SCOTCH PLAINS — Walk into Union County Magnet High School in Scotch Plains and one of the first rooms you see off the lobby is the new “maker space.”
The school gutted its old multi-media room and filled it with 3-D printers, robotics equipment and tens of thousands of dollars in high-tech machinery for its engineering students to play with.
Across the courtyard, students in the neighboring Academy for Information Technology are hunkered down over a bank of computers in a student-run “Hack Shack,” where they take turns teaching each other everything from the latest Java coding tricks to the best way to crimp an ethernet cord.
In a neighboring building, students in the Academy for Allied Health Sciences spend the equivalent of their gym class walking on treadmills in a high-tech lab while their classmates practice monitoring their heart rates on EKG machines…
…(V)o-tech districts still have classes for future welders, hairdressers and auto mechanics. But a growing part of their mission is now schools designed for students headed to top colleges.
The specialized high schools are still considered vo-tech because they all have a strong career component that can include internships and other real-world experience in various fields.
The demand to get into the schools continues to rise. Most districts advertise the county-run magnet schools by sending mailings to students’ houses and fliers to middle schools. Some districts also send counselors to area schools to recruit prospective students.
Most students who get in say they heard about the schools through word of mouth.
Andrea Diaz, 16, a junior from Linden, said she wanted to get into Union County Magnet High School from the moment her mother first told her about it…
Sitting for the entrance exam was intense.
“I was so nervous. I wanted to get in so bad,” Diaz said.
When she heard she got in, she was on the verge of tears. When she arrived as a freshmen, she was surprised by the amount of work expected of her and the intensity of her high-achieving classmates.
But, Diaz said she never thought of going back to her local high school. Getting into the magnet school may help alter her future as she aims to get into a top engineering school, like MIT.