Students celebrate 50 years at Dudley (w/video)

Aracelly Sanchez was playing with Legos at a table outside Dudley Elementary G.T. Magnet School. The Legos were sprawled out at a table, surrounded by other students waiting their turn at the booth. A reflective surface on the table duplicated the image of the Legos, creating a new shape.

"We're learning about symmetry," Aracelly, 6, said. "The mirror is there so you can see what you're building."

Her mother and 3-year-old little brother watched Aracelly, a first-grade student at Dudley, play.

The family was spending the morning of Nov. 21 at Dudley enjoying the school's Renaissance festival, celebrating the school's 50th anniversary.

"I like the way everybody's dressed up," said Aracelly, pointing at her costumed principal and teachers around her.

Angelica Sanchez, Aracelly's mother, smiled at the other parents attending the festival with their children.

Sanchez gently gripped the stroller she wheeled to the neighborhood school from her Silver City home on the south side of town.

"My daughter has only missed three days of school so far," said Sanchez with a genuine sense of pride. "She wants to be a doctor."

Closer to the entrance of the school, a group of young students dressed as princesses with flowers in their hair watched as students and teachers went around a maypole.

Principal Diane Billo wore a crown of flowers as she sprinkled glitter atop students' heads.

Carla Hanes, a music teacher at Dudley, stood by the maypole.

Hanes' 19-year-old son started at Dudley as a second-grader after being accepted into the school's Gifted and Talented Program in 2002, back when Dudley was known as the Dudley Global Technology Magnet School.

The school opened in 1963 and was named after Dr. C.A. Dudley, a physician and civic leader who died in 1975 of a heart attack.

Dudley was a member of the American Legion Citizens Committee, the Victoria Chapter of the State Progressive League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The doctor worked closely with NAACP attorney Thurgood Marshall, a future U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, on securing voting rights for African-Americans.

His portrait hangs in the school's entranceway.

The emergence of magnet schools across the country was spurred by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Magnet schools were developed as a court order to desegregate the classroom, said Diane Boyett, Victoria school district spokeswoman.

The first Victoria school district magnet programs were started in 1986 with support from local funding, Boyett said.

"That court order came along with a freeze in federal funding, and it was one way to do that instead of busing," Boyett said. "The school district wanted to comply with the federal mandate, and the idea of starting a magnet program was more appealing than actually busing students around other places."

VISD received $20,351,499 in magnet grants from the federal magnet schools assistance program through the Department of Education between 1996 through 2007.

"The grant process was highly competitive," Boyett said. "And really did speak volumes to the degree of respect that the magnet school programs in VISD held."

In 1994, magnet schools received $10 more than the $80 per student from the district's budget to cover additional supply expenses, according to a previous Advocate report.

The schools in Victoria took on specialized themes, including science, cultural studies, habitat for learning, medical science, marine science and global enterprise.

Juan Linn Math and Science Magnet, now Crain Elementary School, and Hopkins Extended Day Magnet, now Hopkins Elementary School, were the first campuses to take on the structure.

"Those grants were extremely beneficial because they provided funding that local money never could have," Boyett said. "Those grants made a significant impact of VISD and allowed for the expansion of magnet programs at other campuses."

The themes and programs at some of the campuses changed throughout time.

"It was huge," Hanes said. "Students got a well-rounded education that wasn't just about the test."

As part of Dudley's Gifted and Talented Program, Hanes' son researched the Czech Republic in fifth grade, learned how to speak Czech and made international dishes for class.

"They made them dig deeper into their learning," said Hanes, who started teaching at Dudley in 2006.

Across the elementary school's grassy lawn, second-grade teacher Yvette Jackson was in full character in spirit with the festival's Renaissance theme.

She buried her hand into a bowl of crushed Doritos and pulled it out, offering "dragon's blood" to her students.

"I slayed a dragon this morning," she boomed. "It was disgusting."

Her students laughed.

Jackson started teaching at Dudley 17 years ago.

Seven of her children have gone to Dudley.

The Victoria school district officially dropped "magnet" from all of the former magnet campuses' names last spring - except for Dudley.

Although Dudley hasn't received additional magnet funding from the federal government since 2006, the district chose to maintain its magnet title because magnet-funded resources are still being used throughout the school, Hanes said.

"There's all kinds of programs here that are not offered at other schools," Jackson said. "It's made a real big difference; that's why my children are here."