Magnet teachers speak about value of programs

By Gary Alan Ruse….
The continuing economic downturn and government cutbacks have affected budgets for the educational system in South Florida, and some educators are worried about the possible impact this may have on magnet arts programs.

Teachers at Southwood Middle School, which has magnet classes in art, photography, orchestra, band, drama, dance and chorus, spoke out last week to call attention to the value of the program and the need to preserve it.

Jenifer Berse is a Magnet Art Teacher, National Board Certified Art Teacher and PTSA Teacher Liaison.

“The arts and magnet schools in particular are truly a form of dropout prevention,” Berse said. “A student could be teetering on the edge in his other subjects, have a very low sense of self, and the one place they feel truly safe and successful is in the arts. I have had many students tell me in the past that coming to my art class was either the best part of the day, or the only thing that got them to school that day.

“To even think about taking any of the arts out of public school would truly be a crime to certain populations of students in particular, not to mention students in general. In the arts, no matter what discipline they choose, they gain real world skills.”

Berse said curriculums are overlapped; for example: math is used in art for griddling and proportion, in dance, and music to keep rhythm and beats. Reading is used across the curriculum in all the disciplines, as is history, art history, music history, dance interpretation, and drama production.

“These are only a few very small examples of how the arts impact the whole child and teaches them critical thinking skills they will take with them for the rest of their lives.”

Leslie McKinley also is a Magnet Art Teacher who takes her job seriously and brings her passion for art and teaching to all her students.

“The intrinsic value of magnet programs is that they provide students the opportunity to develop discipline in an area of strong personal interest,” McKinley said. “I know of very few other educational settings that offer this in such depth. The students also develop lasting friendships, since they are with a group of students for two periods per day, for three to four years.”

Tinder Burris is orchestra director at Southwood Middle School, instilling her love of music in new generations.

“The importance of a magnet program is to give the opportunity for students who show potential in a particular area more time to focus on nurturing a skill with a teacher who is a specialist in their field,” Burris said.

Hilda Jimenez teaches dance to many talented students who blossom with the opportunity of the concentrated program.

“Being a veteran dance director at Southwood, I know first hand of the importance and impact that our magnet programs have on our students,” Jimenez said. “The future of the majority of our students is forever impacted by our programs. The students walk away with understanding what it takes to be committed to something and to truly have discipline.”

She said that, in addition, they are exposed to the highest quality of education in the area they have chosen and their self esteem and positive self worth helps them and prepares them for all of their future education.

“I am happy and proud to be a magnet teacher at Southwood as I can continue to see our future’s best being groomed right here at our school,” Jimenez said.

Beatriz Llano, Southwood’s Magnet Lead Teacher, said that the program there is available to students from many areas and that the application season is from October through Jan. 15, which means it is ending soon.

For more information, visit the school’s website,, or call 305-251-5361, ext. 2224.

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