,” said PTA President Christine Adams, an Alexandria resident whose son is in fourth grade. Adams’ older son also attended Bailey’s.
“The decision to go ahead and apply was easy. Our child needed a more challenging curriculum and being taught math and science in Spanish sounded like an added level of difficulty that he would be well suited to,” she said. “We went to Magnet Night at Bailey's — a tour of the school and information night for parents considering applying to Bailey's — and fell in love with the school and the programs it offers.”
Bailey’s boasts educational partnerships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, which aids indoor and outdoor science lab lessons at the school, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“This [partnership] allows all of our children to take violin in third grade. … There is the opportunity to perform in the dramatic arts, dance and chorus and often the curriculum is introduced through these various art forms to ensure a greater understanding of the subject matter,” Adams said.
Arts integration at Bailey’s is headed up by Melanie Layne, who works with the Kennedy Center coordinating the Changing Education Through the Arts program. Bailey’s is one of 16 schools in the metropolitan area that have partnered through CETA, she said.
“One thing that sets us apart from the get-go is we do all of these [arts curriculum, arts-enhanced education and arts-integrated curriculum] at Bailey’s, which really makes us different from programs nationally,” Layne said. “So, what you’re going to see is kids learning about the water system [for example] through creative movement. ... Yes, they are creating a dance, but it’s for learning.”
Teachers at Bailey’s say the school has allowed them to do more in lessons.
Music teacher Rebecca Pietak said if she taught at another elementary school her role might be more isolated.
“It’s really integrated here,” she said. “Part of the fourth grade curriculum is Virginia History. [Hofmann] takes that and they learn Virginia spirituals and they write their own spirituals.”
Because it is a magnet school, Bailey’s receives extra funding from the school system for three additional teachers and one instructional aid.
The school is the largest elementary school in Virginia with 1,243 students, of which about 59 percent are limited-English proficiency and 63 percent are eligible for the federal free and reduced-price meal program.
“The magnet was created to add to the number of native English speakers,” Charlton said, adding the high level of non-English speakers, most of which speak Spanish at home, has added to the school’s immersion program.
“The ideal immersion model is 50 percent native-English speakers and 50 percent Spanish. So, that 50-50 makes us [near] the ideal model.”
For more on Bailey’s or information on applying to magnet programs visit www.fcps.edu/is/magnetschools/index.shtml.