Garden Oaks is an HISD school with a magnet program that combines education in the Montessori tradition with a focus on environmental sciences. It serves grades PreK-7. The campus originally housed a non-magnet public school, but in 1994, with assistance from the Friends of Montessori Foundation and a grant from HISD, it was converted to a public Montessori school. It has since become one of Houston’s most sought-after magnet programs on the middle school level.
As a magnet school within HISD, Garden Oaks has no religious affiliation. Students’ religious convictions do not factor into admissions, and the curriculum does not include theological material. While there is no institutionalized prayer in the school, there is a daily minute of silence during which students may choose to pray. Additionally, absences due to religious holidays do not count against a student’s record, though the student is still responsible for make-up work.
Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet is located in the Garden Oaks neighborhood in North Houston. The surrounding area is primarily residential with some businesses. The school campus includes the original Garden Oaks Elementary building as well as more recent additions. Additional space for 10 classes was added in 2011, bringing the school to a total of 31 classrooms. Other facilities include a library and an auditorium, as well as spacious outdoor areas which are conducive to hands-on learning about the environment.
Garden Oaks’ admissions process is divided into two categories: zoned and magnet. Students who are zoned for Garden Oaks are guaranteed admission to the school and the magnet program. It is not necessary for zoned students to complete a magnet application. Non-zoned students, however, must follow the HISD procedures for magnet admissions in order to be eligible to attend the school.
In order to apply for the magnet program at Garden Oaks, students must complete an online or paper application and send additional materials to the school by mail.
For PreK applicants, the additional materials consist of:
- Proof of residency
- Proof of age 3 or 4 by September
- Immunization records and
- A Home Language Survey.
For kindergarten applicants, the additional materials consist of:
- Proof of residency
- Proof of age 5 by September and
- A PreK progress report if applicable.
For all other students, the additional materials consist of proof of residency, the previous year’s report card, and the first report card of the current year. Current HISD students may not need to submit additional documentation.
Garden Oaks is open to all students residing in HISD, provided that they meet the age requirements. Students can apply to a total of five (5) Magnet Programs; applications may be submitted online or on paper, and additional materials can be sent to the school by mail.
HISD residents should apply during the Phase 1 application window, which lasts from late September until early December for the subsequent school year, and admitted students are notified by late March. Admission is based on the lottery system, and all eligible students have an equal chance of admission.
The elementary program has a fairly high acceptance rate, but the PreK and middle school programs typically have many more applicants than available spaces. The middle school program is one of the most selective in HISD, with an acceptance rate of 11.38%.
Students are not required to take an entrance examination to be eligible for admission. While neither interviews nor school visits are required for the admissions process, tours are available weekly from October through April.
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Garden Oaks follows a Montessori curriculum, in which students engage in self-guided as well as teacher-guided lessons and often learn by doing. The curriculum is designed to promote personal growth and responsible citizenship. At the PreK level, children engage in activities which promote their creativity. The kindergarten curriculum continues this focus on student growth and creativity, while also ensuring that students learn foundational skills such as number recognition and writing, the alphabet and corresponding sounds, basic writing, and basic social skills such as group socialization. In grades 1-5, students learn the subjects typically covered at those levels through a combination of instruction and hands-on work with educational modules. In grades 6 and 7, students learn math, English, science, and American and Texas history. The middle school curriculum combines classroom instruction with group projects and individual hands-on work with modules. The environmental focus is incorporated at the middle school level and is deeply tied in to the science curriculum. The Environmental Sciences program includes an emphasis on group project work as well as many opportunities to explore nature in the school’s outdoor educational areas.
Garden Oaks also offers a Vanguard Neighborhood program for students who have been identified as Gifted and Talented (G/T). These students participate in the same Montessori curriculum as their peers, but they are given more challenging and advanced work.
Additionally, to serve the district’s Hispanic population and enable non-Hispanic students to broaden their experience, the school offers English-Spanish bilingual education as an option for students in pre-kindergarten and the lower elementary grades.
Accommodations are available for students with special needs who meet the requirements for admission. If the parents already have documentation about the student’s special needs, the school will need a copy of that documentation. After receiving the documentation, the school will set up an annual ARD meeting that the parents, the student, an administrator, a core subject teacher, a special education teacher or 504 representative, and an HISD advocate will attend to discuss the specific modifications necessary for the student and to create an individualized education plan (IEP) for the student. Every teacher will receive a copy of the modifications for the student after they are set in the ARD meeting.
If the parents want to request modifications for their child, then the special education teacher will give the student’s teachers paperwork to document the student’s behavior and any modifications the teacher uses for the student. After 6 weeks of documentation, the teachers will turn in the paperwork, and the special education teacher or 504 representative will call a meeting similar to an ARD meeting. If the meeting determines that the student needs accommodation, then the school will have documentation of the student’s special needs and will follow the same procedures as above.
The only foreign language offered at Garden Oaks is Spanish, which is taught in grades PreK-2 as part of the optional bilingual education program.
No information concerning Garden Oaks’ fine arts offerings is available at this time.
SmartBoards are used in some classrooms for instruction. Additionally, some of the independent module-based work includes a technical component. For instance, one module for elementary school students involves building a motorized Lego ferris wheel. Computers are also available to students for use in their work, provided they adhere to the Acceptable Use Policy.
As for personal devices, they may be brought to school, but they must be turned off for the duration of the school day, and they may not be kept on the student’s person.
Garden Oaks offers numerous extracurricular opportunities, including Coding and Robotics clubs and a variety of fine and performing arts programs.
Garden Oaks does not offer interscholastic sports programs.
All parents of Garden Oaks students are automatically members of the Parent-Teacher Organization, which raises money for class field trips and other school initiatives and helps to coordinate volunteers for school functions. Parents who wish to volunteer through the PTO must also register with the HISD Volunteers in Public Schools program. Parent volunteers can help with before-school supervision, after-school programs, library staffing, and field trips, among other opportunities. Parents are also encouraged to join the Friends of Montessori Foundation, which helps to support the school financially. There are also opportunities for parent involvement in school administration through the Shared Decision Making Committee, which includes parents as well as staff and local community members and which advises the principal on important administrative matters.
Garden Oaks also asks that parents contribute to their children’s education by demonstrating an interest in their progress, by taking initiative in ensuring they are up to date with their work, and by modeling the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”