MAST Principal Jane Garraux said the school traditionally fields more than 1,200 applications for about 120 seats (an expansion will boost that number next year.) Coral Reef High School, which has six magnet academies, receives about 5,000 applications and has a constant waiting list, Strickland said.
“It’s an uncertainty,” said Elizabeth Clavijo, Daniella’s mother.
The competition even extends to the youngest of students.
Milagros Diaz-Cardenas, for instance, wants her 4-year-old daughter, Samantha Carrera, to attend Brickell’s Southside Elementary, a museum magnet school. Last year,140 kindergartners applied but only 44 received letters of acceptance.
“I have faith that she will get chosen,” Diaz-Cardenas said.
Some parents find the waiting nerve-racking.
Trish Bruno remembers breaking down in tears last year when she received a last-minute call that her son Connor Bruno, who was put on a waiting list for the Design Architecture Senior High, was eventually accepted. As applicants to a visual performing arts program, DASH students must audition after they are selected by lottery, and not every student chosen by lottery is accepted.
“I cried like a baby I was so excited,” said Bruno, who is now going through the same process with Connor’s 14-year-old twin, Enzo Bruno.
She said she is in search of a more creative environment for Enzo, who has applied to DASH and the New World School of the Arts.
Margaret Haun, lead teacher at MAST Academy on Virginia Key, describes the specialty that the Bruno family seeks as an “educational hook” that has been successful in creating demand for magnet schools.
She said at MAST, that hook is science. But it’s the “quality education” and unique opportunities and connections, such as a close relationship with the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, that draw students and parents to the school even if they don’t intend to make science a career.
“There’s opportunities to do things in a unique environment that other schools with more traditional setups just don’t have,” she said. “We’ve had math classes and English classes on the bay, or gone out in kayaks for poetry readings.”
With passions running high for certain schools, Strickland said the district continues to create new programming, sometimes by replicating existing programs. For instance, he said the science-themed MAST program is so popular that the district copyrighted the name and opened two new academies in Homestead and Hialeah.
So applicants should be aware that there may be an alternative to their first choice. He also said parents should keep faith that being on a waiting list doesn’t mean their child won’t get in to their preferred school.
“Schools keep going down their waiting list,” he said. “We have people accepted even into August.”