The Phoenix-Talent School District will debut a pilot magnet program in the fall that will serve nearly 70 children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The Phoenix-Talent School District will debut a pilot magnet program in the fall that will serve nearly 70 children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The program, initiated last year by a group of parents who wanted a more hands-on and environmental science-based education for their children, will start out larger than originally thought with 67 pupils, said Teresa Sayre, district instructional services director.

With a revenue shortfall and layoffs, district officials had been uncertain whether they would have enough financial and staff resources to begin the program this year.

"It's been kind of back and forth," said Veege Ruediger, a parent who spearheaded the effort to found the magnet program. "This is really exciting news."

The program became possible as the result of federal stimulus funds for innovative education programs and additional state revenue the district will receive from the enrollment of about 24 home-schooled students. Some of the home-schooled pupils come from outside the district and will require out-of-district transfers. The state funds schools according to the pupil count. Adding home-schooled students to the district's roster would bring in additional revenue from the state.

"We are definitely scraping everything we have together, but we are pretty excited," Sayre said.

Students will meet in two classrooms in the Talent Boys & Girls Club and the program will be affiliated with Talent Elementary School. The eventual goal is to apply for an institutional ID number from the Oregon Department of Education to become a magnet school such as the John Muir School in Ashland.

The classrooms will be configured with kindergarten through second grade in one classroom and fourth through sixth grade in the other. Third-graders may attend either class based on their needs and skills. Core subjects will be taught in the morning, while the afternoon session will focus on environmental science and the outdoors, Sayre said.

"I like that if my son is advanced in math he could work with the upper grades, and if he needs help in another subject he can work with the younger grades," said Cynthia Moscaritolo, parent of a second-grade son who will attend the program.

An elementary teacher in the district will be transferred to the magnet program, and another teacher will have to be hired, Sayre said.

The curriculum will focus on environmental sciences, hands-on projects and community learning. Fridays will be dedicated to learning projects in "the field," such as at local farms.

Already, 63 students are on a waiting list, a sign of the growing demand for such programs, Sayre said. The district and parents drew families to the program through an online and paper survey to see how much interest existed.

"We had a phenomenal response for the survey we sent home at the end of the year in May," Ruediger said. "It became obvious there is tons of interest in a program like this, so the district decided to move forward."

A group of parents proposed the program last fall and kicked off a blitz of research, parent surveys and communication with district educators to help persuade the school board to take on the project.

Parents said they plan to stay involved in the school and are applying for grants to help fix up the Boys & Girls Club building, plant a native garden and build a rainwater collector for use and classroom lessons.

The district of about 2,800 students serves the cities of Talent and Phoenix and a swath of southern Medford.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.