Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
Downloadable File PDF (1 MB)

Metropolitan Learning Center
Bloomfield, Conn.


Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: Metropolitan Learning Center Host District: Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), interdistrict magnet
Year Established as Magnet 1998 Mid-size City Urban and Suburban
Theme Global international education Size 543 square miles (greater Hartford communities
Grades 6–12 MSAPb Funded Funded: 1998 (1.2M over three years)
Enrollment 681 students Enrollmentc 1,117 magnet out of 1,313 grades 9–12 students (2007)
Student Ethnicity 9.8% Hispanic
61.5% African-American
24.7% White
3.8% Asian American
Student Ethnicity
(grades 9-12)c
14.5% Hispanic
30% African-American
52.5% White
3% Asian American
Special Education 7% Special Educationc 10.8%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 35% Free or Reduced-price Lunchc 22.9%
English Language Learners < 1% English Language Learnersc 3.4%

a Source: 2006–07 school profile,

b U.S. Department of Education’s Magnet Schools Assistance program

c Source: Data self-reported by school or district for school year 2007–08

In 2003, at the outset of the Iraq war, a class of 17 sophomores at Metropolitan Learning Center (MLC) in Bloomfield, Conn., participated in videoconference exchanges with a group of 21 students nearly 6,000 miles away in Baghdad. During two exchanges, these students spoke about the war's impact on their lives. MLC staff believe such cross-cultural experiences are crucial to preparing students to participate and achieve in the global economy of the 21st century.

MLC is an interdistrict grades sixth through 12th magnet whose interdisciplinary theme emphasizes global understandings. MLC teachers help inner-city students increase their awareness of international issues through rigorous academic study and a wide range of firsthand and virtual overseas experiences. As the school's handbook notes: "We expect that each child will travel and study in another country, take an Advanced Placement course, host an international visitor, take classes online, participate in a live teleconference, achieve academic success at high levels, and contribute to our community." Last year, as part of their education, 109 students made overseas trips to such countries as Finland, Senegal, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Ecuador, and Chile.

Founded in 1998, MLC was launched in response to the 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court case, Sheff v. O'Neill. In this case, the court ruled that racially and socioeconomically isolated students in Hartford public schools were receiving inferior and inadequate educational opportunities and mandated desegregation efforts for the urban school system. The challenge of desegregating Hartford area schools was complicated by the area's existing housing patterns and demographics. To mix students from different backgrounds, the community proposed an interdistrict solution. This led to the establishment of eight interdistrict magnet schools. MLC serves students from the 543-square-mile capitol region of Hartford-the third largest city in Connecticut and one of the poorest cities in the U.S., with a poverty level of 42 percent. In 1998, MLC received a three-year $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Magnet Schools Assistance program (MSAP) and opened with 94 sixth-graders from six towns. Adding a grade each year, MLC now serves grades 6-12 and sends 98-100 percent of its graduates to college.

Mission and Curriculum

At MLC, the mission of global education is taken seriously. As social studies department chair Caryn Stedman says, the future for our students is "going to be international and globally connected, so they need to leave with awareness of the state of the planet, knowledge of global dynamics, and be conscious of human choices and the various world perspectives. So, for example, you do math and excel in it; but you also understand that math has real, live applications that can solve global issues—everything from immigration projections to space exploration and environmental issues require mathematics; so that you are not just taking math so you can pass the test."

Interwoven across the curriculum, MLC's international theme features intensive study of world languages (Chinese, French, and Spanish) and extensive student use of technology. In addition to languages, integrated curricular topics include global economics and environment, world cultures and societies, and world geography. At the high school level, the schedule is arranged by 90-minute classes, with a Wednesday morning block to meet with their advisers. Every grade level has a service-learning requirement. In a cross-age, peer-tutored mentoring program, for example, seniors provide academic assistance to middle school students. Students select projects that will benefit the community without monetary gain. They document their hours, write reflections, and include an annotated bibliography of newspaper and magazine articles they have read relating to their project, which is graded according to a rubric.

Ensuring Student Success

At MLC, teaching is tailored to meet students' individual needs. For example, a sixth-grade special education student, taking a high school-level geometry class, works alongside high school students to create posters of proofs demonstrating the chain of reasoning for solving a math problem. From January through March, morning classes at the Saturday Academy provide struggling students with additional support. MLC has two guidance counselors who work with students on the college application process and facilitate an early intervention process for students with academic or behavioral concerns.

Principal Anne McKernan and the school leadership team ensure that the state learning standards are embedded in the curriculum plan and course content. As principal McKernan explained, "We look at state, national, and international standards to identify the most valuable skills and concepts. Then we ask, how do we assess it? It is about giving our teachers time to work with the information, to embed the skills into curriculum and have a common way of assessing the outcomes through rubrics." Teachers created schoolwide student learning goals that include proficiency in a second language, demonstrating understanding of global connections, as well as expectations that students will demonstrate proficiency in effective communication, problem solving, and use of technology.

Technology is used to assist learning and meaningful cultural exchanges at MLC. Teachers use interactive whiteboards and every student has a laptop. Students are expected to e-mail writing assignments to teachers and use the laptop for researching. They also use advanced technology to participate in the International Education and Resources Network (iEARN) where students interact with peers overseas through teleconferencing.

MLC offers eight Advanced Placement (AP) courses. For the 2006-07 school year, 60 percent of the seniors and 35 percent of the juniors enrolled in an AP course; 70 percent of the students in AP classes came from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Students also can enroll in courses at local community colleges with tuition and fees waived for one course each semester, if they have taken and passed the placement exam in math and English, and have at least an 80 percent grade point average. In senior year, students complete a culminating project designed to reflect in-depth learning. Students choose a topic, write a proposal, and conduct extensive research, and publicly present their findings to a panel of faculty, members of the public, students, and parents.

Building School Capacity

As an interdistrict magnet, MLC draws its students from a mix of rural, suburban, and inner-city communities. Each town that sends students to MLC contributes funding for them. Funding from the State Department of Education Interdistrict Cooperative Grant Program and Connecticut Commission on the Arts provides $6,250 per seat, while the boards of education from the towns of Windsor, Windsor Locks, East Windsor, Enfield, Hartford, and Bloomfield provide $2,000 per seat. The school has significant autonomy in defining budget priorities and allocating resources.

In the high school, a myriad of cocurricular activities help promote a positive school climate. After-school activities are held Mondays and Wednesdays from 3-5 p.m., and students are encouraged to form new clubs. One of them, such as the group, Student Abolitionists Stopping Slavery, was started by three students dedicated to stopping modern-day slavery around the world. To honor diversity, MLC held a "names conference" in November 2007—Names Can Really Hurt Us, a schoolwide program in partnership with the Connecticut Anti-Defamation League to promote a safe learning environment. In multiage groups, students engaged in activities about violence prevention and listened to a panel of MLC students share their personal experiences.

Achievement and Outcomes

Serving a diverse student body, MLC is closing achievement gaps. A higher percentage of MLC African-American and free or reduced-price lunch 10th-graders demonstrate proficiency on the state CAPT math, science, reading, and writing tests than the same subgroups' statewide average (see table 7 on p. 52).

Each year, more students are taking AP courses and demonstrating high levels of achievement. In 2006-07, 46 percent of seniors and 35 percent of juniors were enrolled in an AP course and took 119 exams; 45 percent scored a 3 or higher, making them eligible for college credit. MLC students are scoring above the state proficiency average and above Hartford Public Schools' (HPS) proficiency percentages in state testing on writing, math, and reading.

In 2004, MLC won the Goldman-Sachs Award for Excellence in International Education. Magnet Schools of America named it as a Magnet School of Excellence for 2008 and a Magnet School of Distinction in 2002 as well for each year from 2004-06. It has been recognized by the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (CONNCAN) as one of the top 10 performers for African-American student achievement on both the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT) and Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT); and in 2004, the National Association of Multi-Cultural Educators (NAMES) recognized MLC as one of the schools of the year.

Table 7 on p. 52 shows that the percentages of 10th-grade MLC students who scored proficient on the 2007 mathematics, reading, and writing assessments were higher than the CREC interdistrict rates and, with the exception of mathematics, higher than state achievement rates.

Table 7. Percentages of 10th-Grade Students Scoring Proficient and Above on 2007 State Assessments at Metropolitan Learning Center as Compared to the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) and the State

Subject MLC CREC State of Connecticut
Mathematics 74.4% 68.0% 77.2%
Reading 87.3% 75.0% 79.7%
Writing 96.2% 85.7% 82.2%


MLC students and faculty have participated in the Bezos Aspen Scholar program, which brings together 12 of the country's top high school juniors to meet one another and engage in seminars and informal meetings with international leaders as well as creative artists who participate in the annual Aspen Ideas Festival. MLC is the nation’s only school whose students have won scholarships to the program and festival, selected for each of the three years of the program's existence at the Aspen Institute, an international nonprofit founded in 1950 to foster enlightened leadership. A 2008 scholarship recipient created the MLC Global Humanitarian Ideas Festival at the school with a week full of learning activities, speakers, films, and presentations, which focused attention on three issues: genocide in Darfur, human trafficking, and health problems in Africa and Haiti.

   22 | 23 | 24
Print this page Printable view Bookmark  and Share
Last Modified: 11/19/2009